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Archive for April 15th, 2007

more nappiness…

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(started writing this as a comment on this thread at Long Sunday, but it got a bit too long, so it’s over here instead…)

I can report that “nappy” was very much a proud member of white suburban poseur vocabulary in the early-nineties. We used it all the time, or at least the (white) guys I played baseball with did… “nappy-ass” this and that. You could drive a “nappy ass car,” or your girlfriend could be “fuckin’ nappy…” Imus’s “nappy-headed” seems like a bit of a intensification, in that it draws it back to its original source. I don’t think anyone in my crowd actually knew what it meant – that it referred to black hair texture etc…

A parallel thing I’ve been wondering about: why is it that white suburban kid borrowings from black/rap discourse seem to have frozen over the last few decades. When I hear the little poseurs go on and on here at the university, you’d think that I wouldn’t be able to follow what they’re talking about, at least some of the time. But it’s never the case – exactly the same words, syntax, sentiments, intonations. “Yo, them bitches was fly…” sort of stuff. It sounds like I’m back there, 17, waiting for my turn at bat or whatever…

(Sometimes – and I realize that this is likely delusionally self-centered of me – I wonder if the sort of place that I grew up outside of NYC wasn’t actually an incubator for a lot of this white kid fakeo talk that currently defines what I’d call the ESPN demographic of US culture… From our lips to the halls of academe’s better dorms… I’m sure that’s just a strange “effect,” and that it happened nowhere and everywhere all at once…)

Towns like the one where I grew up are interesting places. Unlike the little white kids that I saw while living recent in Brooklyn, who were carefully held away from any possibility of contact with the kids in the projects, etc, kids in certain suburban towns end up brought together in unlikely ways because of way things are organized (i.e. one public high school for everyone, one american legion baseball team for everyone, etc…) Obviously, most suburban towns outside of NYC aren’t like this (and there is a long history of segregation by districting there for sure), but there is a string of semi-urban hamlets – nowadays the places most coveted by new parents fleeing the housing costs in the City itself – that do function in this way to a certain extent…

There were certain nights when I was playing ball that there’d be, say, a scout from Dartmouth or Cornell checking out the pitcher, while sitting next to the scout were our sixteen-year old third baseman’s girlfriend and their two kids. Judging from the newsclippings my mom used to send me from the local paper, half of our team is in and out of trouble with the cops, and the other half (with one big exception – moi) works for finance firms on Wall Street.

What gets even weirder is the relationship between all of this and Imus, and his demographic, which to my mind centers on the <i>parents</i> of people like me. (My dad is absolutely crushed this week – he’s listened for 30 years or so – and just can’t stop repeating PR firm manufactured talking points about Jesse Jackson and “Hymietown.”) Is it that suburban white boy borrowings from black culture have come around the corner to meet the baby boomers at the pass that is ESPN? It is strange to think that my dad’s favorite figure, above all others, in entertainment and information business has gone down for borrowing too liberally from the strange but oh-so-american patois of my youth…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 15, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Posted in america

context and criticism

with 2 comments

Sometimes it seems to me that my business needs to invert its foundational question – the question that informs most of the work done today.

It is interesting, yes, that literary works borrow from discourse x, preoccupy themselves with important social subject y, or are informed by the long and complex history of z, but it is not all that interesting. It is not surprising, in other words, that literary works partake of the circumstances that define the world into which they are created, that they borrow social materials, or mimic this or that polemic, discussion, or shoulder-shrugging engagement.

But what is more interesting – what is to me a bit shocking – is that human beings immersed in this or that historical context, or even human beings who would like to engage with this or that probing social question, or elicit a sympathetic engagement with a certain social problem, resort to fiction – to made up stories – in response (or semi-response) to these situations.

In short, that art exists in the first place, was ever deemed the right response to anything, is more interesting than the fact that a given art object partakes of the world in which it was created, which is obvious, no surprise.

Let me put it one other way:

1) Someone is writing a story about injustice, cruelty, absurdity – and so at one point in this story the author deploys an image highly reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib photographs in order to illustrate or intensify the effect of the piece. This is not surprising.

2) Someone is upset, angry, or fascinated by what happened Abu-Ghraib (or Auschwitz, or Abu Ghraib, or the lives of the socially excluded, or unhappy housewives, etc etc etc) and because of this upsetness, anger, fascination that person decides to write a fiction, a story about a situation that never actually happened, no matter how close the details of the story are to the provoking event. This is an interesting response, no?

Of course, I am not the first person to think this way…

… but sometimes I worry a bit that I might well be the last.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 15, 2007 at 12:49 am

Posted in aesthetics