Interesting article from the NYT about fans’ use of trumpets, called vuvuzelas, at the World Cup and the controversy this is causing. Also: an audio clip!
David Segal has an interesting breakdown in yesterday’s New York Times comparing right-wing talk show hosts to rappers, especially gangsta rappers. He admits that both groups would probably not be happy to be compared to the other, and I agree, but I still think he has a point.
Segal argues that four key things are necessary for success in both fields: an enormous ego that you’re not shy about discussing; haters; feuds with others in your field; and verbal skills, especially an ability for improvisation and free-association. This is true, but not the most profound analysis–yet.
Segal then describes how rap can be among the most politically conservative of genres: that it “exalts capitalism and entrepreneurship with a brio that is typically considered Republican.” And so do Rush, Glenn Beck, et al.
Rap loves the Second Amendment; right-wing talk radio fans are probably the kind of people who made gun sales spike right after the 2008 elections.
Both rap and talk radio regularly assert that criminals cannot be reformed–but “gangsta rappers often identify themselves as the criminals, and are proud of their unreformability.”
Finally, rappers and conservative talkers both speak for a demographic that believes its interests and problems have been slighted and both offer stories that have allegedly been ignored.
Obviously, there are limits to all these parallels, but there is one more worth noting: rap has inspired its share of fear and now, liberals and moderates are asking the same question about conservative talk radio that conservatives have long asked about rap: How dangerous is it?
Interestingly (with respect to the first paragraph of the quote) rap was often referred to as “black TV” in its early days for its timeliness and opinionated, sometimes paranoid take on current events. Anyway, I will admit that I am much more scared of Glenn Beck’s followers than those who listen to Ludacris (notwithstanding the fact that I’m in the latter category), but perhaps that’s just the socialist-health-care-loving left-winger in me talking.
Anyway, I think that overall Segal’s right on here. I would have been interested in a little more gender analysis, though. It is well-documented that gangsta rap is (at least partially) about working out a very specific kind of masculinity in the face of oppression or perceived oppression–a tough, heterosexual, homophobic, muscular, violent, self-sufficient masculinity.
This has not been as studied in the case of right-wing talk radio, but anecdotally, it seems to serve the same purpose for angry white men. In fact, Rush Limbaugh is well-known for tasteless rape jokes, Glenn Beck has made misogynistic remarks about women’s looks and a host of other things, and Michael Savage has stated that “any heterosexual woman today over the age of 25 who grew up in America is basically a dominatrix. You ask any heterosexual guy” as well as making some nasty transphobic comments. (Note, I find it interesting that Ann Coulter, who doesn’t have a talk show but who is a public figure who says a lot of similar things, is often characterized as “mannish.” Perhaps we are picking up on this gender work going on in right-wing media, albeit in a sexist way.)
And this doesn’t take into account the xenophobia, pro-gun and pro-war positions, and other macho and bigoted things that come out of these guys’ mouths. They are constructing a notion of white American masculinity that is even more unappealing than gangsta rap’s portrait of black American masculinity. Men can do better!
I know I’m late on this, but I had better things to do (such as make money!)…anyway, last weekend’s New York Times Magazine had a long article on the forthcoming game The Beatles: Rock Band which I think is worth looking at.
If you are an American between the ages of 15 and 30 and participate in any kind of social life with your peer group, you have almost certainly heard of Rock Band, even if you haven’t played it. The standard version of the game allows you to select an avatar (usually wearing some ridiculous/awesome leopard-print outfit) and form a “band” with your real-life buddies’ avatars, and then you select various classic/hit songs to play using plastic instruments following color-coded music notation on the screen. (Say that three times fast.)
The classic version of Rock Band allows you to pick any variety of songs–any artist, any style, any era offered in the game–to make a set list or to play one at a time. While it attempts to recreate aspects of the performing experience, it doesn’t take itself too seriously: the point is to have a good time with your friends, not to earnestly make-believe that you’re a rock star.
The Beatles: Rock Band aims at a much more “realistic” experience (whatever that means within the context of a video game…). The creators (along with Ringo, Paul, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono) are trying to re-create specific concerts, specific recording sessions, etc. Yet at the same time they gloss over many of the difficulties the Beatles had toward the end of their career together, because they’re attempting to keep the real purpose of the game in mind:
“This isn’t an archival project, it’s a game,” [producer Giles Martin] said. ”It’s entertainment. That’s what they [the Beatles] were doing here in the first place. Later, people attached all sorts of significance to it, but they’d be the first to tell you that what they wanted most was to entertain people.”
The point Martin makes–that the purpose of Rock Band in any of its iterations is entertainment–is precisely why I, unlike a few musicians I know, don’t think it will hurt “real” music-making in the slightest, and might even advance the cause. (The Times reporter more or less agrees with me here.)
One thing I’ve noticed is that people who don’t play instruments (I’m including voice here) often have unrealistic ideas about what it takes to be a competent musician: depending on the instrument and style, they either think it’s really easy (guitar, pop vocals) or really really difficult beyond any average person’s ability (orchestral instruments, opera singing).
The truth is somewhere in the middle: most of the aspects of technique that go into learning any instrument are not that difficult. The hard part is doing them over and over again until they become second nature. Anecdotally, it seems to me that most people quit making music not because they’re “bad,” but because they can’t or won’t put in the time. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (which I haven’t read, but this trope has been making the rounds) expertise is achieved after 10,000 hours of dedicated practice of a certain skill, whether in athletics, chess, music, or what have you. As a Suzuki teacher, this makes sense: according to the method’s founder, Shinichi Suzuki, the key to being a great musician is “practicing only on the days that you eat”–a tongue-in-cheek way of approximating this 10,000-hour rule.
Rock Band is like learning an instrument (albeit simplified): each of the individual techniques, such as pressing a guitar button, hitting a drum pad, etc., is not at all hard. But getting them in the right order and at the right time takes practice. In my experience, people who play real instruments aren’t inspired to quit because of Rock Band, and most Rock Band players who didn’t play an instrument to begin with aren’t going to be inspired to start because of their favorite video game.
The real benefit is twofold: musicians get a chance to unwind and play music for fun, instead of for a grade, a gig or an audition; and non-musicians get a chance a) to understand, in a small way, what it takes to be a good musician and b) to get a small taste of the satisfaction of rehearsing and the thrill of performing–why musicians do what we do.
Anyway, I digress. Vibe, one of the premier (if not the premier) hip-hop magazines, officially folded about 6 weeks ago under a whole bunch of debt. It’s being resurrected first as an online-only publication, and its new management hopes to subsequently put it back in print (albeit with a bit of a new spin on the business end).
I always feel that the more written about music (well, the more well-informed, insightful pieces written about music) the better–music is so important, and so useful for understanding other aspects of life and society, that it’s good to have lots of minds thinking and talking about it.
The New York Times ran a few music-oriented articles over the past several days that I think are worth highlighting:
This New York Times article on Milwaukee’s own Skylight Opera Theater hits close to home–I have really fond memories of the place between my friends’ performances and of course, the famous Wauwatosa East High School French field trip to see the opera adaptation of The Little Prince.
I’m clearly out of the loop on this–had it happened 3-4 years ago I would have been far more qualified to comment–but the turmoil throws several truths about the Milwaukee arts scene, and arts administration in general, into sharp relief:
On another note: does anyone know what’s up with Strini’s departure from the Journal Sentinel?