Scott devastates hegemonic incorporation theories based on their methodological error of collecting evidence from spurious sources. First, secrecy and coded conduct are major resources of resistance that by their very nature are invisible in the public transcript: The goal of slaves and other subordinate groups, as they conduct their ideological and material resistance, is to escape detection; to the extent that they achieve their goal, such activities do not appear in the archives (87). Second, what does appear about subordinates in the official, i.e. elite public transcript must not be read uncritically. Scholars must remember that the official transcript is but a self-portrait of dominant elites (18). The theatrical imperatives of domination, therefore, produce an official transcript that provides convincing evidence of willing, even enthusiastic complicity because disempowered people have a vested interest in avoiding any explicit display of insubordination (86). Question-begging theories of peasant passivity to oppression will find corroborative evidence in the public record because the process of domination generates the social evidence that apparently confirm notions of hegemony (77). It seems that scholars, as well as overseers, get hoodwinked by the performing art of the weak. (Conquergood, Dwight. 1992. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78. p. 89)
This passage has always concerned me because of its susceptibility for misuse by conservatives. Why help the marginal, when they are secretly happy? We are only looking for unhappiness to prove the liberal thesis. Where Conquergood’s argument does not support that proposition is the difference between coding and material conditions.
Living among filth can be recoded to be beautiful and an experience-rich life. The graffiti can be called street art and the life without a limb can be seen as special.
But that does not change the fear one may feel walking down the street, or that people who have lost a limb tend to have shorter lives than their more fortunate counterparts. Conquergood does not make this conflation, but the above passage does not expose it out either. It is this confusion that needs to be hedged against.
The movie Slumdog Millionaire makes this mistake. The movie is a textbook of how the poor trick the rich. Poverty appears to be merely uncomfortable and not necessarily fatal. The real tragedy of poverty is not shown. Instead what is shown are the coping mechanisms and even the success the two brothers have had in lifting themselves out of poverty. This is not to say poverty is a caste system, oh wait, the movie is set in India where there is a caste system. Again the movie provides no scrutiny of this system. It is a fun movie to watch, very entertaining with an engaging system but I worry that movie is like watching pornography: serving a libidinal desire to see others suffer and simultaneously smile all the while saving us from the real tragedies and our responsibilities in them.