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Carl PDFs Fall 2010 by carlmagazine
November 11, 2010, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

November 5, 2010

October 22, 2010

Art, Hatred, and Reconciliation by carlmagazine
November 3, 2010, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Music, Society

by Charlie Rosenthal

When we interact with art, are we supporting the values it espouses? By consuming the art, do we, by default, approve of the viewpoints contained within it? Am I encouraging homophobia when I listen to Nas, who once rapped about “Gay-Z” and “Cock-a-fella Records”? How about misogyny, when I hear Killer Mike espouse the virtues of women who “gobble up j**m like school lunches”? Or, even, domestic violence when I listen to the Smiths and Morrissey moans about “smashing every tooth” in his girlfriend’s head, right before claiming that he’s persecuted and feels like Joan of Arc?

My completely selfish instinct—after all, I like Nas, Killer Mike, and the Smiths a lot—is to not alter my behavior at all. If it doesn’t bother me, why should I make my life worse? I imagine I’d be a slightly less happy person if Led Zeppelin I were no longer in my iTunes library, but that doesn’t change the fact that the members of Zep basically spent most of their career doing depraved stuff to women, like penetrating them with mudsharks. Does the artistic value of what they created—the ferocious apocalyptic moan of “When the Levees Broke” or the slow burning blues of “Dazed and Confused”—outweigh the raging cock rock of “The Wanton Song”? Yes and no. Yes, because artistic and literary value is enough to redeem something, at least in the eyes of the law. No, because, even if the work is not obscene, it can still espouse views that are offensive, untenable, or otherwise unsavory.

However, is listening to a misogynist like Mick Jagger or a homophobe like Cam’ron any different than listening to fringe neo-Nazi nuts like Skrewdriver or Prussian Blue? On some level, yes. Mick Jagger and Cam’ron are, above all else, popular. They’ve gone platinum. Skrewdriver and Prussian Blue are probably praying to go gold. However, that sort of thinking just gives Killa Cam the bully pulpit to scream “no homo” while clad in head to toe pink fur. We can’t let popularity get in the way of principles. Popular acts should, thus, be more responsible to the masses. We do get that, to some extent. If a song is on terrestrial radio during the day, it’s likely to be free of overtly offensive views, thanks to the FCC. You just won’t catch Taio Cruz espousing the same views that hard heads like Boot Camp Clik would.

I’d wager that a vast majority of Americans who enjoy the genre of music that Skrewdriver plays, i.e., punk rock, refuse to listen to the band entirely on basis of their political views, as opposed to any real or perceived lack of talent. For all I know, Skrewdriver plays exactly the sort of punk rock I enjoy. I just refuse to listen to them because I find their political views to be personally offensive. This leads me to believe that I’ve created a double standard for myself. I’m perfectly okay with Biggie “[smacking] the b***h in the face,” but not with Prussian Blue’s twin Aryans singing about killing Jews. Is it because I know that I’m not going to go and smack women around? Is it because the anti-Semitic blather hits just a bit too close to home? In both cases, yes. All of that aside, I think the real difference lies in intention. Prussian Blue makes hate music. In each and every song, they’re out to let everyone know about the superiority of whites, whereas Biggie doesn’t appear to be intending to convince anyone to hit women. He’s just telling it how he sees it. However, this does not let Big off the hook at all. He’s still responsible for whatever terrible things he advocates.

Many, many critics have attacked rappers for “glamorizing” the gangster life style. While I write this article from the comfortable perspective of a white, privileged, liberal arts college student who will not have to rely on “sellin’ crack rock or [having] a wicked jump shot” to succeed in the world, I can still say that there is a certain glamorizing inherent in not only rap, but most popular music. What could be cooler than doing many shots of Patron with Trey Songz before going back to his crib, except, maybe, selling several kilos of the purest Peruvian white with Rick Ross and then riding around in his Maybach, chilling with DJ Khaled? There’s no way to guarantee that musicians do not portray their lives as rich and famous people as fun and cool. Of course, people could realize that dealing drugs isn’t a good life style and musicians could realize that it’s pretty reprehensible to peddle such propaganda, but that’s just not going to happen.

In the end, there isn’t a singular answer to the question of how we are to react to music that espouses views that we, ourselves, do not hold. We could boycott the music or we could ignore it. It’s up to each person to come up with his or her own answer. I, personally, choose to believe this, which is, in my mind, a massive cop-out: I’ll continue to listen to whatever objectionable music I want, while, subtly, criticizing it for the outlooks that I don’t hold, resting sure in my own ability to not let Morrissey’s sexism, Nas’ homophobia, and Killer Mike’s misogyny pollute my thinking, all while enjoying the music as much as possible.