by carl wilson

The Sixth Proposition: Shut Up, Wilson

In some backchannel action, Felizitas/Jane Dark/Joshua Clover made it clear to me what I wasn't reading right - or rather set me straight, otherwise known as handing me my ass in a sling, and fair enough. I'm usually down with the density of JC's prose, but must have been nodding when I was reading his introductory post (with the clever unspoken-parallel making de Kooning illustration) on The Five Propositions. No idea why my brain went so spongiform. Considering the unresolved-bedwetting-issues obnoxiousness of my first post, I thought he told me to fuck off pretty politely (and I hope he won't mind my quoting him here):

"You seem to have misunderstood my fundamental inquiry (quite explicit in the first post) which is not toward suggesting that social acts like misogyny become formalized after awhile ó duh! ó but wondering why, given all the bullshit that happens in [mainstream] hip-hop lyrics, thatís where the great sonic inventors continue to appear and work? Or to put it another way, what do we do about the fact that itís more pleasurable and interesting and intense to listen to Jay-Z and Snoop than Slug or dead prez (much less politically righteous indie rock)?

"What Iím up to [...] is trying to get past 'itís good because itís funky' or 'itís bad because itís misogynistic' ó and even trying to get past throwing oneís hands up at the difficulty of these two facts coexisting ó to WONDER if there might be a connection between the two facts."

[He then challenged me to tell him if this question was already answered, and mos' def, the answer is No.]

The reflex reaction is that it's the sonic form, and social context rather than content, that attracts the innovators to hip-hop - and the paycheques and the fame that attracts them to the mainstream rather than the undie/backpack side. But that doesn't explain why Public Enemy was once at the forefront of both sonics and politics, and in the past decade those two haven't coincided. One hypothesis of mine in response is that the violation of social codes always attracts wild creators, and sexism is actually enough of a public taboo that openly breaking it (rather than codedly, like yer average politician) signifies as liberation (like being gay, doing drugs and having lots of sex were to various bohemias and rock'n'roll in the past), even though that's tangled up with male backlash etc. etc., and this kind of social lawlessness attracts those who have an appetite for aesthetic lawlessness. You also have to factor in the move of hip-hop from minority to near-majority taste in the same time period and the market-driven elimination of other kinds of rebellion, a story well-told by Jeff Chang a year ago. (Is misogyny a really complicated stand-in for social militancy?) And then there's the question of displacement of hostility toward the (abandoning) father toward the (present) mother, and the question of the availability of political options and discourse, and lots of really really messy sociological issues

But those are only first rubbing-my-eyes waking-up reactions to what Joshua is suggesting and obviously require more thought. Wish I'd started here rather than in Watchoo Talkin' About mode.

Also: Anyone else have thoughts about the new Nas album? It seems really engaged in the middle of this shitstorm and yet all I've gotten to read are slams for weak beats, defenses for flow, praise that his dad's on it, criticism for sexism - nothing that stands back. When I first heard it I was in love but I don't know if that is lasting now. One issue: It decidedly needs condensing, but is there a better hip-hop double album (counting OutKast as a lashed-together set of two albums)? Second issue: There's still gender-dodgy stuff here but there's also the newly-enfianced homeboy's efforts at anti-sexism - and both seem kind of weak. Still, mixed down to a single, this is an incredibly vibrant and outspoken disc, with more than clever nonsequiturs and pure sound to go on - if we're going to talk social content within the mainstream, is there anywhere else to turn?

Like Ukraine, maybe?

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, December 21 at 12:22 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

COMMENTS

2nd thought re: my last comment. My assertion that the misogyny of the '60s rockers was "barely different in degree, and not at all in kind" from that of the hip hoppers is unsupported and contentious. I'd rather say, *only* different in degree, and not in kind.

Writing from the West Coast, 3 hours earlier, g'night.

Posted by John S. on December 22, 2004 03:28 AM

 

 

Carl,

A few propositions of my own.

1. Mainstream culture loves Bad Boys. "Rolling Stone" mag will do as an examplar. Some time ago, I read things like "Rap is the new rock and roll." Techno, which, like rap, is built on the Funk, and which is rhythmically more innovative than rap, could never have been the New Rock and Roll. Techno is not Bad Boy.

2. Women-slappin'-and-killin' Bad Boys of rap are barely different in degree, and not at all in kind, from the Bad Boys of rock I quoted earlier. I can remember Jann Wenner once applauding the Rolling Stones' (the band's) "maturity" for eschewing "Sympathy for the Devil" and sticking to chipper stuff, like "Under My Thumb," on a tour they were undertaking. Most of the Top Canonical '60s rockers -- Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, Byrds, Neil Young, Elvis -- indulged in severe bouts of lyrical misogyny. Was there a relationship between their brilliance and their misogyny? Ellen Willis has written about this.

3. If there's women-hating going on in the culture, the white mainstream is going to try to find a way to blame it on black people. Worrying about hip hop's misogyny was on the cover of Newsweek in the '80s, or early '90s at the latest.

4. If killin' women with gratuitous aesthetic beauty is the crime, the Cohn Brothers got to do the time. Did any mainstream filmmaker make more ravishing use of color than the Cohn Bros in the '90s? What is the relationship between their misogyny and their filmic brilliance?

5. Respecting the aggressor is the way of capitalism. Donald Trump, Michael Douglas in that Wall Street movie. The aggressor is going to go and fight for his meat.

6. The widespread tendency to Respect the Aggressor won George Bush his reelection. In the run-up to the vote, I actually read the National Review's hate-filled blog. A common refrain was, "The American people understand that George Bush 'gets' the War on Terror, and the Democrats don't." Given the givens of the Iraq War, the only way to grasp how these Americans "get" the War on Terror is that they think it means: Blow Up Arabs. Doesn't Matter Which Arabs. Just Fuckin' Blow Up the Bastards.

It's sickening, but this is how I see my fellow United Statesers. Benighted, benighted people, wedded to violence, in love with violence. No surprise that hip hop is too. That comic strip Boondocks had a thing on this a year or 2 ago -- Huey's gangsta-wannabe brother Riley decided to model his gangsta behavior on George Bush, because nobody's more gangsta than the god-awful Republicans.

Hope this helps. Merry Christmas.

John

Posted by John S. on December 22, 2004 01:20 AM

 

 

Cogent points, John - but the one point that Clover's trying to dispute here is that "Examples abound on either side." In hip-hop, in the past decade, examples of beautiful sound made by those who get on board with the misogyny are waaaaay more abundant than the beautiful sounds made by those who eschew it. (The eschewing always seems to become the point and the music secondary - is it just that it's hard to make good music while you are (a) beleaguered; (b) defensive; (c) maybe self-righteous; and (d) short on resources? Tempting but I don't think that's the whole story.) Your final point about violence signifying power and power being seductive (perhaps particularly to people with a strong sense of their own creative power, craving recognition?) is supergermane tho.

Posted by Zoilus on December 21, 2004 05:42 PM

 

 

Aesthetics & politics again, wha? Ignoring for a moment the question of an implication of a *pattern*, namely, here, a *pattern* of aesthetic brilliance and noxious misogyny, my first gut blow says, huh? Like the musically brilliant and disgustingly anti-Semitic Wagner? Examples abound on either side -- reactionaries and progressive humanists making beautiful things.

In music, efforts can be made to extract philo-Semitism from the *sounds* Wagner made (people have done it, or at least ambivalo-Semitic sound sentiments).

Taking up the question of *pattern*, my gut blow says, hey, As If. As If misogyny doesn't flow night and day through the mainstream channels of our culture. Cohn Brothers come to mind. Look at the silly woman running around screaming and blindfolded as she knows she's about to be murdered. Ha ha ha. That movie starring Turturro as the writing-blocked Hollywood hack -- the only significant female in the show, dead meat. Them some sick people.

My question is, why does hip hop always take the rap?

As to Mr/Ms Pseudonym's wondering whether there might be a connection between the beautiful music & the misogynist words of lotta mainstream hip hop, I say yeah, there's a connection: there's a lot of talented jerks out there. Always have been.

Down by the river, I shot my baby.

Hey Joe, where you gonna go?

I'd rather see you dead, little girl. (Elvis & Mr. Give Peace a Chance.)

Check out murder ballads. 9 times out of 10, if someone's getting away with murder, that somebody is a man. If a woman kills her man, she's toast. Miss Otis Regrets. Frankie & Johnny. Message? Ladies, put up with it.

Reactionary violence against women signifies power. Power attracts. A sickness in the human soul been with us a long long time.

Posted by John S. on December 21, 2004 05:01 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson