The Game shows how social context shapes a sign's meaning.
Tags: culture, discourse/language, methodology/statistics, clifford geertz, ethnography, signs, social interaction, thick description, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: [Trigger warning: this clip includes explicit language and gang references.] In this instructional video, the rapper The Game demonstrates the proper technique for throwing up a variety of different gang signs. According to the clip's introductory screen shot, the video is intended "For all you wanna be gangsters, internet thugs, or just inquiring minds," and is followed by the warning message: "Don't try these outside your home." Viewers should take heed and, about midway through the clip, The Game underscores the seriousness and potential consequences of throwing up gang signs, which include murder. From a teaching perspective, however, the video's message can be used to illustrate Clifford Geertz's (1973) discussion of thick description, an ethnographic technique of narratively contextualizing social interaction using detailed description. According to Geertz, a thickly described narrative is important because meanings are multilayered, and simply describing an interaction at the surface may not fully capture the "true" meaning of the situation. The Game's discussion of "the b's and the p's of gang-banging" demonstrates the various meanings different gang signs can have in different contexts, including the height at which you throw up your gang sign, how far back you push your fingers (e.g., a "b" vs. an "Okay" sign), the neighborhood in which you display the sign, and even the process by which you get your fingers into place. All of this carries meaning, as it can demonstrate such things as gang membership authenticity or time spent in the penitentiary. The message contained within The Game's tutorial parallels Geertz's classic example of a wink to elucidate how seemingly similar signs can have different meanings depending on the social context. As Geertz argues, depending upon how it is performed and the motivation behind the performance, a wink could be a conspiratorial sign to a friend, an eye twitch, or a parody of someone else winking. By thickly describing the situation in which the wink occurs, the researcher can convey the subtleties of meaning embedded in the interaction. As is clear from The Game's video lesson, social context is central to the multilayered meanings associated with gang signs. By thickly describing the social context in which a gang sign is displayed, an ethnographer can begin to capture these nuanced meanings.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
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