by carl wilson

EMP preliminotions

My EMP liveblogging plan did not click, as readers have guessed. I didn't get my paper finished soon enough to recap day 1, and since then there has just been too much action. Which is a bad blog thing but a good life thing. Dull days at the desk are better for this medium.

I will do a thorough recap later - I've been taking notes for you, my friends - but a couple of initial randoms: First, in relation to my talk about "guilty displeasures," someone asked me tonight about current Nashville country, and I said that while I like some of it, my barrier to embracing it has always been (besides some production values) its centralization of an American style of masculinity - which I said that as a Canadian I have always found alienating. This led to a big talk about what I considered the differences between (the typical) American masculinity and (the typical) Canadian masculinity, in a group with only one other Canadian. After the fact, I thought the word I would use about U.S. masculinity is "unapologetic." While Canadian masculinity is not as deprecatory and miserablist as British masculinity, even the macho version of Canadianness is marked by an ongoing texture of parody and self-undercutting that to a Canadian is noticeably absent in the prototypical American version. I would add that the Canadian machismo is also hard for me to handle, and that Nashville is full of reconsiderations of masculinity as a text, regret and guilt and sentiment being a big part of that, but that it's not doubtful of the starting line in the same way. I'd really like to hear if I'm just being a crazy alienated adolescent about this, or if I'm articulating something identifiable to other men. (American femininity is different too, but I think maybe the ways in which gender is occupied, ironized and questioned as part of the texture of character in both countries trumps the national aspect, so that the gulf between the men is more conspicuous?)

Second, to jump on the only controversy of the week, I disagree with Jessica about what transpired at the opening panel talk with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. It wasn't the most dynamic discussion of all time, but it was actually quite good humoured and smart. And for anybody who's ever interviewed Stephin, as I have, it was glaring how he was receptive and engaged in a way he's not when he deals with the press. But as for the "racism"? The way I recall it, L.D. Beghtol brought up the fact that Stephin's said that Zipadeedoodah is the only successful happy song, and that prompted Stephin to say that he likes the music in Song of the South, "which is really hard to see now, for obvious reasons." I'm paraphrasing, but I certainly wasn't left with the impression of him celebrating Uncle Remus. And while you could critique the music in that film as being part of the minstrel legacy it uncritically perpetuates, you'd have to take into account the ways that legacy has been reconsidered, at EMP itself last year, as a much more ambiguous and complicated thing in its relationship to black culture, before you could label an appreciation of anything related to it as racist. I'm glad Jessica has agreed to reconsider.

But on the closer-to-home aspect of him talking about Celine Dion as if she were non-white: It was a gaffe, in its way, but a fascinating one in context. Of course, Celine is white, but Stephin was discussing production style and technology, and Celine is in many ways produced and positioned as if she were in the same niche as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey - as if she did R&B; - so he was just choosing the most awkward case for his point, which was that in that genre, highly mediated production for "entertainers" is not considered out of place the way it is for rock or white singer-songwriters. (He contrasted it with Belle & Sebastian's work with Trevor Horne, which I think was a case of them deliberately transgressing that line, but never mind.) And he was using Celine because Drew Daniel had brought her up first as an example of highly compressed, mediated production. But the point was odd because Stephin was saying that it's a basically racist perception of entertainers versus artists: That artists in non-white genres are just here to entertain us, so their production authenticity doesn't matter - they aren't individuals.

To me it was all telling about how Celine exists: First, that she's a white artist whose niche would not exist without a black precedent. (Is she the Elvis of power-ballads?) Second, that she's an entertainer rather than an individual. (She is entirely on-board with that role.) And third, that even though people know that she's French-Canadian (there's no category of Quebecoise here), her foreignness and, I'd argue, her class renders her ethnically Other in an American context, so "non-white" (did he ever actually say "black"?). Stephin's blunder was still a blunder, but it was an exemplary one, not a crazy one. If Celine were Lebanese, things might not be wildly different; if she were a pure white anglo American, her career would be nearly unthinkable. (And if she were black, it would also be radically different.) This entry is ultra-parenthesized because these questions are hard to address directly; I'm still unsure of how they will be dealt with in the book. So, sure, she's "unblack as hell," but doesn't that locution indicate it's impossible to say she is "white as hell", too?

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, April 30 at 5:18 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



Here's my comment on the Machismo question: of all the shoot 'em up manly-manliness inherent in Quentin Tarantino's movies, there's no greater courage expressed than when Robert Forster explains to Pam Grier in JACKIE BROWN why he had hair implants put in. And when manly-named Nick Stokes gets pulled from the box at the end of this same director's episode of CSI, he goes and cries in front of the daughter of his torturer and tells her to let go of her demons. And we love him for it.

Even in the most macho of stories, everything bows down before the revelation of self. Machismo is always just an obstacle to that. Perhaps this is a somewhat ellyptical response to your question, but maybe I'm just too tremulous to nail that eight-ball, you know? (Seems so cruel.)

And anyway, we all know that you're an alpha male, Zoilus.

Posted by Dixon on May 1, 2006 10:21 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson