Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Stealing The Air and Talking Back

For this week, I found a pretty cool - academic! - article about spoken word that involves youth and why it is an important source of medial expression.

The article called "Stealing the Air" by Rebecca Ingalls features ideology from the movie "Pump up the Volume", and focuses on how spoken word was derived and the purposes it is used for now. Ingalls discusses how this form of art has been derived from hip hop culture as well as from poetry as a whole. The reason I picked this was because this piece talks about how teens and youths in general are allowed through spoken word to connect with peers in a way that entices an audience to actually listen. Spoken word puts an emphasis on the voice and presence of the person performing more than poetry does because of the specific ways in which the body is used to create a message.

Through this form of art, it is argued, youth create a space where they can interact with peers by use of social commentary on many of the things which are not discussed in the daily life of a teenager. The way spoken word is done allows for the focus to be on the presence and indeed the existence of the performer as living the words that are being said. Spoken word is also very good at allowing youth - who primarily engage in this art - to vent frustrations, anger, and ways of navigating through the socio-political environment.

I found this piece while looking for something to back up a piece that I had written for another class. This piece attaches very easily to the course assumption that media matters and that teens are not some alien life form. Within spoken word, we see teens and youth digest their social surroundings, including the media as well. They take on hard issues that mean something in their life. Spoken word acts as a kind of counter-media for mass media. It relates to the concept that teens are not some alien life form because we see that they really are attached and are affected by what happens in the environment. They are not separated from the culture at large, but also have something to say about it.

Kai Davis - "Fuck I Look Like"

Hiwot Adilow - "Hiwot"

Gay Marriage

I think that spoken word is extraordinarily important as a medium of expression for youth. I personally have engaged in spoken word a lot after my brother died of a heroin overdose in order to figure out why these things happened. For me, spoken word was a way for me to make sense of my own emotional capacity while searching for an audience to listen to me. I used spoken word for healing purposes and to try to make a personal connection to my audiences, to try to reach out and create a sense of solidarity between me and others who may be feeling similarly to this.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Non-Black: Criminality, Misogyny, and Violence

This is a short list of songs which feature non-hip hop, non-black artists who we constantly forgive for their sexist, violent, classist, problematic natures. Because they're white and this sort of behavior doesn't fit our stereotypes of who white people who make rock and roll are. Please keep in mind that I listen to a lot of these songs, despite the fact that I consider myself conscious of feminism and intersectional oppression.

Trigger Warning: Slurs, gay bashing, violence, misogyny, racism, ableism, classism eminent.

Feel free to add more with the lyrics/video when you come across something. Acknowledging these exceptions to the rule will shine some light on our own perceptions of the stereotypes and expectations of these and other artists.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hyperlinking Hip Hop: Creating within a Culture

Tricia Rose's "Hip Hop Wars"  

 Below are some big points that I pulled out of the Tricia Rose talk for today. I'd like to discuss a little bit about this experience however. I honestly don't believe that hip hop is talked about enough in American culture, despite commercial Hip Hop being extremely pervasive. The broadness of this topic is also incredible. So for my post, I think I'd like to focus on the race relations of hip hip as well as what meanings are derived from this art form, for both white youth and youth of color. I think that understanding hip hop in a historical and racial point of view is extraordinarily important to our discussion of hip hop in general. Without a cultural context, we view race, racialized prejudice, media, and consumer culture in separate boxes when they are actually points of intersectionality.

 First off, I'd like to start with the video of the Tricia Rose talk at Brown and some basic points: We don't share lived experience, but popular culture.

  • Cultural knowledge is spread through popular culture and the media. This knowledge comes to us in complex, mediated ways. Things are constantly reformed and moving. 
  • Hiphop was first brought about, as Rose argues, on basketball courts. People would freestyle during the instrumental B-Sides of tapes. This was not supposed to originally be viewed as a form of art.
  • Prerecorded technology - like CD's and track players - helped for the first time in the of making new songs. Sampling. This access to new technology helped "create" hip hop 
  • A culture of versioning - Prerecorded tapes and tracks that could be edited together and taken apart. This is creating within a context already present. Hip Hop's creation acted as a sort of conversation which is characteristic of the Black communities (according to Rose).
  • Decline and despair in urban America in Black culture as a source of creativity - working class , low-tech jobs that people were funneled into (auto repair, etc.) gave rise to a multicultural mix of people who are able to reinvent technology to their own benefit, despite downtrodden economies. A theme of hip hop and black musics is often hope despite despair.

This is a video about the controversy of hip hop that is a common debate in many cultures, but especially American culture. Dr. Rose is on the panel in this debate. The common view is that hip hop is more misogynist, more violent, more degrading, more criminal, than any other stylized form of music. It is then interesting that this is considered the last black music that has not - yet - been reappropriated for white culture. What is constantly discussed is the economic struggles which gave rise to the views of criminality and hip hop. While the video is really long, it is worth watching at the very least the first 15 minutes.

Here is a link to the Notorious B.I.G. lyrics that Michael Eric Dyson quotes about the economic and socio-cultural events within the black community.

Wu Tang Clan - C.R.E.A.M.
Here is an example of what I would consider (with me not being an expert by any stretch of the imagination) an example of non-commercial hip hop. The beat and kick pattern is simple and catchy with the lyrics deep and based on lived experiences of the artists in the group. The pattern in the background is a sample, something taken from some other song or melody or elsewise. This video also talks about how difficult it was in urban culture to stay clean, get money, and stay out of jail. The lyrics give a narrative of this form of hope and despair that Rose discusses in her talk at Brown University. There is even a discussion of how youth are effected by the events in black culture, the despair, as Rose calls it.  

Lil' Wayne - 6 Foot 7 Foot (Ft. Cory Gunz)

Here is a popular hip hop song that I would consider commercial - made for entertainment, shallow content, catchy, and was made to make money rather than be an expression of true art or experience. This is an example of what people often refer to as the rampant misogyny, criminality, and violence that hip hop is often blamed for. This song follows much of the pattern of what Tricia Rose discusses in the form of hip hop - the sampling and conversational tone of the song - while appealing to the masses by using imagery from Inception, a film that had come out around that time. The pattern in the background repeats so much that the words and content of the song almost become intelligible. The only important thing then becomes the glimpses of phrases that can be heard, rather than the full message. There is no real narrative written here, only a song of rhyming which follows a predictable pattern of popular consumption.

Jay-Z - "Hard Knock Life"

Like the Lil Wayne video, this song also samples and in fact makes its appeal off of the hook from the Broadway musical Annie. In this song, the underlying kick patterns of Hard Knock Life, sung in the musical by the orphans of the orphanage as they are doing chores and being abused, makes up the basis of the melody which Jay-Z raps over. While he discusses certain topics that are discussed by Rose, this is a for-profit video that is geared at making money rather than expressing content. This video does however demonstrate Rose's idea of versioning with the repetitious pattern of the hook from Annie overlayed by references to popular culture (like Biggie - the Notorious B.I.G.) and displaying this "hope through despair" kind of "rags to riches story".

Lupe Fiasco - "Bitch Bad"
This video also falls under the context of commercialized hip hop, but varies from some of the other videos that we have examined. In this song and video, Lupe Fiaso - like many artists (Frank Ocean, Lauren Hill, Queen Latifa, among others) within the hip hop community which we typically don't recognize - makes a critique of the language and visual stimulation we use in order to construct ideas about what and who is acceptable through hip hop and other sources of media. He has something strong to say about the rampant misogyny, violence, and racial stereotypes which other artists use to sell their works. While he doesn't specifically say hip hop - because we can apply this critique to many forms of music which promote similar ideas - the audience is made to understand that this is a situation that is being driven not only by white supremacy, but also by internalized racism and other forms of structural oppression. Last year, I made the mistake of saying that Lupe Fiasco was the only commercialized artist to make such a stance, but a fellow student, friend, and colleague pointed out how I was playing into some of the stereotypes which Lupe Fiasco and many other artists who were discontent with the present state of hip hop were discussing.

I end with this last note on Lupe Fiasco as a catalyst to our discussion of how media affects teenagers and the perceptions which we have of black youth. Lupe Fiasco talks about how the contexts of these conversations, images, and stereotypes become coded in our understanding of ourselves from a young age and why this cycle continues. I am in no way an expert on this topic. However, it seems to me that the portrayal of negative stereotypes in commercial hip hop has lead to a cultural understanding of black youth as analogous with the popular black musics which are becoming more and more commercialized. Youth are therefore told to spend, to adopt a certain image in order to be black, to understand relationships to each other and the world at large in a specific and limited way. And while there are artists who are constantly fighting for not only recognition but a change in the systemic oppression of black youth, these stereotypes are encoded and subscribed to by society - including white and non-black societies - as a whole. Black youth are therefore seen as different from white or non-black youth - an alien culture - who adopts this mode of expression through the numerous negative representations presented by artists who are being marketed by larger cultural as having only one stereotypical situation. This proves that media matters not only to teenagers but to our growing perception of who youth and marginalized groups of people are.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Queer Representation and the Gay Elite

I'd like to focus my post this week about a few things that were both mentioned in these texts as well as echoed in my American Teenager Museum which I didn't have the words to express until now. While these pieces are important, I'd like to take a more specified look into some of the issues concerning queer folk which are only touched upon here. I personally find that they are extraordinarily important in the discussion of queer folk because while we are discussing visibility, we are not discussing whose visibility is the one being depicted. It most certainly isn't disabled non-binary people of color. My analysis thus springs from here.

An accurate representation on who gets the most attention in the queer community.

  • "A major concern was voiced first by lesbians and then by gays and lesbians of colour, people with HIV/AIDS, and people of other sexual minorities. Their complaints were that the [LGBTQ] movement had, for the past twenty years focused exclusively on the concerns of gays who were primarily male, decidedly white, and overwhelmingly middle class. Another concern was with the focus of the early gay liberation movement on assimilation, which sought kinship with the heterosexual mainstream on the basis of similarities." - Queer Representation in Media, Canada's Centre for Digital and Media Literacy
This quote relates directly to a lot of what we have talked about in class, as well as what the article covers. This is a subpoint, relating to how representation of the LGBTQ+ spectrum has been, by the mainstream media and queer media alike, assimilated into an image the only represents an acceptable side of the community - the white, gay, male. This passage emphasizes that while there has been progress in the images of LGBTQ+ folk, that progress has been limited to a certain ideal of what is known as assimilation - that is acceptance by the heterosexual community only as far as certain limits paint queer folk as heteronormative. The acceptance is based on the idea that queers should become just like heteronormative folk, assimilated into that culture. At the same time, part of this acceptable image is of the white gay male, which is often just as damaging as no visibility at all to many LGBTQ+ folk who have been invisible within their own communities (i.e. trans* folk, queer people of color, asexual folk, etc.).

  • "Certainly companies are more than eager to be tolerant and accepting of the enormous buying power of queer people, but many organizations who court queer money when it suits their needs will also act against queer interests when it’s in their best interest." - Pink Dollar Marketing
It's all about money. Like many other events in a capitalist society, this entire passage relates to how companies will often look only to turn a profit - or when it makes their image better. It is completely normal for companies to turn a blind-eye to the actual problems which face the queer communities. So while it is taking a step in the right direction for the progression of more "allies" to the queer communities, it is not doing so for the reasons of civil rights or humanity, but for capital. These companies become exposed for their fickleness, but nothing seems to change - at least so far. This literally puts the power and agency of queer folk not in their rights to vote and be considered equal in terms of housing, job discrimination, and spousal rights, but in terms of the buying-power they possess. A queer without buying-power can then be ignored along with all of the other queer issues. No money equals literally no power. No power equals no visibility. 
  • "...[B]rands that specifically target queer people are able to generate higher brand loyalty: queer people are generally very active when it comes to using their dollars as votes and they will stick to companies that have maintained a positive presence within queer communities. Both Witeck-Combs and The Commercial Closet highlight how loyal queer people are towards queer-friendly brands. While this is often seen as a good thing – a promise of money in exchange for more gay-friendly behaviour – it also suggests that queer people are being bought and sold by companies in exchange for treatment that heterosexuals should expect by default." - Pink Dollar Marketing
Like the previous excerpt, this passage is all about the buying power of the LGBTQ+ community and how it gets configured by the capitalist class. Now that there is representation of LGBTQ+ folk - regardless of how limited it is - there is a sense of acknowledgement from manufacturers and the market as a whole. Using the political game-playing processes of picking and choosing when and where to support the community, this article is claiming that queer money is being invested the same way as heterosexual money is. The difference between the ways in which queer money is manipulated and heteronormative money is manipulated is the political name games - the who supports what kind of image/behavior in media for the "queer agenda" - that companies play in order to get the money. By jumping on the wagon of civil rights and sociocultural acceptance of queer life, more money can be made because the queers will support it.