A Fondness for Shock: The Celebrated: The Celebrated Outburst of Grace Jones
AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractFor many people in the UK, particularly those of an older generation, Grace Jones remains an archetypal diva. In 2006, the TV network channel Gold ran a poll to find the “most shocking” moments in international chat show history. Grace’s November 1980 Russell Harty Show appearance, where she had an altercation of sorts with the host, topped the listing. Gold’s head, James Newton, added in a BBC news story that such moments were ones “which people throughout the country talked about at the time and still remember with great fondness.” He expressed the complexity of the “shocking” show’s reception. Rather than simply dismissing Grace on the Russell Harty Show as committing an act of personal vengeance, or worst still as “mad” or intoxicated, it is better contextualize her actions in relation to the social changes and discussion going on around popular music in that particular era: a time of “creative destruction” in which computer technology reduced the need for human labour in Western nations. New technologies both created a demand for skilled labour and increased wage inequalities. Rather than creating communal unity, the dominant business practices of the emerging era worked to alienate, fragment and encourage competition. Western cultural traditions simultaneously began to increasingly embrace postcolonial, multicultural hybridity. Orientalism in perceptions of race often defined racial different through notions of “unruly” Otherness. One of the means Grace could use to portray her struggle for control at work was by drawing on assumptions about Black female sexuality, sexual availability, and its ambivalent association with the new economy of high gloss beauty and fashion. Here, “being a diva” meant not simply demanding perfection, but causing a commotion which commodified oneself by generating publicity. Seen in this way, divahood is not only a shared Black female response to structural racism, or, worse still, a uniquely female personal quirk, but is instead a mode of economic empowerment in a new celebrity economy.
CitationDuffett, M. (2023). A fondness for shock: The celebrated outburst of Grace Jones. In K. Fairclough, B. Halligan, S. Rambarran, & N. Hodges Persley (Eds.) Diva: Feminism and fierceness from pop to hip-hop. Bloomsbury Academic.
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