Friday, 20 May 2011

In Mark Fisher's lecture about the crackle, one concept stuck with me the most--the idea of the iSociety, based on immediate connectedness to the entire world which is concurrent with an immense metaphysical isolation. I think he called it "connected loneliness," or "networked loneliness."

It's as if Adam Curtis was at the lecture and used it as the inspiration for this new documentary of his, "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace":

The Angry-dad-ification of Marshall Mathers

Having been twelve and amidst a large cohort of urban white kids, I remember vividly Eminem's dramatic entrance onto the national scene in 1999. For the first time, it seemed, the familial, oedipal, self-harming psychoses of a white youth were placed alongside the gangstafied funk and soul revivals of a black producer-icon, Dr. Dre. It was as if Kurt Cobain had been reborn, in a black neighborhood, with a sense of humor. A perverse kind of musical cotton candy, it became the quintessential youth "headmusic," to borrow Kodwo Eshun's phrase. For the entirety of my 13-year-old life I could remember men in the neighborhood blasting hip hop from huge, lumbering American cars as they passed my house. Eminem seemed to be the first massive rap artist who was immune to this type of broadcasting. Yet every private-school boy, mostly white and asian, had a copy, bootleg or genuine, of the Slim Shady LP and its darker followup, the Marshall Mathers LP.

Hey, kids! Do you like violence?

Eminem's appeal seemed solely male, a sort of musical accompaniment to the first-person-shooter game, each track repeating, in explicit and gory detail, a series of assaults and overdoses (See, for instance, "Brain Damage"). It was their outlandishness, their absurdity, that made them OK to us, and this appetite for the fantastic may have been Eminem's way of refusing the compulsion to prove his "street cred"--the stories, like those of Slick Rick, were often so entertaining that nobody cared to ask if they were true or not. At the same time, though, there were stories about his relationship with Kim that made people hope they weren't true. One of the moments in Eminem that I loved the most was his hook on the track "Role Model":

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I've been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don't you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I tie a rope around my penis and jump from a tree
You probably wanna grow up to be just like me!!!

His joy at the prospect of his own imaginary castration set him far apart from other hip hop artists, even Dre himself, for whom the mention of one's own penis could only be a metaphoric reference to size and power. Eminem's antics were all in the service of the overarching philosophical journey towards "just not giving a fuck".

I would not, then, have guessed that Eminem's career would proceed the way it has, although, looking back, I really can't imagine how else it could have gone. Nowadays, his tracks are inevitably put together by superstar producers and played almost as a kind of "urban easy listening," that is to say, everywhere that plays hip hop music--malls, convenience stores, salons. His new ("post-addiction-metamorphosis") tracks lack the utter Dionysian destructiveness of his early ones, but are no less angry or violent. Nowadays, he yells like a middle-aged alcoholic, his voice devoid of the mischief and humor of the bleached-blonde days. His tracks have always, since "My Name Is," been mainstream, but now they occupy a different mainstream, one which includes middle-aged people, black people, and women. That's not to say that black people never listened to Eminem at the beginning, but I remember the moment when D12 came out as a turning point, at which a black kid I knew told me he thought the early stuff wasn't very good, but this new stuff was better. At the beginning he really was Elvis to many people, the white guy stealing the art form and making a lot of money off of it. Now he's just another abusive dad, his anger completely uncontroversial, the pitched rage of his voice used to "balance out" the soulful harmonies of the female singer he accompanies. I don't mean to suggest that his anger was more controversial when he directed his vitriol toward Christina Aguilera, Fred Durst, Insane Clown Posse, and Mariah Carey. But in those days it fooled people for whom the entire world consisted of MTV into thinking that he really was rocking the boat. Nowadays he's another jealous, over-the-hill lover, yelling at Rihanna: "I'ma tie you to the bed and set this house on fire!!"

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

"Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied"

Lady Gaga and the death of sex

Camille Paglia / Published: 12 September 2010

An erotic breaker of taboos or an asexual copycat? Camille Paglia, America's foremost cultural critic, demolishes an icon.

Lady Gaga is the first major star of the digital age. Since her rise, she has remained almost continually on tour. Hence, she is a moving target who has escaped serious scrutiny. She is often pictured tottering down the street in some outlandish get-up and fright wig. Most of what she has said about herself has not been independently corroborated… “Music is a lie”, “Art is a lie”, “Gaga is a lie”, and “I profusely lie” have been among Gaga’s pronouncements, but her fans swallow her line whole…

She constantly touts her symbiotic bond with her fans, the “little monsters”, who she inspires to “love themselves” as if they are damaged goods in need of her therapeutic repair. “You’re a superstar, no matter who you are!” She earnestly tells them from the stage, while their cash ends up in her pockets. She told a magazine with messianic fervour: “I love my fans more than any artist who has ever lived.” She claims to have changed the lives of the disabled, thrilled by her jewelled parody crutches in the Paparazzi video.

Although she presents herself as the clarion voice of all the freaks and misfits of life, there is little evidence that she ever was one. Her upbringing was comfortable and eventually affluent, and she attended the same upscale Manhattan private school as Paris and Nicky Hilton. There is a monumental disconnect between Gaga’s melodramatic self-portrayal as a lonely, rebellious, marginalised artist and the powerful corporate apparatus that bankrolled her makeover and has steamrollered her songs into heavy rotation on radio stations everywhere.
Lady Gaga is a manufactured personality, and a recent one at that. Photos of Stefani Germanotta just a few years ago show a bubbly brunette with a glowing complexion. The Gaga of world fame, however, with her heavy wigs and giant sunglasses (rudely worn during interviews) looks either simperingly doll-like or ghoulish, without a trace of spontaneity. Every public appearance, even absurdly at airports where most celebrities want to pass incognito, has been lavishly scripted in advance with a flamboyant outfit and bizarre hairdo assembled by an invisible company of elves.

Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? In Gaga’s manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualised and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era…

Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over…

Gaga seems comet-like, a stimulating burst of novelty, even though she is a ruthless recycler of other people’s work. She is the diva of déjà vu. Gaga has glibly appropriated from performers like Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink, as well as from fashion muses like Isabella Blow and Daphne Guinness. Drag queens, whom Gaga professes to admire, are usually far sexier in many of her over-the-top outfits than she is.

Peeping dourly through all that tat is Gaga’s limited range of facial expressions. Her videos repeatedly thrust that blank, lugubrious face at the camera and us; it’s creepy and coercive. Marlene and Madonna gave the impression, true or false, of being pansexual. Gaga, for all her writhing and posturing, is asexual. Going off to the gym in broad daylight, as Gaga recently did, dressed in a black bustier, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels isn’t sexy – it’s sexually dysfunctional.

Compare Gaga’s insipid songs, with their nursery-rhyme nonsense syllables, to the title and hypnotic refrain of the first Madonna song and video to bring her attention on MTV, Burning Up, with its elemental fire imagery and its then-shocking offer of fellatio. In place of Madonna’s valiant life force, what we find in Gaga is a disturbing trend towards mutilation and death…

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion.

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.

Gaga's fans are marooned in a global technocracy of fancy gadgets but emotional poverty. Borderlines have been blurred between public and private: reality TV shows multiply, cell phone conversations blare everywhere; secrets are heedlessly blabbed on Facebook and Twitter. Hence, Gaga gratuitously natters on about her vagina…