Monday, February 15, 2010

The KKK Member

So, John Mayer says his privates are racist, but his heart isn't. Wow, that's a new perspective for a White man. About this I have several thoughts.

1. The news media was tripping over itself to get the perspective of Black women on this issue (that's right, clean it up Holly Robinson Peete), but what about White women? If we extend (ahem) Mayer's KKK metaphor into the broader historical context, we see that the rallying cry for White supremacists has long been the preservation of White female purity. However, the subtext of this "purity" has always been control of the White female body. White supremacists want their woman on a high pedestal so they knows where she is at all times and can control what she's doing. Mayer was not only insulting Black women, he was checking White women to let them know that his "c***" was an instrument of domination. Message: Your body is a wonderland, so stay in your lane. Read the whole interview if you have any doubts.

So many times we understand race as just an issue that effects Black people, but it's tied into a complex set of systems of domination (also involving class and gender) that touch everyone's lives. It's more than just a Blackthang.

2. I'm usually against the whole punitive iPod purging that some people advocate after an artist does or says something despicable (see: Chris Brown). To me it smacks of digital book burning, and in this evanescent age, I can't help wonder how quickly and easily a voice might disappear forever if we all decided that it was too "wrong" to be heard. Plus, most of my favorite artists, from James Brown to Michael Jackson to Amy Winehouse (!) to Marvin Gaye, were either unsavory, or half-crazed, or both. Funk stinks sometimes, by the way.

Funky, without a doubt

3. So, I won't be deleting Mayer from my iTunes, but after listening to some of his music again, I have to say it makes me pretty disappointed. My favorite song of his "Daughters," talks about the impact that a fathers can have on the type of relationships a woman has later on. It's a really wise, sweet song. I always thought of it as a nice (almost feminist) take on the importance of valuing women. But now, not so much.

4. My father warned me about you, John Mayer.

Scene: Driving in my car with my wife in the passenger seat and my father in the backseat. We have just come back from dinner. My dad, Doctra Knowitall, gives me a look in the rearview mirror when John Mayer comes on. I ignore it.

"Uhh...I don't really like that dude," he says, undeterred.

I could feel myself stiffen, becoming defensive. I want to remind him that no one asked him. "Why you don't like him?" I said, trying to remain casual.

"I don't know, something about him..."

I could feel him nodding a doctor's prognosis: terminal whiteboy.

"Well, he's got some good songs," I said finally. My car, my stereo. So: there.

I cringe at the memory, but I know there are a lot of innocent Black men out there, just like me. Kanye, Jay-Z, Dave Chapelle, they all let you borrow their "nigger" pass (as you say). And look what you did, John. Usually I'm pretty good about not being taken advantage of Jazz Singers such as yourself. I NEVER liked Vanilla Ice or his dumbass song. I KNEW Justin Timberlake was a phony long before he talked mess about Prince and threw Janet (and her piercings) under the bus. Now, I feel like such a fool.

After the State of the Union address, Chris Matthews said that Obama's speech was so good that Matthews had forgotten he was a Negro. People got upset, but I know just how he felt. That's how I used to think of you, John. You sung good enough that I almost forgot you were a Cracketycracker. Almost.

5. The dumbass comments came up within the context of a remark about Mayer talking about people saying he has a "hood" pass because he sings "bluesish" music and has been on a couple of hip hop albums. He made an interesting observation about how the term "hood" is really just a stand in for the word nigger. That's a good point, but he also went out of his way to say the actual "N" word. He had to know that the use of the word would take away from the intent of what he was saying, especially in our soundbyte culture.
But I tend to think it wasn't about questioning how society uses new words for old concepts. No, I think he was trying to be "edgy" by demonstrating that you are so post-racial that you could actually make it cool to be a racist. Just because double-consciousness is something new to you, that doesn't mean that your racial deconstructionist navel gazing is profound. In the words of Jay-Z, "we don't believe you, you need more people."

6. As I was brainstorming a list of White artists with "hood passes," I couldn't avoid the most obvious choice: Eminem. In some ways Eminem is a whole lot smarter than Mayer because he knows that there are some topics within the genre that are off limits to him. He learned long ago that he could not say the "N" word, and that all of the women that he raped and killed in his lyrics would have to remain White, no matter how many records he sold. (Mariah Carey was about as close as he could get, and even ended up taking an L on that when she made a hit song at his expense)

Don't make Nick take it to the streets.
Although Mayer may have been stupid for running his mouth, I appreciate his willingness to take a risk. One of the things that has stunted Eminem's growth as an artist over the last decade has been his timidity. He talks big about being able to say whatever he wants, but he stays securely in his lane. He is the crazy White boy with lethal lyrics, but he talks about nothing and beefs with whomever he sees on MTV that can't fight back. He sells millions of records and is acclaimed as a genius, but still plays the role of the crucified (ax-murdering) savior. He talks about real hip hop, but supports one of the biggest underachieving, sellout musicians of all time: 50 Cent.
Yeah. Definitely...definitely...definitely going to sell a million records. Definitely. Yeah.
I give Eminem credit for being one of the first major artists to question President Bush after 9/11 when he released "Square Dance" in 2002, but it seems like after the re-election in 2004, he gave up. If Eminem really wanted to do something as an artist, he would have to step out of his lane and examine himself in a different way. He's smart enough to recognize White privilege. He has seen first hand the psychotic cycle of violence that robs so many young Black men, like his childhood friend Proof, of their lives. He has seen corporatism rob hip hop of its heart (he was actually an accessory to this robbery). He's got stuff to talk about.

But it's not just about making political or social statements in the music. I want an artist to level with me; show vulnerability in a way that is not necessarily cool or accepted. Take a risk. I promise I won't delete you from my iPod.

7. Something about my last comment seemed a little too safe, on second thought. It's easy to wag your finger at someone who has a complete body of music and say they haven't done enough. As artists, don't we all constantly fight that battle of wanting to be loved ($), versus telling a "truth," that can often seem so illusory or crazy or wrong?

But I guess that's what's required to make art that is truly great. And that's also why it's easier to talk about then do.

8. The Mayer interview is worth reading. I disagree with those that say he needs to shut up completely just because what he said was offensive. He has some (interesting/smart/stupid) things to say about fame, love, race, and even (gasp!) masturbation.


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Jenny said...

Vipul shared the whole racist dick thing with me before I heard it anywhere else, and I was predictably appalled.

This is the first time I've ever read the whole interview, though, and I have to say, while the racist dick thing is no less appalling in context, the context itself is so pathetic that I can do nothing except feel sorry for this guy who does seem pretty smart, but also so poorly adjusted.

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