Wednesday, April 25, 2007

NOTE: This is a rant!

I try to stay on some general point because it helps me from going into a stream-of-consciousness rant, which I have a propensity for doing since I rarely think in straight lines (all of my mental lines are gay). Anyway, I have a large bone to pick, one that will come far too close to my own position. I have a huge problem with "social critics," which starts from reading other blogs on this service. I will refuse to name names because it is only symptomatic of a larger problem that I have with the group.

Let's address the ambiguity of such an absurd title for the time being. What is your stance as a social critic? What do you want to do with that position? If you cannot answer these questions in an effective, positivist manner (read: more than "just because" or it sounds cool. You know, a real answer) regardless of philosophical orientation (e.g. nihilist, existentialist, optimist, Lacanian, Hegelian), you cannot give yourself such a title.

Additionally, the social critic, once one believes that they are fully qualified to maintain such a title, must understand the necessity and the inherent difficulties in their position. Being a social critic does not mean taking blatant stabs at other groups of people. For example, this is a post that I came across about the author's working at a record store. In the post, the author talks about how when he played a lot of difficult, esoteric post-hop in his record store (If you know about hip-hop, those aren't artists you are going to drop on people without solid knowledge) and gets mad when people get freaked out by it. This, somehow, launches into a larger argument using classical Marxist and Gramscian language about how Gangsta Rap is corrupting the larger society and implying, logically, that if you listen to Gangsta rap, you are somehow a coward, moron, or closet racist (that's for whitey, there). Here is a part of the argument:

Gangster rap is for cowards and morons. It's for people who have been stripped of their culture by this horrific bourgeois-capitalist system. Mainstream rappers are the generally-speaking, the biggest Uncle Toms ever. Suck-up to master for the money, while dissing him behind-his-back, with that wink that it's all an act anyway. Pathetic.They are sucking the Man's cock, frankly, so you know what they are. Their rabid-fans aren't any different, and they're swallowing the hype put out there by corporations controlled primarily by rich White people. This is more-pathetic than being a slave on a plantation, and can be viewed as wallowing in one's own misery and exploitation. For that reason alone, I'd love to see all of this shit die forever, just leave us all the underground, it's worth saving.
The first sentence alone implies that I, a college educated Black male who graduated with honors and loves gangsta rap, am a moron. Additionally, this says that I don't know anything about my own background or the history of the Black struggle as it dates back to the shores of Virginia in 1619 when a Dutch ship brought the first of my people to this country to be held and forced to work against our wills by greedy white men, the same white men who would later go on to strip us of the rights that we were granted in 1865 following the Civil War with the use of scare tactics and physical intimidation and circumvention of the law. Oh no, I don't know anything about my own culture! I must have lost my culture by listening to N.W.A. and Ice Cube!

Additionally, this guy knows very little about hip-hop as a form. There are very few artists who have promoted their way to the top within the true community, the community that makes decisions. Everyone has to get the come-up through the mixtape circuit, doing freestyles, getting on other peoples' tracks, etc. The content has changed, the game hasn't. Artists who are not good perish. The good ones survive, and that applies to the mainstream as well. Also, as someone who listens to underground hip-hop, there is a reason that some of them are underground. It's not because they are dropping science that the white man doesn't want people to hear; it's because they suck. Weak flows, weak beats, weak techniques lead to weak albums. Dudes are too focused on trying to be innovative instead of trying to be solid with their verbal work and beat production.

And, at last, I, as Black person, do not appreciate the analogy being made to being a slave on a plantation. Firstly, it's not true for most mainstream rappers as they control their own firms, their own images, their own releases, etc. Secondly, this makes the assumption that it is not appropriate for Black people to have societal success. Hip-hop is built around rapping about what you know. Since most of these dudes are drug dealers (something that was not true with the older rappers), they rap about selling drugs and gun fights because that's what they did. Most of them are not glorifying their lives; they are telling a story, something that is frequently lost on so many of hip-hop's detractors. Notice, I didn't say everyone wasn't glorifying their lives.

If this all has been making you wonder what this has to do with social critics, this is what: social criticism has a larger responsibility than being a title for people who like to bitch about stuff. A good social critic has to be articulate, factual, driven by something less passionate than personal opinion especially when critiquing. Additionally, a good critic should ensure that along with being necessarily critical, they do work introspectively and recognize the need for being fair towards the object/subject being critiqued. Clear and dispassionate arguments are what should be expected of the social critic. One of the most infamous social critics is Theodor Adorno. He wrote a hotly contested argument against jazz. While I do not agree with his assessment, Adorno refrained from petty name-calling and race baiting to present a compelling, if not wrong, argument.

It is OK if you choose to be against something. That is what this country is built on. That is what effective discourse is built on. But, effective discourse is not a name-calling competition either. It is a give and take, with both sides respectful of their opposition and their viewpoint regardless of how wrong you see it being. This is something that has not happened with the example. It is a general problem throughout the blogosphere. I feel kind of bad for taking this guy out behind the woodshed, but it was really necessary as his criticism, as he wishes to call it, is anything but critical.

So, if you hope to be a social critic in your life, hopefully this will serve as a note to say that criticism is more than being judgmental and standoffish. It does require fairness and an attempt to understand the subject being critiqued.