Sunday, January 09, 2005

It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World?

A few weeks ago, some of you (well, at least two, anyway) expressed concern about misogyny in rap — or, more to the point, concern that critics such as myself aren’t more exercised about it. Certainly, nobody I’ve read seems to have given a second thought to the casual use of the b-word in Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” nor have questions about his attitude toward women kept the song out of numerous Top-10 lists. Maybe having such a nice girlfriend makes our Mr. Carter above suspicion.

Still, I suppose the fact that there are concerns at all is progress. After all, just a decade ago most of the music press was so blinkered in its view of gender roles in music that the fact that women could make worthwhile recordings was considered headline news. Back in the dark ages before hip-hop was even heard of, the Rolling Stones managed to demean women in all sorts of ways (think “Under My Thumb,” “Brown Sugar,” the notorious Black and Blue ad, “Miss You”) and only endured tepidly doctrinaire attacks from the feminist left. Obviously, we’ve come a long way. Baby.

On the other hand, there are also those who believe that dead horses must continuously be beaten, and to that end we can’t repeat too often that Misogyny Is Bad. Mm’kay? It’s a stupid, hateful prejudice, and deserves to be stamped out along with other forms of sexual, racial, cultural and religious intolerance.

If only the question of misogyny in rap were similarly so black-and-white. Sure, someone who believes that any use of the terms “bitch” or “ho” is by definition misogynist (unless applied to female dogs and streetwalkers) will easily find rap guilty on all charges. But such an absolutist view is more than a little foolish, as it leaves no room for satire or sarcasm, among other things.

Focus on at the way specific rap songs address women instead of merely obsessing on foul language, and it begins to become possible to draw useful distinctions. Start with the distinction between seeing a woman as sexually desirable, and seeing women only as sexual appurtenances; the latter is by definition misogynist, whereas the former is, at worst, merely rude. But what about a rap like Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” which can be taken as a statement of black pride (in his rejection of “white” notions of physical beauty), or an utter objectification of womanhood (notice he doesn’t say anything about the women’s personalities)? It could even be both, although the notion that a work of art can embody contradictory ideas is one that gives a lot of people headaches.

Or take raps that refer to women as bitches and ho’s, and look at how the the men are being portrayed. Often, they’re thugs and players, killers, dealers and thieves. Not exactly positive role models, are they? At the same time, a song populated only by hustlers and hos isn’t exactly an accurate portrait of life in the big city (unless you actually think Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a real place). Nor is it intended to be. It’s a fiction, a fantasy, a figment of somebody’s (possibly warped) imagination, and while the picture it paints may be nasty, it doesn’t necessarily mean the artist believes all people are like this.

Of course, after years of palaver about “keepin’ it real” and how rappers are really “musical documentarians,” it’s no surprise that some listeners — particularly those too young, suburban and un-read to remember the lessons implicit in such arguments as Norman Mailer’s The White Negro — can’t discern the difference between actual attitudes and a professional bad-boy stance. Whatever its status as street culture might have been, hip-hop these days is as much a business as movies or video games.

“Misogynist,” like “racist” and “fascist,” is too serious a label to be applied lightly; indeed, the ease with which they’ve been tossed around threatens to make them as meaningless as “liberal” has become in American political discourse. Questioning what’s being said and why is important, as is looking at how the underlying social content is received by its audience.

But if all you want is a simple litmus test to determine whether something is bad and should be shouted down, well, fuck off. One Tipper Gore is more than enough for this world.

I liked "Baby Got Back" (which I see as more positive than negative in its take on how we as a culture define female beauty) ... and I agree that we do not need nannies telling us what we should or should not listen to.

Was wondering if you had a response to this? (I could not find the entire article on the Net but saw it posted elsewhere recently).

William Grim, Contributing Editor of the popular conservative web site The Iconoclast, has penned the following article with regards to the recent murder of Damageplan/ex-Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott:

"You've undoubtedly heard by now that a demented fan last week killed heavy metal guitarist Dimebag Abbott at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. While I am extremely happy to hear that the assassin was shot to death by a brave Columbus policeman and I in no way want to engage in a blaming the victim scenario, I cannot deny that there much in Mr. Abbott's demise of one being hoisted on one's petard. The squalor, inhumanity, filth (both in the metaphorical and hygienic senses), depravity, ugliness and ignorance of everything that heavy metal represents (Like rap, I cannot use the noble term music in a description of heavy metal) creates a mindset among its devotees in which Mr. Abbott's assassination was an event that was all but waiting to happen.

"It was highly amusing, and also terribly sad, to watch on television fans conducting a 'vigil' for the slain Mr. Abbott outside of the Alrosa Villa. It was an assemblage of ignorant, semi-human barbarians who were filthy in attire and manner, intellectually incoherent and above all else, hideously ugly to the point of physical deformity. Here is a definite case in which the outer appearance of these 'fans' accurately represented the hideousness of their souls. That the physical deformity of their ugliness was self-inflicted makes the spiritual tragedy of their misspent lives all the more tragic."
I guess Mr. Grim's mother never taught him that if you can't say something nice, it's better to say nothing at all...

However, I find it curious that he should make such a big deal of calling the fans "ugly."Ann Colter also makes a fetish of disparaging liberals as unattractive or ugly. What a weird right-wing tic -- no doubt the product of long-supressed desires for a Master Race!
If you grew up reading "Dick Tracy," you may remember the cartoonist's explanation for why all the criminals were shown as being physically hideous: He said that your looks mirror who you are on the inside. A person with an evil soul will be ugly. Which raises a lot of questions about good people who have the misfortune of being born with various cosmetic deformities.

To play the devil's advocate for a moment, it DOES seem that the Republican presidents have better-looking daughters than the Democrats. Look at Jenna and whoever the other one is Bush. Now think back to Chelsea Clinton. Now think back to Amy Carter. It does seem like there's a pattern there.
The other one is Barbara, named after her grandmother. And personally, I don't think the Bush twins are particularly more babelicious than the quite Democratic Gore girls. For that matter, if you want to tie looks to party affiliation, how would you explain the Kennedys?

Besides, the obvious corrolary to your notion that looks reflect the soul would be to suggest that Naomi Campbell is obviously a better person than Mother Theresa. I doubt even Christopher Hitchens would argue that...
Well, the notion about looks reflecting the soul is not mine ... it's Chester Gould's.

And it strikes me as preposterous.

The thing about GOP/Demo presidents' daughters might not stand up to scientific scrutiny either.

I think there's something going on here involving seemingly unattainable preppy girls from politically conservative families vs. the kind who would actually talk to you, who might tend more to be Democrats. Or at least that's how the whole thing was being perceived.
Yes it's still a man's world in many ways...but if we women (yes that's grammatically correct) could just be female and proud of it...not hating men, loving them, as we love ourselves...everything will work out okay. We have to stand up for our rights, and also give them a little slack, because men are different than us and we need to all try to understand eachother.

peace out
Robin, that is some inspirational thinking!

It's a shame people waste so much of their lives trying to be something they're not.

And if we could look past their carefully crafted public personas, we would see they are vulnerable and just as screwed-up and insecure deep down as the rest of us.
Sweet site man.
I zoned into your site, I dig it.
cheers to your site,
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Gerald E.
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