Pitbull - International Love ft. Chris Brown (by PitbullVEVO)
“International Love:”What Pitbull and Contemporary Popular Dance Music can teach Students and the Ivory Tower about World History
“I don’t play football but I’ve touched down everywhere
I don’t play baseball but I’ve hit a home run everywhere, everywhere
I’ve been to countries and cities I can’t pronounce
And the places on the globe I didn’t know existed”
Mr. Worldwide aka Pitbull built a career on pulsating and booty shaking beats. As a DJ, Pitbull’s tracks are always cued on my end sets from midnight onwards. After a night of drinking and general debauchery the crowds demand to dance and sing to tracks from Pit. However, his music provides more than just off the chain rhythms with deep flow. These tracks provide a seductive introduction for students learning about World History at the universities.
Yes, I know the Ivory Tower has the rep of being completely detached and disconnected from the real world. This is partially true. I have several colleagues who have never bumped one of Pit’s tracks. In fact, I am often regarded as peculiar because while I sit grading papers, I blast out of my DJ bling headphones and sing, “I want your tchu, tchu, tchu…” at the local coffee shop where I hold my office hours to meet with students.
This past semester, I was given the challenge of introducing undergraduates in the mid-West to World History from 1900-1945. My goal as a historian was not to get them to memorize facts and dates but to get them to understand how the themes of the course which emerged in 1900-1945: nationalism, new imperialism, technological warfare, the rise of the U.S. as a major player in the world could help them to understand their present.
Part of the difficulty of teaching World History to undergraduates is the material feels so distant and removed from their lived experiences. I mean, why does British colonialism in Kenya even matter when the basketball game is on the television?
My first day in the classroom I fired up the PC and loaded Pitbull’s video “International Love” featuring Chris Brown on the screen. I told my students to take notes and focus on the visuals as well as what Mr. Worldwide had to say about his experiences as a global jetsetter.
My students all picked up on themes of technology, mass consumption (Visas), flags expressing nationalism, sexism (nearly naked women dancing around Pit), depictions of globalization as solely an urban experience (Miami, Los Angeles, etc.) and, pride in one’s city (Mr. 305) and baseball as a global sport.
I then proceeded to put in the historical context for the video. I informed my students that people can say what they like about Mr. Worldwide but the themes globalization which emerge from his music, personal history, and rise to fame have their origins on ideas, events, and art forms emerging around the globe from 1900 to 1945.
From Pit’s ancestry linked to U.S. colonialism thanks to our nation’s invasion of Cuba in 1898, to mass consumption in the United States sold as the “American dream” to people across the globe, to gendered constructions of machismo or “peacocking” emerging in the dance halls and on the streets of the Bronx, Havana, and El Santurce, or how throughout much of the twentieth century, Pit and Chris Brown could have never flaunted their success as global jetsetters with such bravado because of racialized political practices of Jim Crow and segregation in the United States. It was during this discussion the world opened up to my students. Many of these students at the end of the semester told me they hoped to travel to Havana, San Juan or Dakar someday. A few even want to learn languages and study history because they had no idea that the popular culture could show people so much about our past and present.
I was raised to believe that education should be used as an engine for change. Meaning my work as a historian should not be locked away, it should be lived, felt, and used to improve society. My ambition in life is to educate people about histories and experiences that may be different from their own. Contemporary popular dance music is not just empty and void of meaning- it is part of a much broader narrative which encapsulates the history of my people and personal identity. So, next time when you are in the club and the DJ spins Pit, remember to say “dale” as you throw your hands in the air, because those actions too, are rooted in World History.