inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #76 of 259: Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Wed 16 May 12 07:14
    
Since our esteemed guest seems to have calmed down a bit, I'll address
the mainstream vs. immersion question, and hint at the source of my
vehemence.

An analogy: Let's say that you walk into a bookstore, to be confronted
by enormous stacks of THE DA VINCI CODE and FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY. You
page through them a bit, then you leave, without bothering to see what
else is in the bookstore.

What does that experience tell you about the state of modern fiction?

Now: Let's say that this is the extent of your interaction with
fiction over the last twenty years or so, and yet you continue to call
yourself a critic of the field, that is to say expert enough to think
your opinions are worth paying attention to.

What does that make you? First, not to be trusted. Second, liable to
get slapped down by someone who has been to the back of the bookstore
and can see that you clearly have not done the work.

Hip-hop is the major American cultural export of the last quarter
century. If you are serious about understanding modern culture, you
have to understand what's happening there.

You can ignore this seismic shift in global culture, but people like
me will not take you seriously, in exactly the same way avid readers do
not take people who think Dan Brown represents the state of modern
fiction seriously.

<mcdee> works in software QA. He isn't required to lift a finger.

You, sir, have a different problem.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #77 of 259: M. Dery (mark-dery) Wed 16 May 12 08:50
    
Re: #74 (mcdee): Tricia Rose argues, in _The Hip-Hop Wars_, that the
themes you (and I) find so repugnant in hardcore gangsta rap are, of
course, evergreen themes in African-American culture (thumpingly
obvious example: the blues). The social pathologies endemic to an
underclass ground down by centuries of institutionalized oppression and
horrific violence isn't pretty to look at. But as Rose also notes, the
corporate takeover of the airwaves, set in motion by Reagan-era
deregulation, has closed down the aperture of artistic expression *in
mainstream, commercial-radio rap* (let me be fist-bangingly clear on
that point) to ensure that only a few, marketable stereotypes squeeze
through, most notably the bitchslapping, queerbashing, paid-in-full
caricature of the black man as pimp, thug, or gangbanger. Rather than
giving voice to the lived experience of being black in America, as, say
the blues once did and early hip-hop did, this stuff constitutes the
theme-parking of ghetto pathologies; it's the degradation and
immiseration of black folk, packaged for white consumption.

At least, that's my Righteously Angry Man of the Left brain (or should
that be Angry Man of the Left Brain?) talking, anyway. But what
interests me, more and more, is pulling the Montaigne Move: getting all
dialectical with myself, as our dear friend Rocket might say (his
Absent Presence is fated to haunt this discussion)---turning the
business end of my critique...on my critique. And, like Montaigne,
using myself as a test subject, a case study, a prism for refracting
the world around me, not solipsistically but because I'm the specimen
whose inner workings I know best; I can anatomize myself expertly than
any object of knowledge, as long as I'm able to manage a coldly
reportorial eye and an unflinching scalpel. To what end? Not
self-knowledge, but of man the social (and solitary) animal generally,
because "each man bears the form of man's estate" (Montaigne). 

In this instance, I'm curious to know why the swaggering, f-bombing,
up-in-your-grille Black Male as conjured and caricatured in the
hardcore rap rattling my car radio jerks my chain so hard. Is this
about evolutionary psychology? Is there something in the Alpha-male
pugnacity of that taunting, threatening voice---always the same
affectless, monotonic macho voice, at least to my ear, admittedly the
ear of a white, middle-class, left-wing, feminist egghead of A Certain
Age---that sounds like a challenge (I use the word advisedly...), a
prelude to a throwdown? Is that why some of this stuff cranks up my
adrenalin, makes me wish I could slap the snot out of the foulmouthed
kid in my face? Or is this about something uglier, something chained in
the basement of the white male mind? Because it does occur to me that
I don't have the same clenched-gut, clammy palmed reaction to *white*
male aggro---say, Norwegian black* metal (*irony duly noted) or Trent
Reznor at his most punishingly brutal. But frog-throated Odinist sludge
metal (some of whose racial politics are themselves highly
problematic) is so hypermasculine in such an Unfrozen Caveman way it
always strikes me as hilarious, sometimes even knowingly self-parodic
(so much so that I'd be inclined to think it was a tongue-in-cheek
*critique* of troglodytic masculinity if it weren't so irrecuperably
boneheaded). And Trent Reznor's brand of masculinity is so
self-flagellatingly, self-cuttingly neurotic, so wound-lickingly
masochistic---a wounded manhood for the age of the downsized,
de-skilled white guy, as well as Trent's own scarifyingly painful
attempt at Primal-Scream therapy in public---that it's hard to see him
as threatening. Where I'm going with all this, I have no idea, because
I'm theorizing in freefall, which is another Montaigne Move I'd like to
explore in essays to come---beginning with a question, rather than a
foregone conclusion, and beckoning my reader to ride the gyre of my
thought, peer over my shoulder as I tease out the knot of some tangled
thing (idea, image, experience, social phenomenon). Montaigne's term
for what he did says it all: *essai*, meaning "attempt," but also
"trial," at once implying a stab at something, an intellectual journey
you'll join me on, but also an interrogation, not only of the world
around me but of the world *within* me.   
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #78 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 16 May 12 09:01
    
(Mark's post slipped in as I was writing this...)

> Let's say that this is the extent of your interaction

Rereading <441.14>, <rocket>, I don't think I can agree that Mark has
an experience of hip hop as limited as you suggest. On the other hand,
I agree that hip hop cultural influence has grown, and that if you
don't get it, you could be missing a gear when you churn on about urban
culture. But I don't think Mark is disagreeing on this point - he was
clearly inviting Roy, for instance, to educate him about the state of
the funky art.

I think you led the ad hominem charge by dissing Mark's cultural
credentials; perhaps it would be more productive for you to leave your
boxing gloves at the door and create a dialogue without contending that
Mark is "not to be trusted" and "liable to get slapped down." While I
appreciate boisterous debate, I just don't see a need for this level of
verbal conflict.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #79 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 16 May 12 09:09
    
I should add the Spotify URI for that hip hop playlist I created based
on recommendations from Roy Christopher and <rocket> (I just added
some that <rocket> mentioned that I had overlooked when I first created
the list):

spotify:user:weblogsky:playlist:0TgFNSuyAAgRZYx71zpn57

And here again is the http link:
http://open.spotify.com/user/weblogsky/playlist/0TgFNSuyAAgRZYx71zpn57

That's 17 hours of music!
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #80 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 16 May 12 09:21
    
> I'm curious to know why the swaggering, f-bombing,
up-in-your-grille Black Male as conjured and caricatured in the
hardcore rap rattling my car radio jerks my chain so hard.

Adam's point, I think - one I agree with, though less aggressively -
is that if this is all you're hearing, you're not listening, and if
you're not listening and hearing, it's hard for you to comment with
authority. However approaching as "essai" makes more sense, and perhaps
gets to a xenophobia  buried more deeply in those of us who think
we've got past such things. Hip hop could also be a manifestation of
xenophobic conflict and aggressive assertion of identity. 
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #81 of 259: David Wilson (dlwilson) Wed 16 May 12 09:32
    
It still cries out for selection, annotation, and commentary.  I've
been known to spend 17 hours on new musical discovery, but for the
purposes of this discussion, a 1 or 2 hour compilation would sure be
helpful.

slip to <79> and a recipe for implementing what you are suggesting in
<80>.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #82 of 259: M. Dery (mark-dery) Wed 16 May 12 09:32
    
Re: #76 (Rocket): It's a shame you haven't troubled yourself to
actually *read* my posts, rather than just glossing them. If you did,
you'd see that no one's ignoring your Plate-Tectonic Shift in Global
Youth Culture. Just the opposite: I explicitly said hip-hop was part of
the warp and woof of pop culture as we live it, a phrase Godwin had
some fun with. But hip-hop, in all its variegated and
underground-versus-mainstream glory, isn't the *only* stuff from which
youth culture is spun. What the Frankfurters used to call Mass Culture
has decomposed into a million little pieces, as I said earlier and as
every demographer, marketer, brander, and political consultant well
knows. That doesn't mean commercial culture doesn't continue to cast a
long shadow across our dream lives. Nor does it put paid to the notion
that some subcultural phenomena have used the delivery system of
consumer culture as a vector of transmission for subcultural messages,
whether about rebellion through style or something more obviously
political. But it also suggests that it's easier than ever before to
live in a cultural bubble upholstered with the pop culture you prefer.
Hip-hop can at once be the lingua franca of global youth culture *and*
be a distant noise lapping at the consciousness of kids who have no
interest in it. Then, too, there's more to our common culture than pop
culture, and there's more to pop culture than hip-hop. For that reason,
among others, I'm not buying your argument than any cultural critic
worth the name must be fluent in hip-hop culture and all its gloriously
mutated manifestations. You're too close to your chosen subculture to
see it, but *everyone* feels this way: to the videogamer, all the
world's an XBox; the gun nut sees the world through crosshairs; to the
Tea Partier ...and so forth. I've observed this dynamic at close hand
in academic conferences, and it never fails to provoke a small, wintry
smile among the wise elders: inevitably, some callow grad student
rises, during the Q&A, to pull the identity-politics move, namely: "I
liked your paper, but it seemed woefully, even scandalously
undertheorized, perhaps even racist or sexist or homophobic,
troublingly enough, because you neglected to read your subject through
the lens of [[fill in the blank: Lacanian psychoanalysis, feminist film
theory, post-colonial studies, queer theory, YOUR FAVORITE DISCOURSE
HERE]]." It's a cheap shot, because there's *always* a theoretical
stone left unturned, *always* a discursive move we could've made.

As for your analogy, it fails. A familiarity with foil-jacketed
megabestsellers on offer at airport chain bookstores doesn't qualify me
to hold forth on the handcrafted artisanal movement in fanfic brought
to you by Etsy. (Not that such a thing exists. Takers, anyone?) And if
I were using the commercial mainstream, brought to you by multinational
megaconglomerates in collusion with Clear Channel, to do strafing runs
on obscure, indie hip-hop, I'd be arguing your point. But I'm not. I'm
comparing like to like: mainstream, corporate-funded hip-hop in one
era and another, and I'm buttressing my anecdotal evidence with serious
scholarship in the field by a black, feminist, progressive cultural
critic who is not only an evangelically zealous hip-hop fan but a
Daughter of the Bronx. If you've read, really read, and ruminated on
the lengthy quote from Rose, which I posted, and fail to grasp the
point of argument even then, or are unpersuaded by it, any further
attempts on my part would be a fool's errand. 

Incidentally, this is a discussion of my book, or at least a
discussion using my book as a springboard. Intellectual
honesty---better yet, intellectual courage---bids you crack the book if
you're going to administer jolts to the man in the hot seat. If you
do, you'll discover that nowhere do I set myself up as an authority on
hip-hop; taking me to task for sweeping pronouncements on the state of
that art betrays an unimprovable ignorance of the book under
discussion, and my work more generally. I'll do you the courtesy of
responding to your more thoughtful provocations if you climb into the
ring well-briefed on what I've *actually* written, rather than your
inferences from what I've said here.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #83 of 259: Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Wed 16 May 12 09:33
    
> he was
 clearly inviting Roy, for instance, to educate him about the state of
 the funky art.

Well, that's the frustrating part. Our guest has shown every inclination 
to go on and on (and on!) about all manner of speculation as to his inner 
thought processes regarding hip-hop, but no evidence that he is actually 
listening to some of the music he's going on and on about.

So if that was indeed an invitation, it seems to have been a token one.

Instead of "my thoughts one what Eminem was doing with 'Guilty 
Conscience'" we get 

swaggering, f-bombing,
 up-in-your-grille Black Male as conjured and caricatured in the
 hardcore rap rattling my car radio jerks my chain so hard.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #84 of 259: Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Wed 16 May 12 09:36
    
Slipped. 
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #85 of 259: M. Dery (mark-dery) Wed 16 May 12 09:45
    
Rocket: My most heartfelt, soul-huggingly sincere apologies for not
offering my thoughts on what Eminem was doing with "Guilty 
Conscience." I'm just as God made me.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #86 of 259: From Roy Christopher (captward) Wed 16 May 12 10:07
    
Via e-mail:

Sorry for the schism I caused.

Farbeit for me to ever suggest a Hirschian, need-to-know list for
anyone, let alone someone whose work I admire so. In fact, that was my
point: I dug Mark's work on the subject, missed his voice in that
arena, and wondered why he'd moved on. That's all.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #87 of 259: David Wilson (dlwilson) Wed 16 May 12 10:16
    
If it is Mark's posting style that is putting you off, then just say
so.  I find it to be an entertaining form of schtick which mixes
alliteration and bricolage of ideas, with a distinct point of view that
is grounded in a solid understanding of the scholarship on culture and
media.  And Mark if I met you at a party, you'd kill me, but then I'd
ask you to cop to running the schtick.

But that's me. Around these parts when we get to a point like this,
the smart ones say "Mileage varies" and then they move on.

The concept of "cultural critic" is a slippery one and almost invites
people to stick a pin in their balloon just because... . The phony ones
pontificate and don't read or listen.  But that isn't Mark and I think
it is unfair to accuse him of doing that. 

Your publishing example <rocket> was too vague and diffuse to parry
what Mark was arguing.  You obviously have a lot to say and contribute
to this discussion.  Why don't you take up my suggestion of putting a
playlist together and tell us why you like the particular tracks, how
they fit into the cultural framework of hiphop, and what their
relevance is to the wider culture.  You already have some people
interested.  And it would contribute to the the discussion of the ideas
that Mark is exploring in his book.  
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #88 of 259: Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Wed 16 May 12 11:59
    

Mark, can you say what you think of other academics who make forays into
cultural criticism you have made the center of your own work? As you know,
being a cultural critic is an interesting academic enterprise, ranging all
the way from Plato to Walter Benjamin to Foucault, with the occasional
breakout book from someone whose career has mainly been in other fields. One
book that comes to mind is Harry G. Frankfurt's little book ON BULLSHIT.
<http://www.amazon.com/On-Bullshit-Harry-G-Frankfurt/dp/0691122946>
Do you feel ON BULLSHIT has something to offer?
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #89 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 16 May 12 15:37
    
I just wish we could get a real street savant in here. I don't know
about you guys, but I'm a middle-class white boy who grew up watching
(and believing) the vast sitcom conspiracy... Father Knows Best, ya
know? Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Danny Thomas. Congenial
fantasies quite unlike 21st century urban street life. I can't believe
anybody in this conversation really gets hip-hop at bone vibration
level. ON BULLSHIT, indeed...
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #90 of 259: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 16 May 12 16:53
    
I don't know how representative I am, but as a child of the 60's I
found rap about as fun as disco and could not wait for it to die...it
was good for about two movies, two cool new phrases and two dance offs
and then was just repetitively boring and being white bread and no
where near a ghetto I could not relate. Then hip hop, using all 64
tracks apparently, just way too much sound for me, and the whole white
wanna be black nonsense that dragged on at least a decade too long. 

Well, obviously it isn't going away and according to my son and
daughter I have no idea how varied it is. Jon, my daughter likes your
Spotify playlist, which I was listening to as she dropped the grandkids
off and I had to mute immediately. She just said "Way to go dad."

So, 16 hours to go before I'll venture an opinion:)

Nice to see we are all talking to and with one another.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #91 of 259: david gault (dgault) Thu 17 May 12 08:23
    

I'm not up on the literature so please indulge my 
thought on the corporate media presentation of thug
music.  

It's a decoy to keep listeners from focusing on the real
thugs, and to sympathize with the real thugs when the 
brighter listeners make the connection.  

I'll stipulate that this assumes stupidity among the 
listening population, which I'll explain by waving my
hands and saying stupidity is a result of limiting one's
inputs, which is the purpose of concentrated corporate media.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #92 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 17 May 12 08:46
    
David, how is this any different from our rich history of "thug
fiction" in general, e.g. movies about various forms of more or less
organized crime? Would you argue that "Scarface" or "Goodfellas" or
"The Godfather," arguably about the same kind of activity, keep viewers
from focusing on the real thugs, and lead them to sympathize? In fact,
I was led to sympathize with the Corleone family via its' "corporate
media presentation, skillfully packaged by FF Coppola.

Are black "gangstas" less palatable than white gangsters? Inspired by
white criminals, it's art; inspired by black (street) criminals, it's
"corporate media presentation of thugs"?
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #93 of 259: david gault (dgault) Thu 17 May 12 09:14
    

I'll have to think about the individual examples.

Just off the top of my head though, yes black gangs are
less palatable than white (Italian) gangs.  

I don't include Coppola's Zoetrope studio in the set
of concentrated corporate media.  Godfather 1 and 2 
were made in the 70s, Scarface in the early 80s. 

The FCC stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1981,
according to a Fox News blurb that Google just handed me.
That's not exactly coincident with the 'concentration of
media', but it's close enough for my purpose.  
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #94 of 259: david gault (dgault) Thu 17 May 12 09:33
    

Another point of difference is that the Godfather flics
covered 60 years of history, allowing the story to 
present events that justified or at least explained
the behavior of the characters, which encouraged the 
audience to sympathize.  

I don't listen to enough contemporary music to say if
that's the case today.  A similar sense of history can
be found in Bob Marley and Peter Tosh's lyrics, and 
my memory of the recent history of violent black gangs is that
the crack industry got a big boost from Jamaican gangs
in the early 80s. So the gangs may have had that perspective 
then, but I don't know about now.   
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #95 of 259: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 17 May 12 09:52
    
Let's see, I left off with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys,
when my son moved out on his own...gotta say Aesop Rock is pretty
impressive; not my cup of tea, but still...

Lately, I've been thinking of Dylan's stanza from The Times They are a
Changin': 

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

That the older generation needed to get out of the way, or identify as
allies was so clear to me in the 60's...now the coin is flipped and
I'm on the back half of that lyric, wondering if I'm willing to get out
of the way, where I can't understand or lend a hand where I
can...don't want to be another brick in the wall...

Aargh!
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #96 of 259: From Roy Christopher (captward) Thu 17 May 12 09:59
    
via e-mail:

Hip-hop and "thug music" (or whatever) are not synonymous. It's not
all bitches and hos and guns and drugs. People rap about everything
possible. I don't know what the radio plays as I haven't listened to
the radio since the sixth grade, but I do know that rap music is as
varied as life. Critiquing the worst of it is tired and tiresome.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #97 of 259: david gault (dgault) Thu 17 May 12 10:02
    

Yeah, I'm listening to Herbie Hancock in my office in the middle 
of a national forest, which I acquired after Marin Cty
got too hectic for me.  I'm not an authority.  
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #98 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 17 May 12 10:35
    
Roy: I realized your point after making that last post. Rap's not
inherently about crime, and we should be clear about that - it's about
a particular slice of life. I find myself thinking about the bourgeois
origins of literature, and how in the 20th century a street literature
has emerged - Jean Genet comes to mind as a catalyst for broader
distribution of literary effort.
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #99 of 259: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 17 May 12 12:41
    
One thing that strikes me as we discuss the relevance and meaning of
hip-hop etc.: we live in a complex multicultural environment, and
adherents to a particular culture won't necessarily grok others.
Culture wars are emerging, and those wars are as complex as the
multiplicity of cultures. Who decides which culture "wins"? In the
world of music, who can say that urban hip-hop culture is more relevant
or valuable than rural country/western culture? Or rock culture? Or a
culture built around electronica, dubstep, et al? Or game culture?
  
inkwell.vue.441 : Mark Dery - I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
permalink #100 of 259: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 17 May 12 13:29
    
What Jon said...thinking exactly the same thing...we all come from
somewhere as our starting points and our cultural and subcultural
overlaps are all different.
  

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