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Friday, April 13, 2007
Like Virtually Every Rap Song
I'm sick as hell of this Imus story continuing to orbit TV and the blogs. He said something dumb, he's paying consequences. That should be the end of the story... But wait! There's more:
The heat is now on those who called for, and received, Imus' head to take their scalp and do something responsible. Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have taken their customary place at the front of the publicity line, but they now run the risk of being the greatest of hypocrites of all time if they don't continue this budding movement to decontaminate the airwaves by moving on to the "artists" and companies who produce the vile lyrics and other forms of "entertainment" that do far more damage to Black communities than Imus ever did. Imus' crass racism, practiced in scattershot fashion over the years, is no match for the visual and lyrically imagery presented to America by far too many "artists" whose only skill is identifying the lowest common denominator and playing to it for all its worth. They, and the music and movie companies that make millions on this commerce, must be compelled - by any means necessary - to end their trafficking in cultural debasement for the sake of the almighty dollar. Otherwise, all this fuss about Imus will be little more than a gratuitous career hit on one racist.[What's Next Al? - Huffington Post]Because, apparently, Sharpton and Jackson have never spoken publicly against misogynistic content in rap music.
Look, I'm not trying to make an excuse or carve out a justification for misogyny in rap, but the way this discussion has spun around to include hip-hop really leaves a terrible taste in my mouth. First, you've got the stink of the "Yeah But Them Too" argument, which is really just a cognitive trick to shift blame away from one incident by throwing a blanket over a whole group that "everyone agrees" is despicable. You simply cannot make the logical argument that "when rappers say 'ho,' that makes some old white guy who should know better on the radio think it's okay too." It can totally be not okay to say in either case, but that doesn't mean the two cases are alike, nor does it mean that one influences the other.
The second odious part of this is the assumption white people who have never heard two dozen rap songs in their life have been making for years. That's the, "rap music is only about bitches and hos and guns" argument, which, as a fan of the music, isn't remotely close to the truth. There are fair assessments you can make about how pervasive on the music charts and the music video channels (should any of those still exist, I have no real idea where they are on my dial) misogyny and violence is, but you can't tie all rap, or all popular rap, or all "hard-core" rap, or even all "gangsta" rap (a term no one except white people have used since probably 1995) to misogyny and violence.
Doesn't mean the handwringers won't try:
"I’m no apologist for hard-core rap. I quit listening years ago, when it got redundant, boring, predictable and pointless — a tired, offensive cartoon version of itself." [Kansas City Star]
"...it is hypocritical of some people to criticize Imus for using a phrase like that while praising rappers who call women the same thing and worse in virtually every rap song." [Dispatches from the Culture Wars]
"n the last couple of years, the magazine has campaigned against the misogynistic lyrics in rap songs and the derogatory way black rappers, including music superstars, picture black women in their MTV videos." [National Review]
"Outraged bloggers are calling for his resignation and even boycotts of some of the show's sponsors. Not one, however, I noted after skimming several Web sites, chastised a single rap musician, in pure C. Delores style, for their liberal perpetuation of denigrating misogynistic labels." [Washington Times]
(I especially enjoy the way the National Review made sure to say "black rappers," because when it comes to misogyny black rappers have certainly cornered the market with lyrics like, "bend over and take it like a slut, okay ma?" Oh wait, a white guy said that? Never mind.)
I'm not going to apologize for misogynistic or violent lyrics in rap. But the difference between Imus' comments and nearly every single rap song that could be tagged as misogynistic is that those songs don't have specific victims. Imus did. If you didn't see Snoop's response to this, here you go:
It's a completely different scenario. [Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about hos that's in the 'hood that ain't doing shit, that's trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthafuckas say we in the same league as him.Again, not an excuse, but it's certainly a matter of perspective.
But if there is some sort of problem we want to address as a society here, do we really want to have a lynch mob mentality about it? Re-quoting the first article above, "They, and the music and movie companies that make millions on this commerce, must be compelled - by any means necessary - to end their trafficking in cultural debasement for the sake of the almighty dollar." Really? This wasn't a first amendment issue of censorship for Imus. He has every right to say whatever he wants, but it just so happened the outlet he used to say what he did has consequences for the content of that speech. Was he lynched? Did his speech get cut "by any means necessary?"
He lost advertisers and reflected poorly on his employers to the point where they could no longer endorse his speech. Can the misogyny be eliminated from rap music in the same fashion? Probably not. Even if you get the major labels and major distributors to collude in order to provide only "positive messages" in rap music, you probably start getting into some ugly areas legally (anti-trust perhaps?), so long as they keep selling Gwen Stefani and Fergie showing their cooch and metal acts who use dark and aggressive language in their music. Not only that, but as long as this stuff sells - and it does - there will be alternate labels and alternate distribution systems that will get this stuff out there.
Short of government-endorsed censorship, as long as people want to buy this stuff, there's no way to prevent them from doing so.
So fix the problem in your own neighborhood instead. Don't buy rap music, don't go see the DMX movie, don't watch BET. Find out who's advertising during Rap City and write them letters. Write to Sony and the other labels, let them know you're dissatisfied. But this "by any means necessary" thought, intentionally evocative of Malcolm X I'm sure, isn't the solution. This isn't the government's problem, it's yours. Don't buy the stuff. Marginalize it in the market. Don't let these guys make money.
But take some time to learn about the art form too, that way you don't sound like such a fucking boob when you start equating the whole of rap music in broad brush strokes to what some dumbass white guy said about some college girls.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Singing for the Sake of the Song
Are you as excited as I am to be at work today? Hooray for corporate slavery! Hooray for a capitalist society that enables the growing chasm between the upper and middle class as they get rich off of our sweat equity! Three cheers for a system where the remuneration of salary and benefits to the upper executive class is outpacing the true salary growth of the worker by a factor of over 50 to 1!
Let's dress in olive drab and protest for the people. Then we'll move to Cuba and eat ham sandwiches with pickles. You down?
I slept poorly. Allergies kicked my ass yesterday, and I had a difficult time fighting off the flop sweats during the night. Also, my dog has a big heart and wants to sleep right alongside me, but by doing so effectively cuts off 2/3 of the available flail-around-until-I-find-a-position-that-works space on the bed. Last night he spent a good chunk of time laying across my pillows, which meant rolling towards the center of the bed put me in an undesirable nose-to-ass spot with Frye.
I slept poorly.
I don't want to be here today. I don't want to be anywhere, particularly. It's cold, it's raining, and every tendon in every joint in every limb on my body is unnecessarily taut and weakening. I seemingly can't go five consecutive days without feeling like complete fucking garbage for two more, so I guess this is how it's going to be.
Watching TV last night, I saw a commercial for the Volvo S80 that struck me as curious. It's nighttime, a woman is crossing a vast and empty parking lot with her Volvo under a light in the distance. She looks down at her key fob, stops, then turns on her heel and walks in the other direction. Apparently, the S80 comes equipped with this:
The Personal Car Communicator (PCC) is your car key's smart connection with your Volvo S80 applying the latest in two-way radio technology. When in range, you'll always know the status of your car. Locked or unlocked. Alarm activated or not. If the alarm has been activated, the heart beat sensor will also tell you if there is someone inside the car.A heart beat sensor? Really? How pervasive a problem are back seat lurkers anyway? Conservatively, you've got ten million women making trips to their car in the dark every day (and that's awfully conservative), and I can't remember the last time some crazy-ass machete-wielding psychopath got written up in the paper for his stealthy back seat technique.
That being said, you know sure as hell Volvo is going to sell this $500 add-on to a whole bunch of women who just can't risk that 1-in-3.65 billion chance that maybe this is the year Snopes.com has to retract that whole "dude in the back seat with a hook" myth page.
As I was tooling around looking for that Volvo info, I found a page where someone referred to this option (and specifically, the ad) as "security theater," which just goes to show you how fucked up our society is. CJ and I were talking about the 2008 election, and he mentioned that he generally believes that there's nothing more important to voters in the world as we know it now as "national security," and I don't necessarily think he's off-base in that statement. Then again, we're all conditioned to believe this way by our local news and the rhetoric being shoved down our throat by the government (e.g., "fight them there so they don't follow us here" - Oh noes!!1! Skerry brown furriners!!!11!), so I'm not at all shocked that a car company is trying to position themselves as the most security-conscious company out there with bullshit advertising like this.
Yes, if someone was lurking in your back seat, it'd be nice to know about it before you get the anal rape. That's a given. But given the choice, I'd forego that option for an extra five miles per gallon. I could then apply my cost savings on gasoline to something more realistic to protect me and my family - like, uh...
Deadbolt locks, broom handles to secure sliding doors, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, an asbestos inspection, updated appliances, seal improvements around tubs/sinks/pipefittings to reduce the chances of mold, three-prong outlets, updated electrical systems for the home, new tires for the car, oil changes, brake pads, wiper blade replacements and washer fluid, transmission fluid, serpentine belts, bulbs for the lights and turn signals, bulbs for my home's exterior lighting, more home exterior lighting, lawn grooming equipment, removal of large debris from my property, sidewalk and driveway resurfacing, more secure hand rails in and outside the home, new bicycles and skates for the kids, helmets and other safety equipment, rubber mats for the shower...
...and hundreds upon hundreds of other things that make a great deal more sense than a heart beat sensor in case of lurking bad men.
This whole concept of safety and security is absurdity at its finest. Bad brown people who don't share our values will blow something up on American soil again someday. It's going to happen. Then again, the number of lives we've lost due to bad brown people who don't share our values blowing something up on American soil is vastly outpaced by car crash fatalities, cancer, and fluky accidental things like fires, floods and food poisoning.
I'm reading this book that describes how conservatives position their party as the "strong authoritarian father," where the idea of "family" is a metaphor for our country. The cognitive framing of security policy for the conservatives is that the world is inherently evil, and only the strong parent figure can prevent bad things from happening to you. It becomes easy, if this is your frame, to identify "evil" based on broad, sweeping generalizations. Like, for example, the Iraq war framed as a solution to a national security problem. There's enough evidence that's been discredited out there that should allow us to disconnect what got us into the war with national security policy, but who cares? It's brown people who don't share our values, and the people who brought down our towers were brown people who don't share our values. What's the difference?
That we as a people can't see past that frame and understand what is truly dangerous to the future of our free society (hint: it's not bad brown people who don't share our values) is frustrating. Bad brown people who don't share our values are the back seat lurkers of our world right now. Of course "they" could take out Des Moines, but instead of trying to solve the problem by going after the root cause, we instead decide to throw a lit match into the biggest geographical powder keg on the planet? Great idea, and I'm sure all the new bad brown people who don't share our values who are growing angrier with the US by the day won't ever be a threat, so long as we're "fighting them there so they don't follow us here."
You know how we squash a threat like this? We get economically stronger and pull the rest of the world up with us. We fund the ever living hell out of stem cell research and have our best scientists working on that* and making alternative energy more viable. We reduce our dependence on oil, we teach China and India how to do the same, and all of a sudden the three biggest markets on the planet are no longer supporting (to the huge degree we are) the only product besides rugs that the entire region has to sell.
*UPDATE - this is what I get for writing in between phone calls when my head's muddy. I was going to make a case that we're not the country that makes shit anymore, we're going to have to be the country that invents shit and spends money to be on the leading edge of discovery for the betterment of the world. That's where that argument was going. Our discoveries equal economic power.
The problem with the bad brown people who don't share our values is, at root cause, the fault of the sheikhs and emirs who own the oil. They have a vested interest in keeping the hoi polloi angry at the west for ideologies, because it's distracting them from being angry at their own countrymen for disenfranchising everyone who doesn't own an oil well. If there was an Enlightenment-style thought revolution in the Middle East where the people demanded equal access to the natural resources of their country? If this thought revolution caused them to recognize that they had the ability to create a strong and principled state which could contribute economically on the world stage beyond oil, and could allow them to position Islam as a legitimate, peaceful and reasonable philosophy? I'd argue that's exactly what that region needs, and the rest of the world would be better off.
Then again, I'm just a pinko who doesn't believe the terr'rists they tell us they're fighting are the terr'rists we should be. But what's one Abdul to another anyway? So long as we swing our big stick in the name of Glorious Victory and Righteousness, we're all safer here at home, right?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
BG's Music Club, Jazz Edition
24 hours to grab the tracks below, assembled
1) "Maiden Voyage" - Bobby Hutcherson - Happenings
2) "Autumn Leaves" - Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else
3) "Better Git Hit In Yo' Soul" - Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um
4) "On Green Dolphin Street" - Eric Dolphy - Outward Bound
5) "Ease Back" - Grant Green - Ain't It Funky Now
6) "My Groove Your Move" - Hank Mobley - Roll Call
7) "Hippy" - Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers
8) "Woody 'n' You" - Max Roach - Max Roach +4
9) "Come Rain or Come Shine" - Sonny Clark - Sonny's Crib
10) "Misterioso" - Sonny Rollins Vol. 2
11) "Speak No Evil" - Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
12) "Minor Move" - Tina Brooks - Minor Move
Framing The Issues
The average person simply doesn't have the time to develop well thought out and informed positions on every subject. In fact, if they take the time to study any issue in the depth necessary to form such a reasoned conclusion, it is done on very few issues and usually ones in which they have a direct stake (like when their job involves that issue). So for those issues that they don't have the time or inclination to really think through and research, they develop cognitive shortcuts - conceptual tools that allow them to jump straight to a conclusion that they think is justified, usually based on vague associations.[The Endless Irony of William Dembski - Dispatches from the Culture Wars]
Monday, April 09, 2007
BG's Music Club
For 24 hours only, I'm offering a sampler of music downloadable
1) "Atlas" - The Wood Brothers - Live at Tonic
2) "Close the Door" - The Holmes Brothers - State of Grace
3) "This Wheel's On Fire" - Rick Danko - 12/20/77 NYC
4) "I Shall Be Released" - The Band - 2/13/74 Los Angeles
5) "King Harvest" - The Band - 8/16/76 Washington DC
6) "Stagefright" - Steve Reynolds - Endless Highway
7) "Rocking Chair" - Death Cab For Cutie** - Endless Highway
8) "Last Night" - Paul Butterfield Blues Band
9) "Nothing I Wouldn't Do" - Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials - Get Wild!
10) "A Song For You" - Gram Parsons - G.P.
11) "Wild Night" - Van Morrison - 11/18/79 Berkeley
12) "Hate It Here" - Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
By all means, if you enjoy the music here, please buy the albums from these artists. /disclaimer
*Before anyone offers the technical treatise about how inefficient it is to zip files of this nature, due to these files being fairly efficiently compressed as a standalone, let me just say "I know," and that I'm just trying to offer them all in one single file for d/l.
**Yes, I know. Listen to the song, alright? It's from a tribute album, and it's good.
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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