Kept my name in his music – Nas and Jay Z – 2001

This is an essay I did on Nas’ and Jay Z’ different conceptions of black masculinity and how it relates to wealth, heterosexual and homosexual relationships and other factors. It’s long, but oh well.

Emma Holten, Queer Theories and histories, Spring 2014

Kept my name in his music

Nas, Jay­Z and the beef

Introduction

“Whether exaggerated or not, men speak about their sexual conquests: “me and my boy hit it,

me and my boy did her, me and my boy did this”. So there’s a lot of ‘me and my boy’ in there.

Not so much about the woman, but ‘me and my boy.’”
Michael Eric Dyson, in the documentary Hip Hop Beyond beat and rhymes

 

In her 1985 book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire Eve Kosofsky

Sedgwick introduced a more complex way to reflect on homosociality.

Homosociality, by her definition, is a close friendship/hatred/competition or other type of strong

affect between two people of the same sex. She emphasized that while these types of relations

between females tended to, in an organic, gradual way, go from non­sexual to sexual,

homosocial connections in males is “the radically disrupted continuum in our society…”[1]

Thus, the point when a very close male relationship goes from being homosocial to homosexual

is a contested, political place.

Deeming her approach to be, in “generalized terms… achronic”[2], she encouraged scholars and

students to implement the method in their own analytical pursuits.

This type of “shift” becomes especially fraught in cultural spaces where homophobia is

rampant, as is the case in for example gangster rap and hip hop music: “… the cornerstones of

gangsta rap music – hypermasculinity, misogyny, and homophobia – pervade the genre.”[3]

Conversely, rap music is also an environment that nurtures and encourages close relationships

with you friends or “homies”. This makes for an artistic and cultural sphere where the

homosocial continuum becomes somewhat of a balancing act of publicly showing respect and

love for your same­sex collaborators, while outwardly never crossing the “line” into

homosexuality.

In this essay I will attempt to illuminate how, in my interpretation, one rapper, Jay­Z in his song

“Takeover”[4], while praising his friends and insulting (dissing) a fellow rapper, was read as

having crossed this line in Nas’ response “Ether”[5]. Further, I want to explore how the

structure of the homosocial continuum can be extended to other value assessments in male

relations like the meaning of money, status and race. Showing how the way we structure and

validate desire, sexuality and gender is a hugely political field, that cannot be excluded from

discussions of how we interact, even on the most basic levels.

The analysis will focus mainly on Nas’ contribution, seeing as it is an “answer” to Jay­Z’ attack,

and thus functions as an interpretation of this attack and its properties.

 

Continue reading

Sex and the pissed off feminists

This girls in the first season, ready to show us what our lives were, and how we could deal with it.

I’ll start off with the: “yadda yadda, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a long time, I’ve been a) busy, b) drunk, c) lazy, d) hating the entire internet and everything that it stands for, e) all of the above” But now, finally, something has angered me for the last goddamn time: Women who complain that sex and the city projects the female sex as only existing for the purpose of meeting men, and that the women in the show come off as superficial.

I’ve had it up to here with these same complaints over and over, and I am time and time again shocked at how they always seem to come from

other women. Because the thing is: this is a TV-show about women’s relationships with men. That’s what it’s about, no more no less.

Just because we are not shown every single second of Mirandas court proceedings, or every literary edit Carrie does to her column, doesn’t mean that the writers are suggesting that these women are incapable of doing this. It’s just simply not the theme of the show. Is there a deficit in the amount of shows portraying women doing serious work, taking law degrees etc? Probably, I don’t know. But the name of this show isn’t A well-rounded picture of the 21st century emancipated female and the city. This is about sex, and halleluja for that.

What pisses me off most, though, is the fact that I think the women making these complaints know all this. They just find that a woman who cares a lot about sex and her relations to men by default is unable to do any meaningful work, and be emancipated, happy and calm in her sexuality. This is of course a relay of the constant and dominant male plot that female sexuality and female professionalism and intelligence are reversely correlated. This world view has taken so firm a hold on our society that now women who proclaim themselves feminists denounce women who do any job that relates to sexuality (it doesn’t even have to be a job, the private sphere is enough to get you judged, I’ll tell you that). This is wrong. I can’t even tell you how wrong it is.

I have a right to discuss a man’s penis at a coffee table, just as much as I have a right to get a PhD. I can take part in every crazy-ass fetich in the world, and still go to work every morning and do my job to a tee. The slut-shaming must end.

And now to the complaint that these women are superficial. It is completely true, but listing this as a complaint towards the show makes absolutely now sense. This is not a character driven show. All the girls (and yes, Carrie, too!), and especially the men, are all painful stereotypes. But there is a quaint narrative point to this: this show’s main point is that you are supposed to be able to identify with it. These characters aren’t Dostoevsky-like creations, multilayer masterpieces. And that is the shows great force: that everyone is a little bit Charlotte, a little bit Miranda, a little bit Samantha and finally a sprinkle of Carrie. The discussions these women have over breakfast could just as easily be monologues (actually the narrative tool of Carrie asking a question like “Are we sluts?”, and then discussing it with her friends bears a lot of similarity to a monologue).

You are supposed to squeal that “I’ve been with a guy who did that too!”. But everyone knows that what we see of the brief sexual or culinary encounters with men doesn’t necessarily tell us everything about them. We would never deny that. But this is entertainment, with a splash of social commentary. These aren’t well-rounded characters, but characters created to make a point in a certain situation, be it Charlotte’s right to quit her job, or Samantha’s right to blow her World-Wide Express guy.

Last but not least: of course, there are scenes in the series where these characters show emotional depth and inner conflict. One example would be Mirandas case of “yuppie-guilt” when her success becomes too much for the bartender she is dating. But this, too, I will argue, is a tool to show us the issues of being a person with a difficult and demanding job, and balancing that with relationships. You don’t recognise the character Miranda in this: you recognise yourself.

Utopian

Oh god, so sorry. It really has been a while. I just started studying literature at university, and between one thousand pages a week, obligatory social commitments, and hangovers, I have been busy. I love it though. It’s a strange feeling waking up and being psyched about going to class. I think I’m nauseating my peers.

Anyway, enough with the digressions! This summers I’ve had quite the utopian (or dystopian, whichever way you look at it) focus in my reading. I read 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (these two are generally taken to be the creme de la creme of zukunft-angsty litterature) and to throw something else in the mix Kallocain by Karin Boye.

First of all, I’ll stress greatly that the focus of my comparisons is longevity. I have the distinct luxury of actually living in what, by these three authors, would be considered the future. It’s like a cooking show – I “cheated a little”. So with that in mind, I thought that, since I am in no way a literary expert, I’ll use what I know. Which is my own time.

I’ll start flat-out by saying that the one which is the most popular, 1984, was in fact my least favorite (look at me being avant-gardy). There are several reasons for this. I’ll start off by saying that obviously, this is a remarkable book, mostly in terms of the amount of imagination, compared to when it was written. But it has severe lacks when being read by a contemporary reader. I’ll list some of them here (since starting university I have come to appreciate lists greatly).

  • Winston’s tedious personality. I’ll just come right out and say it: that is a man of very few dimensions. Besides being extremely self-absorbed, his reactions to his surroundings never even borders on interesting reflection. He thinks exactly as we readers think: “oh no, everyone is being CCTV’d, that is horrible, HOW can someone live like this!?”
  • Sexual suppression. This development of a society suppressing sexual desire and means of self-realisation in order to control people is not something that is used anywhere in the world. One might come up with examples like strict Arabic countries but I must stress that sexual pleasure plays a huge part in Islam – as soon as you are married. Which, although I find it strange, still recognises people’s instinctive need to get down and dirty once in a while. Suppressing this would not control people, it would just make them masturbate a lot.
  • Winston’s relationship with Julia. Actually vaguely reminds me of Twilight. I sensed absolutely no chemistry, and the shared emotion was incredibly limited. Is this due to sexual suppression? Of course. Yet their conversations are totally uninteresting. Finding someone who shares your hate of an oppressive government will of course be freeing to Winston. But to us it is just yet another character who has the same basic reaction to totalitarianism as we do. Zzzzzz…..
  • Big Brother and the internet. I know I am dancing the conga on the grave of a literary classic. And with the PATRIOT act, I certainly heard someone shout Big Brother all over the news. Which is true, with the development of technology, surveillance has become incredibly easy for governments to employ. The things not anticipated by 1984, though, is that it also made for quite a breakthrough in private use of computers and the internet. Do I blame Orwell for not guessing that the internet would exist? Of course not. But in terms of the novel’s historic longevity, thinking that new technology only falls in the hands of the government is a problem that makes the premise of this being our society difficult to swallow. There are no TV screens in our homes, we have largely resisted (even in Denmark, which in the minds of a lot of Americans is bordering on communism) governmental decrees in physical health etc. The Swedish (yes, we wave our flag loud and proud) development of the third way has largely abolished the idea of socialism in the Orwellian sense.
  • Room 101. I’m sorry. But that was so lame. While I applaud the idea of capitalising on a human being’s biggest fear, choosing rats seems almost banal. While I may say that I am terrified of spiders, I am, after all, more terrified of being locked in a room while slowly going mad – which was already happening to Winston.
  • Conclusion: (for you lazy ones). Main characters in the book lack personal depth. In the climactic scene in Room 101, which is supposed to unleash the horror of a totalitarian society while simultaneously showing us how you ultimately destroy and dehumanise a human being, Winston is put in a cage full of rats. I mean COME ON. Also, the way in which this society is constructed is described, yet the elaboration on WHY, exactly, no one resisted in the first place, is lacklustre to say the least. Consider the public outcry over CCTV. Consider the Arab Spring. People don’t stand idly by injustice. Unless they are given DRUGS, which leads me to….

Brave New World!

While being more satiric (and often hilarious), BNW’s deification of the materialistic (Henry Ford as a god, as well as multiple other hints throughout the book), is much more akin to how I see our society today. The idea of completely separating the joy of sex from the actual making of a baby is a stroke of genius that pervades through our lives. Sadly, the notion that third world countries is some sort of side show for us to be amazed and struck by is wide spread. Every year, thousands of young people travel to Africa to get themselves a good sense of poverty, before returning to their own life at home – according to themselves – completely transformed. One can only mourn the fact that ‘going home  to wealth and X-factor’, is not a possibility for actual Africans.

Now this one I really, really like (the French agree!). You know why? I’ll tell you why:

  • Sex, drugs, and Rock’n’Roll! Nietzsche once said that ‘Religion is opium of the masses’. You know what’s better at pacifying us that religion? Actual drugs. I can’t imagine anything more perfect for inducing complete political inertia in youth than letting them have as much sex, as many drugs, and as much freedom as they could possibly want. Actually, it’s happening right now. I find the danger of people completely losing interest in anything but their own lives to be a far more imminent threat than people not reacting to totalitarianism in their own country. We have it so good that we don’t notice anything but ourselves.
  • The peripheral characters. Lenina is perfect and interesting. She gives us a fantastic view of how a brain would work in someone who actually likes the dystopian society. Getting a view into a mind like that is, at least to us now, far more interesting than hearing about Winston, who agrees with us. How does a mind adapted to the idea of extreme social determinism work? Is it similar to how a mind, like the mind of your average American republican, can adapt to thinking that social inheritance is ‘fair’? I am baffled by it. Yet, BNW forces us to think about things we take for granted now (people can find our telephone numbers online, a lot of politicians thrive on blatant racism, etc). Are we even much better?
  • Bernard Marx is an asshole. Winston, with a personality flat as a pancake, is strongly contrasted by Bernard Marx, who goes through a lot of personal stuff, transforms, and becomes the über-monster of the materialistic society: the person addicted to fame without being addicted to personal accomplishments.
  • The Savage. The role of the savage is a brilliant way to create an outsiders view on society without ending up with an angry, bitter person like Winston. The savage, having heard raving tales of a place that is eerily close to our society, is struck by the completely shallow world he enters. Based only on joy and feeble, fleeting desires. The scene in which his mother dies is heartbreaking, and really shows the grittiest side of human suffering, and it forces you to ask yourself: is this book right? Would we be better off never experiencing this, but trading it in for never having true attachment. One wonders.
  • The Last Speech by Mustapha Mond: This is what we lacked in 1984. An explanation for how this happened. And why it keeps happening.

I am, in short, far more scared by human desire than by human fear. Far more scared by passivity through lack of will to act, than through lack of ability. The last, after all, can be eradicated, as we have seen this very spring.

Lastly, I’ll give an honorary mention to Kallocain, which really impressed me. Here we have a ‘Reverse-Bernard Marx’, with a person who first relishes the totalitarian society, then realises its destructive effects. This is a strong reversal, and an interesting character development. The plot of the book is genius, and I can strongly recommend it. For anything, to hear a woman’s perspective for 5 consecutive minutes in the history of utopian literature.

So long, brethren, I have work to do!

 

 

Clocks

An article I read in the New York Review recently terrified fascinated me. It was by the HBIC Zadie Smith, of White Teeth fame, a commentary on a new installation of sorts. A 24 hour long film depicting time in movies (and real life, because something imitates something and all that). For every minute of the day, there was a new clip of someone taking a peek at their wrist watch, or saying “I’m in a hurry”, and the like. It made me think about what is real in a movie and what isn’t. Because, even though it’s fiction, it still happened at a real point in time. Imagine a kiss being filmed at 5 o’clock inside a studio. It is supposed to be evening in the scene, so it’s dark and artificial. But the fact remains that a kiss still happened at 5 o’clock, even if you didn’t (and by you I mean random actor or actress) ascribe a certain meaning to it.

Can we ever create something that is 100% artificial?

The thought process brought me further into these depths (I’ve been sunbathing a lot lying on my back, I can’t hold books so I’m confined to my own brain which, quite frankly, is mortifying) of art. Can we sing a song without in even the slightest way be affected by what it says? Total Eclipse of the Heart aside, I delved deeper into how we relate our “real” world to what is supposed to be a mirror of it.

I didn’t really get anywhere (that’s the thing with blogs, no demands on output but your own), but still, I can’t help but look for clocks in films, because that’s when it happened.

From Christian Marcley's "The Clock"

Covert offences

Okay, I realize that this post is a little late compared to when all this happened, but my point still stands, and I haven’t really found anyone who thinks like I on this.

For a long while I have, quite frankly, had my knickers in a twist about censorship in America. I see the point that swearwords are bad, especially the ones targeting a group such as the N-word or the F-word (I can’t type them out, to me it’s offensive). They shouldn’t be said because of their historical connotations and layer upon layers of discriminatory meaning ingrained in their use.
This post is about the fact that I have, for a long time, thought that censorship of words like fuck and shit, which children are exposed to anyway, misses the point.

Censoring these words give the impression that it’s easy to know if someone is being offensive or not, just listen to the words! If there’s a “fuck” in it, it’s probably offensive! Unfortunately, offensive sentences and positions are seldom gift-wrapped with a “shit” on top of them for you to notice.

A couple of months ago, the conservative radio-shrink Dr. Laura was fired from her job. A person called her radio show complaining that she, a woman of color, was experiencing racist name-calling from her husband’s, a white man, friends. Earlier in the conversation, Dr. Laura had said that she didn’t think stereotyping blacks was racist, because black people voted for Obama only because he was black.

She the proceeded to complain that black comedians were allowed to use racial stereotyping, but not whites. And that’s when she said “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger.” (read the entire cringe-inducing transcript here). She defended it by saying she was reclaiming her first amendment rights, but ultimately, she was fired.

My position is this: I haven’t heard much of Dr. Laura’s programmes. But I have, in research for this post, read some of her transcripts. Saying that racial stereotyping (She fondly remembers saying to her black bodyguard that “White men can’t jump”, so she wanted him on her basketball team.) isn’t racist, isn’t just wrong, it’s offensive as all hell.

She has had this programme for a number of years, surely answering questions on race relations and other inflammatory subjects. I simply refuse to believe that in all these years, she hasn’t said a single offensive thing. Here’s an example where she gives her vocal and ferocious support of an anti-abortion campaign showing dead fetuses on the side of trucks. That, to me, is incredibly offensive to a right women acquired in Roe v. Wade several decades ago. Yet, the idea of firing her isn’t even brought up, because there was no slur.

Offensive things are said everywhere, all the time. Seldom are they as easy to spot as a “fuck” in a Lil’ Wayne video. We have to keep our eyes open to it. Censoring moves focus from the meaning of a sentence to a simple word. It seems like a futile attempt at screening young people from offensive things. It doesn’t. They can turn on Fox News and listen to birthers, a movement that is fuelled on badly hidden misogyny. That’s offensive.

My point is this: Dr Laura was an ill-informed, ignorant, misogynist broadcaster before she used a racial slur. Why does it have to come to that? Using racial slurs is inexcusable and horribly disgusting. But just because you don’t use them doesn’t mean you can’t voice disgusting opinions.

Literary significance

A couple of years ago I read a quote that made quite the impression on me. Of course now I don’t remember who said it (although a literature Nobel prize winner does ring a bell. It wasn’t Elfride Jelinek. I hate Elfride Jelinek.), but it struck a chord with me for some reason. She was asked what the worst book she had ever read was. Her reply was that the mere fact that a human being has sat down and written something gives everything value, if not in terms of literature, then in terms of anthropology (when forced to choose she went for Angels & Demons).

I found it interesting because it is so true. Even though a book or a poem is total garbage, you can at least ponder the fact that the person who has written it has done it that way for a reason. Is it because they have bad taste? Is it because their mother was never harsh enough on their drawings and they have no filter? Is there even such a thing as objectively good taste?

I have held this view, that all writings have some sort of value, for a very long time. Until now. Until I came upon Swedish teen bloggers. I have been faced with the question if there are things so trivial, banal, trite that they don’t deserve to be eternally etched in writing. Let me give you some examples. This first one comes from http://www.kenzas.se. She is a 20-year old moderately successful model, but her main activity is blogging. Her blog has about 300.000 individual hits a day. This is a random post I read yesterday:

“I just wanted to wish you all a cozy night! My boyfriend and I have had a delicious dinner and now we’re cozying it up in front of the TV. Cozy! (I wonder how many times a day I use the word cozy haha)”

So, you may think this is something I searched for in order to prove my point. But alas, it was not. Let’s have another one. Here’s Kissie, a surgically enhanced 20-year old (these are all almost exactly the same age as me, it’s terrifying), the only thing she spends time doing is updating her blog, I don’t think she attends school but I’m not sure. I’ll try to translate this little gem and maintain the utter banality and lack of writing skill.

“I simply have to go find some school where I can get my driver’s licence…. Hmmm… Hard to know which one to choose! But it’ll turn out fine, that’s like, the least of my problems.. In fact I think I’ll be a mean driver, I learn everything in like no time! And how hard can driving be really…?;)

This information is propelled into the vulnerable minds of the 300.000 pre-teen readers.

There are people who are gifted writers. Honestly, I’d pay money for a post-it if Virginia Woolf had written her grocery list on it, simply because she is a flawless human being. The same goes for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Vita Sackwille-Vest. Every time they put pen to paper, magic happens. Deep, complex and awe-inspiring magic. Then there’s the other group who couldn’t compose an engrossing sentence if their life depended on it. While I love the fact that blogs exist, it has in a way legitimised being a shitty writer but still having an audience. The amount of self-censoring is at a minimum. Something as basic as a spell-check is regarded as unimportant. It saddens me, really. Because language is a wonderful tool, and there should be some respect when one has the use of it as THEIR JOB. The honour (and I realise how old I sound) people used to put in what they put their name on is gone, and we read to be bored, not to be entertained.

I think what I’m getting at is that all text is in a way important, because it shows us something. What have we learned about these two girls through their writing?

– They are horrible writers with no sense of language, metrics, rythm, or vocabulary.

– They underestimate the value of writing and only use it as a tool to promote themselves, simultaneously valuing it enough to put it out to hundreds of thousands of people, because that’s just how important they are.

– I have lost all faith in the human race.

I just finished The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In it he mentions how he’s churning out short stories, but they are so bad that he would never publish them, not because he thinks the public won’t like it (as he says, they’ll eat anything that’s served with a stiff drink), but because everything that’s written isn’t meant to be shown. It devalues his worth in his own eyes, because you are your body of work.

I am by no means a great writer, although I hope to be one some day. But one must appreciate that writing is an art, a way to affect people, a talent. It’s not to be tossed around lightly. When you put something up for everyone to see, at least find a synonym for cozy if you are to use that word three times. I mean, at least one other word.

/end rant