"By the way nobody knows. Nobody knows what the f—k is going on. You’re going to die. You’re going to lay next to the people that you know the most in life, the people that you’re going to grow old with. But you’re going to lay next to them in the middle of the night deeply curious about them and who they are, because nobody f—king knows anything."
You know what this summer was? This summer was ISIS, beheadings, missing airplanes, airplanes shot down, religious minorities being persecuted, black Americans being persecuted, militarized police, Iggy Azalea having the “song of the summer,” Robin Williams hanging himself, and finding out Hello Kitty isn’t even a fucking cat. 2014 was the summer of existentialism, and it’s the kind of summer and cultural climate during which we should all discuss the matter of dying sad, scared, confused, and alone more often.
Yes, I’d have to agree: Kristen Stewart has it figured out.
I think about race and racism every day of my life. How can any American not? (James Baldwin once proffered the idea that “the Negro-in-America is increasingly the central problem in American life.”) I anticipate that I’ll always write about race and racism in some professional capacity. Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful if writers and creatives on the periphery were welcomed in from anonymity, not thanks to their accounts of woe, but simply because they have things to share—tales of love, joy, happiness, and basic humanity—that have nothing to do with their race and also everything to do with their race. I’m ready for people in positions of power at magazines and newspapers and movie studios to recalibrate their understanding of what it means to talk about race in the first place. If America would like to express that it truly values and appreciates the voices of its minorities, it will listen to all their stories, not just the ones reacting to its shortcomings and brutality.
I wrote a piece for the newly relaunched Matter. Sometimes I miss the internet, man.
“In the spirit of sisterly sharing, I have given pot brownies to everyone who’s asked for them. Around midnight, I am informed that half of those girls are curled up in the fetal position, crying. I report to the triage room, where I stroke a woman’s hair while trying to hide how excited I am to eat my brownie, now that I know it is strong enough to make grown women cry. This is also a good way to evaluate men, if you’re into sexy bad boys.”—I can’t tell you if this is the very best thing Maureen has ever written, but I can almost virtually guarantee you it’s among the funniest things you will read all summer.
The Times is earning lots of of kudos today for breaking the story that Cliven Bundy (the rancher who refuses to pay federal grazing fees for his cattle, and has been championed as a hero by many right-wing pundits)made highly racist comments yesterday, including the claim that black people were better off as slaves.
The irony here is the Times story that broke this news presents one of the worst cases of “burying the lead” that I’ve ever seen. The writer makes no mention of these racist comments until the 10th and 11th paragraphs of the story:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
The title of the Times piece (“A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience that Rallied to His Side”) — and first 450 words of the story — make no mention of these comments. Other news outlets and blogs had to step in and write pieces that properly highlighted these racist quotes (in headlines and lead paragraphs) as big news in their own right.
I disagree. One thing the Times does is that it lets people hang themselves by not sensationalizing the facts. I remember being angry after the Broad Channel incident (not the link, but the original stories) because they were so value neutral (no screamy headlines like LOOK AT THIS RACIST PARADE). But it’s not up to the Times to hold our hand and point out that there are clear and regular parallels between certain types of frontier/small government/conservative ideology and patent racism that hasn’t evolved since 1865. That’s on us. And it worked, just like it’s supposed to.
- NYC - A Tech Writer/Editor: We need someone who has an eye for the big tech stories of the day, and an original way of telling them, who can run a daily news blog. But that’s not all! We also need this someone to have an eye for good writing and ambitious feature-length pieces. At least a year or two of full-time experience at some kind of media outlet is generally required, but if you think you’ve got what it takes and don’t have that experience, I’m also down to hear about it.
- NYC - News Writers: We need generalists. You’re ideally younger, scrappier, and have some experience reporting and blogging but want to get your feet wet doing it more regularly, and for money. You know what people are talking about, and can write quickly, coherently, without too many typos, and turn in copy that doesn’t make me want to tear at my face like I’m on PCP. [Should add: This gig would report directly to me.]
- LA - Pop Culture Correspondent for Complex TV: Can you write? Can you talk pretty? Can you write and talk pretty on camera? And can you do all of this at the same time, and occasionally explain the finer points of, say, why Drake using a lint roller in public is funny? If so, this might be a gig for you. [Should add: This gig would report indirectly to me.]
If you’re interested in any of these, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Complex Gig” in it. Ideally, attach a resume and give good cover letter. And that’s it!
Ten years ago this summer David Foster Wallace wrote a now-legendary essay for Gourmet Magazinetitled “Consider the Lobster” questioning the morality of seafood culinary techniques. As I recall he used a gang of circumstantial evidence to try and give the lie to the prevailing assumption that crustaceans don’t feel anything when they’re being boiled alive for our dining pleasure. I’ve been reminded of the story throughout this month’s music journalist in-fighting, as storied jazz critic Ted Gioia took toThe Daily Beastto lament the collapse of music criticism into lifestyle reporting and writer Saul Austerlitz piggybacked him in aNY Times editorialaccusing the pop-positive proponents of poptimism in music crit of pushing the sphere of coverage to close to the mainstream. Gioia thinks people come to music writing for theory-based laymen’s breakdowns of sound architecture. Austerlitz thinks it’s a forum for illuminating achievements in recording that shouldn’t be openly accommodating to “the taste of 13 year olds.”
Naturally, Critic Twitter had a fit, and the young spring has arrived speckled with sideline metacritical debates on what’s good and nurturing for a reading audience— that scarcely involve said audience. Our readers are Wallace’s lobsters: we look at their movements for proof of how they feel about the job we’re doing, never sussing out a reliable method of soliciting feedback for it. Many of us use social media as a thermometer for reactions to our work, but we tend to cherry pick our experiences there along lines of common interest and to filter out the rudest, most uncomely interactions. The people in our offline lives often don’t care about whatever flavor-of-the-month issues we’re on about every day, so we retreat into the company of our fellows in the critical chorus for advice/dialogue/feedback regarding matters of the trade. It’s a hall of mirrors, a contained unit of people too close to a thing grasping at a deeper perspective on it.
So pardon me if I’m not too deeply concerned with whatever shirts-and-skins divisions we’re breaking off into (again) this year. The closest we get to appreciating the vast array of music swamping the market is to listen to as many voices as possible. There should be Gioias out towing the technical line over jazz records and Austerlitzes treasuring new guitar rock. There should be Beyonce enthusiasts singing the praises of her self-titled album. There should be cheesing over Miley Cyrus’ stage set up. These wings of music crit can coexist without corroding the integrity of the form, without harboring secret designs on overtaking the whole of the industry. They can all be art. Their merits deserve praise and consideration, and the appreciation of the one doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other. The binary, two-party thinking that has dominated these conversations is a gross disservice to the diversity of the subject matter we cover.
While we’re on the subject of diversity, it pains me that we’re unable to carry out these infernal poptimism/rockism debates without opponents of deep pop criticism steadily citing women and people of color as being undeserving of thorough consideration in prose. It’s always the Beyonces, Drakes and Katy Perrys that come under fire when poptimism debates come up, and trust and believe that whether the people that posit these ideas intend to come off wrongly or not, they almost always carry an air of sexism and of vaguely racial middle American “Take our country back” sloganeering. Part of why we’re seeing more coverage of blacks and women in music is that there’s more blacks and women doing the writing. We’ve seen what happens when the prevailing voice of music criticism is white and male (I know, I know: it still is. But change is afoot!), the appraisals of women in rock that prize looks over talent, the frustrating paucity of writing about decades of great R&B, the early reticence of rock publications to give hip-hop a fair shake, the vacuous evasion of reporting on music that challenges our language barrier. We’re not going back to that.
If you can’t appreciate the influx of new voices servicing an ever splintering web of genres and subgenres, these next few years are going to annoy you, and for that I’m sorry. It can be hard to watch the world pivot underneath your feet, to find that you’ve lost your bearings, the world you had in your hands slipping ever out of your grip. This goes out to you.
My Plan To Destroy My Beloved College Newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle
Last week, my old friend Lindsey emailed me to tell me that the home of my first writing gig ever—a short-lived run as A&E editor for the University of Utah’s student newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle, which also indirectly ended my college career—was in trouble. They have a deficit that’s going nowhere, and its fate is being dictated by the university’s nebulous and generally evil Student Media Council, in a “shark-tank style meeting” [sic] to come up with a solution in the form of a “student media revolution,” as lead by some guy named Ryan Bennett. They were reaching out to alumni for letters of support.
I don’t think they should be at that meeting. I didn’t write a letter of support. I wrote Lindsey back with the following:
————— Forwarded message ————— From: Foster Kamer Date: Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 2:44 PM Subject: Re: Student Media Revolution
You got more than you bargained for.
I’m not writing a letter of support. I’m going to give you a relatively minced explanation of why the Chrony’s position is wrong, and I’ll let you decide whether or not to forward it on to them. I loved my time at the Chronicle. I don’t know how much it had to do with my current career, if at all, but I know some wonderful people for whom it did. And I write this letter out of love, and out of trying to contribute to something better for them and for those to come.
First, let’s run over the problems at hand:
Problem 1. Print is a luxury product in 2014. It’s an unnecessary luxury to have tangible evidence of one’s work to hold and spill coffee on, and it’s also a slow, costly, and environmentally unsound medium given the alternatives. If Chrony writers are so fickle as to operate under the idea that having their work on dead trees adds value to it, they need better work done.
Problem 2. The media council and the publishing side are big if not the biggest failures in all of this. The publishing side was resisting selling banner ads on the site and giving them away in off-the-books ticket trades since when I was there less than a decade ago. I can’t imagine it got all that much better. Of all the things about the Chronicle that are retrograde, its ad units are probably the worst. In any kind of ostensibly progressive, educational environment, the business side would employ someone familiar with emerging trends in media sales—instead, they’ve got a banner unit advertising the student union right now on top of the site. If the [student union] is all the business-side can sell for the Chrony, they need to be cleared right the fuck out. It’s essentially their fault The Chrony is in this.
Problem 3. The greatest issue with cutting the Chronicle’s print edition outright isn’t any kind of moral implication or reckoning. The problem is that—because said business-side people have been so patently retrograde, as enabled by the media council—they’ve always sold advertisers on the fact that students will pick up the paper before class and read it, thus being exposed to their ads. This might’ve been true, like, ten years ago, when the only things on our cell phones to distract us was Snake. Today, students have little incentive to pick up the paper if they have a smartphone, because there’s a ton of other shit vying for their attention. If the council cuts the print edition outright, they will lose their sole source of revenue that’s still ostensibly decent to them. This is likely the foundation of their thinking that the entire thing needs to be rethought: Because these idiots have sat on their hands for over a decade as the tide’s long loomed over them. Granted, this change affected the largest and the most supposedly important media institutions in the world (who have either adapted, died, or are still trying to adapt while dying), but if an institution of learning is supposed to be as progressive as it’s positioned to be, it should’ve been nimble enough to affect change on its own level.
Problem 4. This is where the arrogance and comfort of writing types comes into the greater picture of culpability for the Chrony’s current condition: At no point has anyone at the Chronicle sitting on the left side of the office ever concerned themselves with the Chronicle turning a buck. Ever. I certainly didn’t. And mostly because that kind of thing has always been thought to be beneath noble writerly types. It’s not. The money’s gotta come from somewhere. Understanding what hand is feeding you will, at the very least, give you the positioning/leverage to occasionally bite it, which right now, the Chronicle has none of. This, from the email you sent on?
My protests that The Chrony isn’t about turning a “profit” (the word that multiple council members kept using) but about an educational experience for students and for serving as an independent monitor of power for the U went unheard.
This is the absolute dumbest motherfucking thing I’ve read about the crossroads of higher-education and media in a while. It bears repeating, because it will come in handy later: The staff of the Chronicle has zero leverage in this conversation. And no small or even medium amount of shaming or protesting ideals will change that.
Ask yourself, not rhetorically:
- What kind of educational experience is the Chronicle supposed to be if it shields staff members from the realities of the media business? I genuinely think—and I’m not joking, at all—that there is no more educational experience one could get out of the Chronicle than the one they’re getting throughout this crisis. At the very least, it will dose everyone with the practical realities of the experience they say they want an education in. But at best, it will inspire them to begin to tackle these issues.
- Under what obligation, incentive, hard contract, or even abstract ethical contract is the U under to provide an independent monitor? Don’t other institutions that could act as independent monitors of the U (the Trib, the CityNews, and so on) already exist? Doesn’t the U already answer to higher powers that hold it accountable?
- Most critically: What’s to be done? The adage that the greatest revenge is living quietly and well is generally true. But when dealing with the Ryan Bennetts of the world, the greatest and most effective revenge is stripping them of their power, and then, as a bonus, exposing him for the absolutely ignorant ho that he is.
There are ways to create leverage—a hunger strike? A sit-in? Daily, front-page, borderline-torturous tabloid-style coverage of each member of the media council, exposing them for the snakes they are?—but (A) given what I’ve already read, I don’t think the current staff has the grit to commit to that kind of thing, and (B) they shouldn’t commit to that kind of thing, because the Chronicle ain’t worth saving. Why not?
- The Chronicle is inextricably tied to the very institution it’s supposedly checking the power of [and those reins are easily tightened]. No matter how much they may affect change, how powerful does that ultimately make it?
- Nobody reads the thing. Sorry, but it’s true. It always has been. And while it may break news that could affect a larger news cycle, the old model of the Chrony supporting itself off an ideal (it needs to exist because it needs to exist) or being the only competition in town for attention before or after class, or on Trax or a bus, or via the stories that garner attention from external sources, it’s just not enough.
- At the end of the day, Chrony alum in 2014 depending on this current model will be done more harm than good by operating under its reality distortion field, not just because they’ll be ill-prepared for what’s outside of it, but the quality of the thing they’re trying to do will always be inherently hampered by the cushioning of something existing without having to fight for its existence.
So, we’ve reached the portion of this email when I’ve basically shattered the hopes and dreams of the Chronicle, not to mention your own of getting a somewhat uplifting and inspiring email from me.
But let’s here revisit the point above about Best Practices In Matters of Revenge, and stripping the Ryan Bennetts of the world of their power, and exposing them for the hos that they are. And here, we’ll establish a few more points:
1. The Chronicle has never had any competition.
2. The Chronicle could never be as independent or as nimble as an independent media outlet.
3. Regardless of how you feel about it, entrepreneurial media projects are the new normal.
4. An independent student media outlet sounds like the dumbest fucking thing ever. Especially for those who need to make a living.
5. But it would also reflect the current climate of media exponentially more than the Chrony has over the last ten years, and especially now. Ezra Klein just left the Washington Post to go work for Jim Bankoff. ProPublica is one of the greatest media outlets of our time, and it’s a nonprofit. Andrew Sullivan left both The Atlantic and then Newsweek to run his own operation. Not all independent media outlets will succeed, but at least they’re in exponentially more control of their fates than anyone with their heads and livelihoods so far up the ass of outdated models as to not have breathed fresh air in decades.
6. Independent student media outlets have not just been built, but they’ve succeeded. Wildly. Look at NYU Local: It was created as a digital-only outlet to compete with NYU’s official student newspaper, the Washington Square News. It has beat them at every angle. It is regarded by real people with actual jobs in media as a serious talent farm, which is to say nothing of the fact that it has achieved the near-impossible: A student media outlet that is taken seriously. Its alumni have gone on to work for a number of outlets. There’s a reason for this (theory: Point 5).
7. There is no better way to strip Ryan Bennett of his power than for the staff of the Chronicle to completely capitulate, start their own site, bring on their own business people, and compete for/win the ad dollars of whatever hokey media revolution bullshit his crowdsourced monkey business will come up with. Bennett will then be the guy responsible for the dissolution of student media at the U, and the loss of potential revenue for the university, which they need regardless of whether the Chronicle/student media exists or not, because idiots like him have left a deficit hole that needs to be filled. And the Powers That Be won’t be happy about it. Especially when it starts to create said aforementioned leverage via attention from places they don’t want it, and decrease the pool of students who see a university with student media as a place they want to invest four years of time (and four years of tuition with, as well).
To make this work will take sacrifice. The beginning is ugly. But it’s a hell of a lot better—and likely to be a workable solution for both the educational experience Chrony staffers supposedly want—than letting some guy named Ryan Bennett who wouldn’t know a byline from a conga line determine their fate. After all, revolutions are usually nothing more than coups run by despots-in-waiting. And fuck that noise. To win in this situation requires relinquishing any reliance on a system that put this creep in power in the first place. And I could think of no greater start than for the entire staff of the Chronicle to tell Bennett to stick it.
But it would require hard work, unilateral commitment, and sacrifice, especially where [the current Chronicle editors] are concerned. It’ll require digging into the business of running a media outlet. It might require fundraisers, and alumni outreach, and all the things that suck about being an institution that exists primarily to fulfill ideals (and not profit margins). But it can be done. It can even be profitable. And the results will ultimately benefit those to come more than those who are there, now (but if the ideals the Chronicle’s current leadership say they hold are so true, then that’s a nonissue).
And if they decide to go this route, I’m pledging my support and time to the cause—I’ll even fly out there to help support the cause and lend some ground support for a few days, as well as try to rustle up support from some friends with experience in situations like this who might be down. I’m sure [our Chrony alum friends] would be down, too.
I truly do believe there’s a workable solution within these parameters than whatever the Student Media Council can come up. They’re idiots. And the kids at the Chronicle have always been a cut above the rest of the school. Here’s hoping they get one over on them—in that, they’ve got my wholehearted support.
- - -
Lindsey forwarded the letter onto them, but they decided to go the standard route. A few alum I’ve been in conversation with agree with most of this, but ultimately know it ain’t happening. And again, the Student Media Council meeting doesn’t seem to be going all that well today.
I wrote this yesterday afternoon and it sat on my phone and I decided not to publish it because whatever but also because I found out Insanul ran something about this last week and it was quite good and I’d rather have his word be the last word on the site, and then Macklemore won way more Grammys than I thought he would because he really is that awful so here.
I don’t hate Macklemore because he’s white. Let’s get that out of the way first: The fact that Macklemore is white isn’t the problem. Macklemore could be brown, mulatto, mauve,* whatever. But Macklemore’s whiteness—which is different from the fact that he’s white, and we’ll get to that later—definitely has something to do with it. And it should probably be cleared up here that when I say I “hate” Macklemore, I don’t mean I hate the guy who plays the character of Macklemore, let alone have a serious, burning hatred of Macklemore in the darkest depths of my soul. From what I can gather, Macklemore The Human Being seems like a patently nice guy. Like, he wouldn’t be a terrible in-law. If your sister dated MTHB, you wouldn’t be too upset, because your sister is more likely to make Macklemore cry than Macklemore is to make your sister cry, and that’s about where you want things.
I hate Macklemore the same way I hate Floyd Mayweather Jr, Ron Paul, or Crossfit: Partly because it’s funny, partly because it whips their most ardent defenders into a frothy psychosis, but mostly because this is a person/institution in a position of cultural power who Most People regularly mistake for being good. And more often than not, they make this mistake because a property of mass culture is that “good” regularly gets conflated with “ubiquitous.”
That’s not to say there aren’t popular things that aren’t great. Harry Potter. The Beatles. Otis Redding. Etc. Popular things are often popular because they’re great, and more often than not, objectively great. Like, Pretty Boy Floyd, who’s an undefeated boxer. People love a victor. I love to hate this victor because he fights a bunch of pussy boxers and cheats in the ring and threatens to punch senile old men like Larry Merchant, but that’s another thing entirely. The point is: I get pleasure out of hating on Pretty Boy Floyd. It’s therapeutic for me because of my own issues with what Floyd means to me. It’s the same way hating on Macklemore is therapeutic, or at least, used to be.
Because now, Macklemore is beginning to do more than just represent bad things, but actually, inhabit them. As I write this, hours before the start of the Grammys, I am pretty convinced that Macklemore will win every award in which he is nominated with other rappers, and that tomorrow, people will be upset about this.
But we shouldn’t be surprised, or even upset that he won whatever Grammys he did. The Grammys are a short-term problem, and at this point, given the totality of morons and idiots that barely distinguish the Grammy voting body from a rigged student council election, not winning a Grammy as a critically acclaimed rapper is almost a mark of accomplishment.
The win-lose record isn’t the problem, though. The problem—the real one, the one that will absolutely happen, and the one that dwarfs whatever awards he will or won’t win—is that people are gonna leave the Grammys telecast knowing more about Macklemore than they will about any ostensible rap artist tonight.
And there are a lot of reasons this sucks, but the main one is really all that matters: People have a certain number of hours in the day to listen to music. After tonight, Macklemore is going to take more of those hours from more people. These are people who could be listening to Kendrick Lamar, or Kanye West, or Nas, or Wale, or any number of rappers whose music is more compelling, less sanitized, more nuanced, and more important than Macklemore’s. These are the people who subconsciously file Macklemore under their cultural consumption’s rap requisite, and push all else away. These are people who think they know Outkast because they know “Hey Ya.”
Do you think it would have taken this long for Outkast to reunite if we didn’t reward them for making an album on which they barely rapped together? Consider, for a moment, another dimension in which Outkast gets Album of the Year for ATLiens or Aquemini or even Stankonia instead of Speakerboxx/The Love Below, and then tell me that’s not the universe you’d rather live in.
Macklemore is the Rap Game Starbucks, the Rap Game Wal-Mart.
Macklemore The Rapper’s rise in popularity comes in a decade when the rest of America had finally decided to wake the fuck up and get on board with the gay marriage train, because not being with it is some medieval mentality shit. And Macklemore’s big single, the one he’s performing at the Grammys, is a song about gay marriage. In 2014. How revolutionary.
This is a great message to be hip to, and to promote. But there’s a difference between promoting a message implicitly through the virtue of being great—see: Frank Ocean—and exploiting a message explicitly through a song that basically screams GAY MARRIAGE IS GREAT.
What Macklemore boosters conveniently forget when they bring up the virtues of “Same Love” is that the best possible world isn’t a world where a straight rapper tells everyone gay marriage is okay. The best possible world is one where nobody hears a love song and feels singled out or left out, where the sexual orientation of the performer or the love song’s message or constructions aren’t even a talking point. Those people already exist (again, see: Frank Ocean), but they’re not crass commercialists who need to exploit that message for brownie points as populism.
Macklemore is the #Kony2012 of pop music.
Macklemore fans think they’re special for promoting this supposedly unique cause in their slice of culture, but the byproduct of their conquest is that they’re ruining the nuance of the landscape, and calling attention to themselves and their leader and their targets instead of systemic problems, and savaging any surrounding issues along the way. It shouldn’t be cool or trendy to be hip to a good cause. It should be pro forma.
And then there’s the issue of Macklemore’s whiteness. Again, not the fact that he is white, but the fact that he’s unapologetic in his whiteness. Macklemore is an act that takes pride in the middlebrow, who wears their distinct unfunkiness on their sleeve, like people who eat at Olive Garden because it’s “ironic.”
Take “Thrift Shop,” for example: The message about not spending tons of disposable income on clothing and instead spending it at a thrift shop is ostensibly a good one. Yet: Macklemore talking about “popping tags” is awful because he sincerely repurposes rap slang in a knowingly lame context. It’s barely one degree shy of a Weird Al parody of a rap song, if that. It’s not that “Thrift Shop” distinguishes itself from a parody of a rap song because it calls itself a rap song, but because Weird Al distinguishes parody from Macklemore’s version of rap, because he knows he’s making parody, and nobody has to cosign him to validate that argument either.
And this is where the Macklemore contagion really begins to get bad. Some of the best rappers of our generation will be destroyed by Macklemore madness, or at least, the memory of them will be. This will vary person-to-person, but all I’ll say for this is that I saw Dead Prez on the Okayplayer tour in 2001, and I was enthralled, and a little terrified, but mostly had a moment of revelation about culture and identity and the singularity of how great rap can change the world.
And then I came to my senses and realized that this is again another instance where it looks on the surface as if Macklemore is doing something that brings another cause or entity—in this case, the greatness of Dead Prez—good will and exposure to the mass of his fans, but ultimately won’t, because Macklemore’s fans aren’t about to pick up Dead Prez records so much as Dead Prez fans are going to have to wonder if they were wrong about Macklemore.
It’s brilliant and canny marketing that comes for free, because if you’re M1, why not take the chance to play the stage at the Garden? And if you’re Macklemore, the credence and attention you can get for this single cosign will go a long way in terms of getting people like me to begrudgingly talk about it, or at the very least, watch in abject horror.
And so much of that abject horror is the sheen with which Macklemore presents his schtick: As an independent entity from the rest of music fighting against everything else that’s popular. Macklemore’s independence is, again, a sales pitch. The idea that he’s speaking to and uniting an alienated group of people is brilliant, because what better way to unite a mass of people in fandom then making them feel like they are special and unique for liking him? Macklemore is the Tea Party of pop music. And (I told you we’d get here eventually) part of this appeal as a rap fulfillment segment is that Macklemore is a nonthreatening rap presence, because Macklemore is white, and plays up that whiteness. Macklemore being white isn’t the problem—Macklemore using his whiteness as if to claim this independent statehood is. Anyone who has any questions about the sincerity with which he takes his mission of independence can please refer to the heavy-handed metaphor that is the genuinely absurd “Can’t Hold Us” video.
Note that you haven’t seen me write that Macklemore is a terrible rapper. As a technician, he’s perfunctory at best and cut-rate at worst. As an artist, well…
Let’s just say that we’ve come a long way from the opening lines of “Mama Said Knock You Out” to the opening lines of “Can’t Hold Us,” which sound like someone who took a faceful of poppers and read out of a rhyming dictionary: Sounds great, means nothing. Macklemore’s penchant for subtlety is best exemplified by the chorus punchline of “Thrift Shop,” which is “This is fucking awesome.” It’s the kind of rap that would make Joe Biden proud.
But again, we return to the Grammys: For those of us who love rap, and love music, is that the kind of rap we’re proud of? Is the the great yield of this moment that rap has to offer for the world that will watch the Grammys tonight?
Again, the winners don’t matter, because The Grammys.
But convincing the people in your life who don’t listen to rap—who don’t understand why Kendrick Lamar’s album is a revelation for rap, let alone that Kendrick’s Lamar’s song about the dangers of alcoholism is so much more substantial than Macklemore’s woe-is-me tale about being a pillhead—is about to get that much more difficult after tonight, Grammy win or no.
And that’s why I hate Macklemore.
[*Someone asked me if I’d reconsider Macklemore if he were black. I told them I’d reconsider him if he were mauve, because that’d be remarkable: a mauve rapper. Also, I was a Childish Gambino booster for a long time before he popped, and his ‘whiteness’ has been the subject of supposedly high-minded critique for a while, which goes without saying that Macklemore is on the new Childish Gambino album, which for me was a surefire indicator that it would suck, which it mostly did.]
I have written many things in this space about n+1, many of which have been rooted in a fundamental antagonism of Sad Young Literary People I feel they are due if only for the feels they have about it being anything but their due, among other beefs.
But they can and sometimes do hit the nail on the head, right through the board.
This is one of those times:
We are all cosmopolitans online, attentive to everything; but the internet is not one big General Assembly, and the controversies planted in establishment newspapers aren’t always the sort of problems that require the patient attention of a working group. Some opinions deserve radical stack (like #solidarityisforwhitewomen), but the glorified publicity stunts that dress up in opinion’s clothes to get viral distribution in the form of “debate” (Open Letters to Miley Cyrus) do not. We ought to be selective about who deserves our good faith. Some people duke it out to solve problems. Others pick fights for the spectacle, knowing we’ll stick around to watch. In the meantime they’ll sell us refreshments, as we loiter on the sideline, waiting to see which troll will out-troll his troll.
US Open. Mets Game at CitiField. NFL Game (in the front row of Cowboys Stadium, no less). Getting a wisdom tooth removed. Getting called up for Jury Duty. Breakfast with Krucoff. At Balthazar. But you knew that already. Trip to Philadelphia. Being with my parents in my favorite city that isn’t New York (New Orleans). Watching my parents meet a significant other’s parents and sibling, in a city that wasn’t one any of us lived in. Watching a best friend mourn a parent. And lose a job that meant something to them. And experience a break up, in the same goddamn year. Having a best friend get engaged. And have a child. And secure a lifelong dream of his (all in the same goddamn year). Having an ex getting engaged. And caring about them enough to be happy for them about it. Living out childhood dream of reviewing a big video game. And writing a national magazine cover story. And becoming animated. And driving a Porsche. On a race track. And getting paid to do all of it. And having to remind myself a few times how much I really wanted all of that at one point. Feeling a loss over losing someone not who I knew, but who I didn’t know enough. And knowing that feeling, as people die off, will only get worse. Living out an adult dream of being named a godfather. And a best man. To a best friend’s daughter. And at his wedding. In the same goddamn year. And going on a vacation with my parents as an adult. Or just vacation, period. For the first time in 13 years. Having my baby cousin crash on my couch for a Summer as I tried to talk her out of working in media (and repaying a eight year-old debt to my aunt in North Carolina, without whom, I have no idea where I’d be right now). Being called a gun enthusiast. In public. On an ostensibly reputable fucking website, no less. Journaling, or trying to, for the first time since I moved to New York and was terrified to write in public. I don’t know why. Having to consider whether or not I still want to make money doing this. Having to consider what else my ostensibly useful (but come the fuck on) skillset is good for other than the thing I’m paid to do. Time practicing for Jeopardy.
First Sage came, and I said nothing. Not sure how I feel about this signage over the former Pagoda space. Practically and maybe literally happened overnight.
Pagoda was a restaurant that was by no means good but that I truly felt a ‘type of way’ for no less. The new Graham Avenue is brighter and freaking me out and I want to convince myself to like it but no, not yet, I am not even close to there yet, especially now that it is making my eyes adjust.
Barely Bushwick is a great blog by some great people about a great neighborhood that you should read.
"I had to get to the right place where I could see and understand marriage. One, I had to find the right woman, which I did and I felt like I found her years before, or we wouldn’t have had our first two kids. But then two, I had to get to a place where it worked for me…
This is my suggestion list for bands to check out. I’m too lazy to put in venue/dates but you can search the showcase website and find out where stuff is playing. Please note I’m not a music writer and I have been busting my ass for the past month or so at work and not really sleeping which means…