Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
“Menace II Society” has always been toted as “Boyz N Da Hood’s” harder edged older brother, even though “Boyz” was released years earlier.John Singleton’s first movie was an epic tale of love, struggle, & reality set in South Central Los Angeles, though it’s dystopic message could translate to any ‘hood in America, if not the entire world. But while “Boyz” was heavily laden with a “How To Survive In South Central” connotation, The Hughes Brothers’ “Menace” came off as more of a modern day series of fables, threaded almost to a fault with layers of wisdom & life lessons for those who were able to understand them.
The similarities between the two flicks are paralleled & obvious, but the differences are major & a little harder to isolate. However, the most noticeable difference between the two films was the visual displays of violence. Within moments of the opening sequence in “Menace,” a Korean man’s brain was blown out as an enraged young Black male subsequently robs the store (corpse included). “Boyz” begins with the search for a dead body — which they eventually locate — but that fails in comparison to the shock value of O-Dogg kicking a dead body & rummaging through the cash register.
I don’t advise letting young children watch either movie unless you’re positive they are mentally prepared for the visual bombardment & mature undertone, but if I were a teacher & had to choose one to show my students for educational purposes, I’d pick “Menace II Society.” It’s the type of movie that doesn’t get old because with every revisit, a new aspect of real life comes into view.
One can argue which was the better movie, but a movie without cerebral girth is nothing more than a series of moving pictures, like a website dedicated to GIFs. & while a person can — in theory — learn something from any movie they watch, some messages stand out more the others.
Loyalty Can Be Dangerous
Caine’s loyalty to O-Dogg puts him jeopardy with the cops, his homeboys, his girl, & even himself. Caine unwittingly became an accomplice to murder when O shot & killed the Korean store owners, & was further implicated in the crime by being on the video of the robbery homicide. (Dropping his 40 ounce didn’t help him much either, but fear makes you release things, like beer bottles &/or one’s bowels.) O-Dogg also convinced Caine to exact revenge on the dudes who “smoked [his] cousin, in front of [him].” Although Caine wasn’t the one to pull the trigger (it was A-Waxx), again he became an accomplice to a murder because of O-Dogg’s decision making. Blind loyalty to the wrong entity can be like siding with the enemy, no matter how much of a benefit that person may be to your current situation.
Think Before You Act
An overlooked plot twist in Menace II Society was Caine meeting Illena in the parking lot. That chance encounter led to her alleged pregnancy, which Caine nonchalantly blew off as he counted his money on the bed. Said pregnancy was the reason Caine was approached by her cousin, which sparked Caine & O-Dogg to beat & stomp the girl’s cousin in the projects. What could’ve been a rational conversation about what was the next move in the complicated situation quickly escalated into a brutal assault. Perhaps Caine & Dogg should’ve killed the man, but that would have surely made the impending situation much worse. As a result of this altercation, Caine made an enemy who wanted nothing more than to end his life, no matter who else was around. The lesson isn’t with the girl, who did nothing more than flash her God-given assets for attention, but rather with Caine’s lack of an overview on what could possibly happen. Acting without thinking, so to speak. From the pregnancy to the shooting (where some of his friends died), he could have avoided it all by thinking first. “Never trust a big butt & a smile” could also loosely be a lesson in this, but not so much.
Pay Attention At All Times
Caine’s cousin Harold was murdered because he reached for his gun at the wrong time. With a little more attentiveness to the situation, he would’ve been prepared for the assailant, delivering the gunshots instead of receiving them. Fast-forward to the movie’s end. Caine allowed himself (& his friends) to be shot at as they loaded up their belongings for a move to Atlanta, Georgia after he’d delivered a savage beatdown to the cousin of a girl he supposedly impregnated. If he were paying attention, he would have maybe stepped outside first, or had them move at a different time. Perhaps he & O-Dogg could’ve stood guard, waiting for anything to happen. The point is that his preparation would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, he was laughing & joking (not that there’s anything wrong with that), subsequently unprepared for the backlash he fathered. The fact that he got the girl pregnant is itself evidence of him clearly not paying enough attention to the world around him. The moral in these lessons is to always be vigilantly aware of what’s happening in the immediate vicinity, because you never know who or what is watching & waiting to attack.
Revenge Is Real
When O-Dogg took the videotape of him killing the store clerk, he thought it would be funny to show his homies. As sick as that is, it’s believable. People love to brag about things that make them feel powerful. Never once did he think it would come back to hurt Caine in the form of Chauncey
snitching sending the tape to the cops after Caine attacked him in a fight over Ronnie. Caine initiated the attack on Chauncey, subsequently pistol-whipping him, & the outcome was O-Dogg’s arrest for the crime. Revenge also played a part in the climactic ending, where Caine ultimately had to answer to all the karma he’d set in motion. Ilena’s cousin approached Caine for revenge after he hung up the phone in her face. Revenge is one of the strongest themes in the film & real life, too.
Now, after all that reading, TonyGrands.com proudly presents today’s feature presentation, Menace II Society
Words by Tony Grands