Culture Clash

'86–'95: From Evangelicals to Trannies, the First Gulf War to Tupac Shakur

See Tupac as part of the Whitney Museum's "Black Male" show, and the events of last week as scenes in an open-ended performance art piece. This piece questions the place of rebellion for its own selfish and/or self-destructive sake, debates the value of outlaw subculture, and gauges the universe of distance between the militantly politicized generation that gave birth to the militantly commercial one that has taken its place. It stars a master performance artist whose canvas is his body and whose stage is the world.

There is a massive distance between Tupac's fame and the quality of his work so far. Despite being an actor with tremendous presence, with the exception of a co-starring role in Juice he has never acted in a good movie. Despite being, along with Snoop, one of the two most famous rappers in the world, he is merely an average vocalist and lyricist, and has yet to record one aesthetically important song. But the performance has been dangerously compelling and ecstatically brilliant: the way he plays his Black Panther bloodline; the flurry of arrests in L.A., Atlanta, East Lansing, and Manhattan; the escape from five of those six arrests with a minuscule 14 days in jail; the fact that while everyone else talks about it, Tupac is the only known rapper who has actually put a bullet in a police officer.

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