King Kong: A Cultural Snapshot Essay

1024 words - 4 pages

Classic stories remain a classic because they convey a message which appeals to people of multiple generations despite changes in society. King Kong was released in print in 1932, a year prior to its release in Hollywood, as a part of the film’s advance marketing. The public of this generation easily accepted the story’s racist, colonialist, and sexist themes. Today, literary critics such as Cynthia Erb view the novel and film as representation of the early 30s and thus a resource to understand the cultural context of the times. In particular, King Kong provides a window through which a modern audience can understand and interpret racism of the 1930s.
The main stereotypes presented in the story, King Kong, were those of African Americans. A main message conveyed was the hyper-sexuality of African Americans, with the message revolving around the stereotype that African American males have an exaggerated sexual energy and an unquenchable desire for beautiful white women. The story of King Kong is, in short, about an enormous ape pursuing a beautiful blonde with the movie ending on the top of the Empire State Building. With this hyper-sexuality stereotype in mind, this ape is a representation of the black man. This being has animal-like instincts, which are “lower” instincts, and has a constant desire to be with Anne, “the golden woman” , as described by a native. The plot proceeds to show Kong climbing to the top of the Empire State Building with Anne in tow. The Empire State building can be interpreted as a phallic symbol and is “conquered”
by Kong when he reaches the top of the building with Anne (Figure 1) . Cynthia Erb describes this use of sexuality and raciness in King Kong as a, “type of commodification that was featured prominently in King Kong’s first release.” Erb also points out that, despite initial censorship, theater owners drew upon the jungle craze of the 1930’s in order to define the film as sexy and exotic. The hyper-sexuality stereotype of African American men was one that was displayed in both King Kong the film and King Kong the book, and is a representation of the racism that was present during the 1930’s.
The element of race is easy to perceive when considering the plot of King Kong. It consists of Kong being forcefully taken from his jungle home, brought to the United States in chains and displayed on stage as a freak show. Denham describes Kong as, “… a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive.” , accentuating the element of race in this story. Kong then breaks his chains and runs amok through the city with Anne until he is killed by fighter planes. The fighter planes represent law and order, and Kong’s death to these fighter planes represents the superiority of white law to the desires of Kong, who represents the black man. The Kong’s death also masculinizes white men, who are depicted as humane, civilized, and the protector of women. The quote, “Oh...

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