n Scrutiny2 - Music, film and gangsters in the Sophiatown imaginary : featuring Dolly Rathebe

Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-5359


Theorizing the relationships between politics and the cultural topography of Johannesburg's townships during the 1950s, this article critiques the commonplace interpretation of the period's blackurban culture as <I>intentional</I> resistance against apartheid. It is proposed that a more complex interpretative model may be derived by reading the significance of such iconic figures as star women musicians and elite gangsters in relation to three fundamental dimensions that are understood in Lacanian psychoanalysis to structure the human universe: the "real", the "symbolic", and the imaginary". The derivative concept "social imaginary" is found to be salient, particularly a localized variant, the Sophiatown imaginary. Fundamentally shaped by Hollywood representations of American culture, the latter manifests in an inverted moral code and style that is expressed and constructed through dress, argot, and the production and consumption of music. Occupying a pivotal place at the fulcrum between the screen and the street, jazz singer, film star, fashion icon and gangster's moll Dolly Rathebe offers a revealing case study for an enquiry into the Sophiatown imaginary.

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