Monday, June 28, 2010

Hipster Snobbery 101: Pitchfork’s Eminem Review

Jayson Greene’s review of Eminem’s album Recovery for the online music magazine Pitchfork was one of the biggest displays of nose-in-the-air hipsterism I’ve ever had to endure. The ranking that Greene gave this classic album – 2.8 out of 10 – should be absurd to anyone who actually sits down and listens to the entire thing.

On Recovery, Eminem has managed to do something that few rap artists have even attempted let alone accomplished: an emotionally revealing tour de force. Kanye West showed a great deal of himself through his stand-alone electropop record 808s and Heartbreak, but Kanye abandoned rapping and went for singing through autotune to express his inner emo. Tupac made plenty of emotionally rough records in his career but listening to them comes with a sense of sad inevitability. Eminem’s Recovery, on the other hand, has a sense of its album title. As I listen, I feel like Eminem has pulled back from self-destruction and turned himself back to the phenom he once was. If he keeps on this path, he could do what Johnny Cash did with his American series of albums: Turn back a career crippling drug addiction and produce records for yourself and for your hardcore fans that will be remembered for their honesty, maturity and originality.

Despite his success, Eminem is significantly unappreciated. The bulk of his fans include white suburban kids whose parents left the city in a scurry of white flight. I’ve met a lot of them, as I’m sure readers have, and I can say confidently that they’ve inherited the racial phobias of their parents and will listen to Em’s records, Insane Clown Posse and Linkin Park, but aren’t about to download Nas, Kool G. Rap, Wu-Tang Clan or T.I. These suburban retrogrades likely gloss over a lot of the intricacies and the deep appreciation of urban culture that Eminem displays. The sophomoric rapper Benzino, who Eminem beefed with years ago, wasn’t all wrong in his diss song “Pull Ya Skirt Up” when he said that if Em were black, he’d “be Canibus” and “no one would care about your complicated rhyme style.” Eminem admitted it himself in his song “White America” when he said, “If I was black, I would have sold half.”

Meanwhile, the hip-hop community and the bourgeois hipster culture that dominates contemporary music criticism are doomed to be hostile to a new Eminem release. The initial buzz of his early career is over, so now the hip-hop community is able to look back at Eminem as an outgrowth of the young, angry white male of the early 2000s and a modern day Elvis Presley, who would never have achieved his stratosphere, despite obvious talent, of success if he had been an angry black male, and hipsters, who probably don’t even like hip-hop in the first place and should therefore be suspect when they espouse an opinion on it, like Greene are able to relegate him to an aging pop star who seeks a return to relevance. Both communities are staying with a premise they formed before they even listen to Recovery and are hostile to any new conclusion.

Greene proclaims that “the guy rapping on Recovery just sounds devoid of any noticeable joy, personality, or wit.” I don’t know what the “lack of personality” is supposed to mean, but Recovery is obviously meant to be a dark album. That is what makes it so strong. Recovery is one of the most genuine albums I’ve heard in a long time. For a genre in which toughness and masculinity is omnipresent, he engages in several tear-jerking songs dedicated to his lost best friend Deshaun Dupree “Proof” Holton. The result is amazing and it’s easy to proclaim “Seduction,” “No Love” and “You’re Never Over” some of the most overtly emotional hip-hop songs in recent memory. Tears came into my eyes when I heard these lyrics, in which Eminem raps about the ghost of Proof pushing him away from death during a 2007 drug overdose that put him in the hospital:

“Matter of fact it was just the other night, had another dream about you
You told me to get up, I got up and spread my wings and I flew
You gave me a reason to fight, I was on my way to see you
You told me nah Doodi you’re not layin’ on that table I knew
I was gonna make it, soon as you said think of Hailie, I knew
There wasn’t no way that I was gonna ever leave them babies, and Proof
Not many are lucky enough to have a guardian angel like you”

Greene also elaborates that Eminem is “in a world of his own” and “doesn’t work well with others.” This is probably true based on Em having spent several years as a recluse and having very few guest artists on his albums, but coming from a professional writer like Greene I find this very strange. Writers are eternally individualists. We don’t like groups and tend to be quiet, shy and bullied during our school days. If that is something that Greene sees as a negative in the art that he enjoys (be it music, literature, film), then I’d imagine, for the sake of consistency, that he has a fairly dismal and uncreative library of work that he does enjoy.

Pitchfork, in all its high-minded snobbery and uncreative criticism, stands in opposition to the independent creativity of the shy child and bears an attitude that bears more resemblance to the bullies and cliques that made me hate public school. I would recommend that Greene visit the doctor and get his head extracted from his ass before he writes another review.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lady Gaga's Self-Expression Is More Than Welcome

Pope Benedict XVI has apologized for the sins (pun quite intended) of the Catholic Church. This seems to make it a very odd occasion to bring up the censorious specter of the sacrilegious in response to the pop star Lady Gaga's music video for the song "Alejandro."

The Catholic Church has become such a self-mockery that the expressionist portrayal by Lady Gaga is tame in comparison. In the video for "Alejandro," Gaga is seen as a nun surrounded by dancing, half-naked men. The dancers pick her up, parting her dress and revealing cross-adorned underwear. (The outfit actually closely resembles that of the comic book icon Magdalena.) It's positively material for the family dinner in comparison with the actions taken by many Catholic priests and hushed up for decades:

In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy identified as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation trip to the mountains by a priest. After that, he was administered alcohol, locked in his bedroom, stripped naked, and forced to suck the penis of his confessor. (Why do we limit ourselves to calling this sort of thing “abuse”?) The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for “therapy” by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care. But it took no time for Ratzinger’s deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, to return him to “pastoral” work, where he soon enough resumed his career of sexual assault.

Gaga has riled many, bringing out articles such as this one from CNN asking if she'd gone too far and musician Katy Perry saying absurdly "Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

The wall set up by the unthinking dedication of Church devotees was undoubtedly a strong contributor to the suffering of children being unheard for so long. Whether it is Monty Python tearing apart messianism in the film Life of Brian or Lady Gaga's "blasphemy," ridicule of the Church helps break down the mental chains of fear that orthodoxy fastens to its subjects. With the Church less feared and more publicly ridiculed, the next wave of victims (of which there may be plenty if it remains an establishment hostile to the natural sexual state of man) may very well be more forthcoming in their cries for help.

Beyond an informal defense, I would also like to express that Lady Gaga's video and song is a treasure. This sort of bold, sophisticated artistic expression has been long absent from the American cultural plateau and its return is quite welcome. The howl of the puritans only makes her work further appreciated.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Are You A Retrosexual?

Building off of the theme of the last post comes this very interesting addition to Merriam Webster's lexicon:

#1: Retrosexual

Definition: a man who adopts a traditional masculine style in dress and manners


"Think of him as the anti-metrosexual, the opposite of that guy who emerged in the 1990s in all his pedicured, moussed-up, skinny-jeans glory. That man-boy was searching for his inner girl, it was argued. The retrosexual, however, wants to put the man back into manhood." — Lini S. Kadaba, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 7, 2010

Submitted by: West4th, NY

Editor's Note:

Retrosexual is a word that has been used in two very different ways.

It sometimes describes an old-fashioned "manly man" – e.g. a beer and football-loving guy who cares little for his appearance.

But it has also been used, as in the example above, to describe someone who self-consciously adopts traditional masculine styles – e.g. old-fashioned manners and clothes typical of the early 1960s (think Mad Men).

I'm all for a modified version of this style - slacks, button ups and fedora but with no tie. The tie is useless, uncomfortable and counterproductive.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again

Almost reading my mind, The Consumerist reports that vintage products are being marketed in overdrive, with everyone from Pepsi to Eddie Bauer getting in the game:

*Eddie Bauer: Is reintroducing jackets that the company supplied to World War II pilots and 1950s mountaineers.

* Jantzen: It’s ruffled halter bikini is modeled on a pin-up-girl style it sold in the 1940s.

* L. L. Bean: It's bringing a back a hunting shoe that was in their 1914 catalog.

While at Target recently, I took a few pictures of some of the shirts for sale. Almost every single T-shirt on display followed this trend:

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aloe Blacc - I Need A Dollar

It's sad that a song like this has to be made, but it's nonetheless beautiful.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Men of Action, Men of Ideas

In the following videos, Christopher Hitchens sits down for the National Review program Uncommon Knowledge and talks about the legacy of Leon Trotsky.

The host, Peter Robinson, notes that Hitchens' admiration of Trotsky matches his admiration of Orwell - a man of the Left who was also willing to criticize the authoritarian elements in it, while simultaneously ravishing the nativist, nationalist, racist and imperialist elements of the Right.

While Hitchens, ever the contrarian, denies this, I must say that I see it. In 1939, Trotsky said this:

The struggle is for the colonial possessions, for the domination of the world. The attempt to represent this brawl of interests and appetites as a struggle between “democracy” and “fascism” can only dupe the working class. Chamberlain will give all the democracies in the world (there are not many left) for a tenth part of India.

The reading of the British Empire's intentions is brilliant. Churchill certainly didn't hide his intention to maintain a grip on India. and the imperialist rhetoric was rampant in his speeches. No matter how much he may have done against Hitler, I have always felt uncomfortable celebrating Churchill, as he was one of the last true believers that white Europeans were destined to rule over largely brown, less developed people. Trotsky and Orwell, as brave speakers against what communism turned into, have an added credibility.

The evil inherent in colonialism is evident in the film George Orwell - A Life in Pictures, in the clips pertaining to Orwell's military stay in Burma. The film is available free on YouTube, but can't be embedded. Here are links to the relevant portions: Part (b) and Part (c).

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Gary Numan - Metal

I just found this strange little video for one of my favorite Gary Numan songs. The setting reminds me of Gasworks Park in Seattle, Washington.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who Will Fill In For America?

There's a line that I hear from libertarians and far-left liberals alike quite a bit: The United States wants to make the rest of the world like us. Implied here is the assumption that the 800+ military bases across the world, our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and our primacy in immediate conflicts from Iran to Korea is a factor of pure American assertiveness and by no means an actual need.

This ignores history greatly. As World War II burgened, the United States found itself in a position of economic uncertainty, with a military that was not the foremost in the world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said to American mothers in 1940, "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." Pearl Harbor and the launching into war that it brought obviously changed that. After the war, Europe and Asia were a bloody graveyard of their former societies. The economies we see today in Japan and Germany, functional yet by no means perfect, would never have been created if it had not been for the United States. Neo-isolationists and revisionists like Pat Buchanan don't get this.

After the fall of communism, the role of U.S. as a peacekeeper became even more necessary. The Europeans did nothing to stop the genocidal bloodshed happening right next to them. It took the United States to end the genocide and prevent a post-Soviet upsurge in nationalism. Bringing Milosevic and his goons to trial was not a "fool's errand." It's only a pity we didn't do so in Rwanda.

Alot of this animosity towards the U.S. military and American involvement in the world seems to have been bred by the War on Terror, the war in Iraq, and Obama's continuing engagement in Afghanistan. I personally share the reservations in Iraq. When I see Iran behaving more brashly, I can't help but think of an Iranian nationalist who was at one of my classes in California. He proclaimed during class once, "I love George W. Bush! He took care of Saddam Hussein for us!" In the book The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, Lee Smith essentially argues that 9/11 brought America into the internal warfare of the Middle East. That's something that should make any American uneasy.

With Ron Paul and his son Rand now gaining more and more influence in the Republican Party, it's worth seeing what direction the United States will go in. Confidence in the ability to prevail in Afghanistan is slumping, and the world appears to be moving towards a status quo in which it could possibly afford to have a non-interventionist United States. China is expanding its reach in Africa, and our Canadian neighbors to the north are being found engaging our Latin American neighbors to the south. President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva appears deadset on pushing his country towards regional superpower status, engaging not only the Iranians but also in the Israelis in an effort to create another Middle East power broker in the Western hemisphere.

A world where Brazil, Canada, and/or China, among others, are filling in for the United States could be workable, even if it would mean a much less predictable outcome. These countries vary in their structure, and none are fundamental about democracy and free trade in the way that the United States is, but all are engaged enough in the world to see it in their own interest to keep that world from cratering.

Whether it's Obama or a Paulite at the helm, the image of the United States taking the helm in emerging global conflicts looks more and more like something from the past.

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