Zoot Suits and New Jack Swing: Morris Day’s Dandyism in Graffiti Bridge

In 1897 French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire describes the Dandy as “[aspiring] to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror” (Journaux Intimes). A “prettyman” in front of a mirror, the quintessential Baudelairean Dandy aspired to the total sublimation of his existence through a constantly deliberate and self-conscious alignment of style, artistic production, and social rebellion. No one in the Prince universe is more iconically synonymous with the mirror than Morris Day, and he does not disappoint in Graffiti Bridge (1990). This presentation will examine the character of Morris Day as an intentionally manufactured complement/foil to Prince’s own version of Dandyism. Through sociocultural and historical analysis of Black Dandyism, the Zoot suit, and the dance aesthetic and roots of New Jack Swing, this presentation will dissect the philosophical underpinnings of sartorial rebellion as a profound statement of power and assertion of agency in Graffiti Bridge and Prince’s legacy as a whole.

Karen Turman

Dr. Karen Turman is a Preceptor of French in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. She earned her B.A. (2001) at the University of Minnesota, and her M.A. (2008) and Ph.D. (2013) in French Literature with an emphasis in Applied Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her interdisciplinary research interests include 19th-century Bohemian Paris, music and dance during the Jazz Age, and fashion and popular culture studies. In addition, her research in language acquisition centers on approaches to teaching cultural competence with current projects involving the engagement of language learners with local French-speaking immigrant communities as well as online Francophone language partners. She is currently teaching intermediate and advanced French language courses on the various themes of Francophone Culture, Social Justice and Writing, and French Industry.

Dr. Turman’s scholarship on Prince began with a project on Dandyism presented at the Purple Reign conference at the University of Salford in 2017. She has since presented on Prince at Winona State University, the Popular Culture Association, the Prince From Minneapolis symposium at the University of Minnesota, and the Batdance30 symposium at Spelman College. Her publications include an essay on Josephine Baker, Claude McKay, and Prince entitled “Banana Skirts and Cherry Moons: Utopic French Myths in Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon,” and “Prettyman in the Mirror: Dandyism in Prince’s Minneapolis.” Dr. Turman grew up in the southwest suburbs of Minneapolis and remembers her friends performing “New Power Generation” at her high school.