Da Bomb

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Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima — a terrible denouement to a terrible war. I can safely say that nobody spent the solemn occasion thinking about Kris Kross’ 1993 album Da Bomb (featuring “Alright”).

For those too young to remember the 1990s, “da bomb” was an expression originally used in the African-American community to indicate “greatness” or “excellence” — as evidenced by my high school “Class T-shirt” which read “Pensacola High School Class of 1997 — It’s Da Bomb” under a picture of a round cartoon explosive, complete with wick.

Kris Kross apparently hoped to cash in on the popularity of the expression and threw a mushroom cloud on the album cover to suggest to their rivals and critics, “Our rhymes can vaporize 130,000 human lives in an instant.” No one was less thrilled about this than Sony’s Western music division, who had received the task of selling an album with the lyric, “I drop bombs like Hiroshima” to the Japanese public. Let’s face it: the A-bomb references were wiggity-wiggity-wiggity-whack, but I’m not sure Kris Kross knew a whole lot about the nuclear victims’ eyes popping out of their socks and skin peeling off. Perhaps they would have rethought the usage of the mushroom cloud after a nice trip to Peace City, Hiroshima.

Lately, we’ve been discussing the casual uses of nasty historical symbols — swastikas, blackface — and there’s been an argument that we should fight “allowing atrocities to mark signifiers permanently” (Momus). But even if we open up taboo symbols to light-hearted play, the gravity of the historical circumstances behind these icons will almost definitely drown out any attempts at re-appropriation. Kids on the streets of Harajuku will never be able to redefine the Nazi swastika, unless it strictly remains within the vacuum of historical knowledge that is Takeshita-doori. For those people who know the story, these symbols act as convenient reminders of history’s greatest human tragedies. I understand that groups should avoid permanent victimhood: “look what the Germans did to the Jews, or the Whites to the Blacks, or Japanese to the Chinese, or the Americans to the Japanese, etc.” But certainly we can learn an important lesson from: Look what humans did to other humans.

So, I’m happy that Kris Kross could never rob the mushroom cloud from the serious nature of nuclear holocaust. (Although when I see kids on the street wearing their clothes backwards, I do think fondly of Mack Daddy and Daddy Mack.) I’m not convinced that those totally unaware of a symbol’s perceived-meanings should be able to, or will be able to, lead the way towards a new definition, but I would hope that we still remember the lessons of the past even if someone were able to successfully “liberate” the iconography.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 7, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

12 Responses

  1. r. Says:

    that shit makes me jump, jump!

  2. channing Says:

    uh-huh, uh-huh

  3. Chris_B Says:

    mentioned before: Epic-Sony 25-3P-139 http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Marina/5119/clash/pearl.htm

    Kris Kross are on the “where are they now” sorta list. Maybe they grew up and became insurance salesmen or used car dealers?

  4. Brad Says:

    Reading this made me go back and listen to “Warm It Up” and I realized that when I occasionally use the phrase “You can get the finger–the middle”, I was unconsciously paying tribute to Kris Kross. So many useless pop culture references in my brain, I can’t even keep track of where they come from.

  5. der Says:

    Kris Kross are on the “where are they now” sorta list. Maybe they grew up and became insurance salesmen or used car dealers?

    Last I heard was that they died in a tragic accident during an attempt to de-signify Ku Klux Klan hoodies by wearing them backwards.

  6. Momus Says:

    Does that mean I must now die too?

  7. der Says:

    Only if you wear that backwards, while crossing the street…

    Nice shot, btw. Taken by the rabbit?

  8. marxy Says:

    Momus, you look… Christian in that photo. Next time you’re in town we can go acolyting… ironically!

  9. Momus Says:

    Okay, let’s do that!

    One thing I would say about this entry is that I think there’s a difference between what we’re calling, interchangably, symbols and icons, and photographs of a historical event.

    The swastika is a symbol that was taken from Indian religion and re-appropriated by the Nazis. Blackface is theatrical make-up, a sign which paradoxically designates a fixed race and the ability to unfix (or change) racial signifiers. A photograph of Hiroshima, on the other hand, is just that, a photo of a historical event. The Hiroshima mushroom cloud may have become in some sense “iconic”, but it had no previous use as a symbol. It might be liberating to strip a skin colour of its associations with victimhood, but I don’t see how it helps anyone to strip a nuclear cloud from its associations of death and destruction.

  10. Carl Says:

    Momus,

    What about a painting of a mushroom cloud? Is that fair game for decontextualization? How about a picture of a mushroom, that looks sort of like a mushroom cloud? Can I take the meaning out of that?

    Your belief that photos are somehow more “real” than other forms of expression strikes me as Pre-Post-Modern.

  11. guest Says:

    An editorial in today’s NYTimes that everyone involved in the discussion of Harajuku punks, the A-bomb, ahistoricism, etc should be interested to read (link below to the article on the IHT site so you don’t have to hassle with sign-up):

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/08/07/opinion/edito.php

    The author, Joichi Ito, seems like quite an interesting guy. Here’s the relevant entry on his blog:

    http://joi.ito.com/archives/2005/08/06/new_york_times_op_ed_on_the_bombing_of_hiroshima_and_nagasaki.html#comments

    Now that I read it myself I see that Chris B is already on the case, having posted a comment on Ito’s blog! This internet thing sure is something else…

  12. marxy Says:

    Thanks for the link.