So as an NPR dork, I listen weekly to the “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” podcast. It’s funny and it’s also a way to test myself to make sure I have not become completely out of touch with American pop culture and politics during my year in Canada!
So the “Not My Job” guest for last week was Ice-T– known formerly as the original gangsta rapper and currently as the worst actor on Law and Order: SVU. (Seriously, T. Just because it’s ironic that you, of all people, play a cop on TV doesn’t mean that you are really a gifted thespian.)
During the back-and-forth before the Q-and-A of the quiz, the topic of Vanilla Ice came up. This seems to be a perfect case of symbolic self-completion gone horribly wrong.
Part of symbolic self-completion–as I understand it–is assuming the habitus of the desired status. Wear the right clothes, get the right haircut, use the right mannerisms and lingo. But another big part of it is convincing those members of the ideal status group that you do, actually have the right stuff. As Ice-T mentions, even though Vanilla Ice put on the habitus (OK, he didn’t use that word) of the rapper from the street, none of the real street guys were buying it:
one of his mistakes was he came into the rap business saying he was from the street. And we were like, what street, Sesame Street? You know? But that was a mistake. He didnt have to say that. All he had to do was say hey, I’m a white kid, I’m trying to rap, and I want to be accepted. You dont have to lie and say you’re from someplace you’re not, you know?
It sounds as though Vanilla Ice would have been better off attempting to construct an entirely new habitus, rather than trying to appropriate that of the gangstas. Maybe this is why Eminem was so successful as a “white kid trying to rap.”
The distinction between the expectations of the real street rappers and that of Vanilla Ice’s actual practice was one problem; his personal narrative was another.
Like Trimalchio, Vanilla Ice attempted to walk the walk (and was almost successful) as well as talk the talk (which is really where he failed). When it comes to Roman domestic decoration and symbolic self-completion, I believe it is more than simply having the correct kinds of frescoes, statues, etc. in order to convince the audience that one is “a member of the club.” The informed personal narrative, the cultural/academic knowledge, is what completes the picture.