In the 18th century a steamboat named the New Orleans (1811) came on the American scene (from Scotland) and marked the beginning of the vast steamboat traffic on the rivers of the west. The great sidewheel steamboats of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers puffed back and forth with a constant flow of freight and passengers. In their day they were famous for song and fable. Those that added a theater were called "Showboats." In the 19th and early 20th century, not having to worry about the law, showboats carried troupes of performers who specialized in "showing off" or in being exhibitionists. From this the term "showboat" was applied to any attention- seeker who displayed oneself in an ostentatious (overly showy, pretentious, demonstrative beyond need) manner in order to impress others.
Then it was extended to describe Scotland poets who, since the 16th century, engaged in an exchange of abusive poems--and later to the late 19th century Cowboys “Cursing Contests" (with the winner receiving a saddle). Such verbal battle exchanges helped keep "hot heads" from going physical or legal. In the sports world those individuals who were consistently flamboyant in routine achievements with such displays as fist-pounding or breathbeating were said by reporters to be "Grandstanding" and called them "Hot Dogs"--those who perform showy, often dangerous stunts. This mid-1800s term to "make a grandstand play" was first used for a baseball play made to impress the crowd in the grandstand (the section of high-priced seats at ballparks).
In the Black community a lookalike of "showboating" is rituals done for serious purposes. This type of ritual is an African Survival that is symbolically expressed in physical drama, regardless of the aspect of life. For example, the football linebacker Ray Lewis goes through a pre-warm-up ritual that could be viewed as Showboating by White males but instead it is mental prepartion for stepping into his "game face." However, the Black male fun type began as a modification of this fun ritual. An example occurred among my boyhood peers who took delight in instituting and participating in ritualized but showboating forms of verbal aggression like the bi-continental story of "The Signifying Monkey." In the process they went out of their way to make their signifying as obscene as possible.
It is about the tale of a West African elephant, lion, and monkey.
Having the least amount of power, the monkey would ‘signify” so as to get others to do things that wiped out the physical power advantages of the others. Similar to the style used by Slaves in telling Folktales to manipulate slave owners, the Black youth poets' story was spoken with a melodious cadence.
In sports, showboating is judged by most White males as "excessive" and uninhibited Black male behavior that displays as a "dangerous" stereotype of Black masculinity in a safe setting. Such examples include: Unsportsmanship taunting of the opponent; unruly celebration revelry; gloating from having "scored"; and otherwise showing off unnecessarily (e.g. spiking the ball and dancing in the end zone). Since White males are not free to show their emotions, to watch Blacks "showboat" generates in them both the good and the bad of how they assess it--e.g. estrangement and attraction; the embarrassment of the display and the appreciation of the mental freedom of its display; and the urge to discipline and the desire to sit back and enjoy it.
Publicly, "sophisticated" White males want to make Black males conform to their White male image but silently envy these exotic performers because, in contrast to them, Black males know how to have fun. This is a continuation of features of slavery whereby the White man and the White woman envied the free spirits of many Slaves who were frequently seen huddled and laughing.
Showboating is a reflection in Whites of their double consciousness of accepting Blacks as performers but not as citizens, "adults," or thinkers as Whites define these to be.
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