Tag Archives: Existential Dilemma

On Many Modern-Day Americans

15 Jul

I’ve learned many things about many modern-day Americans in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict:

  • Many modern-day Americans maintain a pre-Civil-Rights-Era view on race relations.  If you’re black, and probably a young black man in particular, you are to be docile.  If a white man approaches you, be respectful, do as he instructs, say “yes sir, no sir.”  Don’t make any sudden movements.  If he follows you around at night, armed, understand he is just looking out everyone’s best interest.  Don’t do anything to make him more afraid than he already is.  You think this is not fair?  Well, you should be more sympathetic to how scary you are.
  • Many modern-day Americans think it’s ok to view young black men as inherently threatening.  Understand that your manner of dress, your physical size and muscularity (if you dare have it), etc., may scare white people.  Take careful note that IT IS NOT YOUR SKIN COLOR they fear.  Whites are color-blind about this, it’s everything else about you except that (that would be racist, which they’re not).
  • Many modern-day Americans think it is unacceptable, however, for blacks to ever see concerned whites as threatening, and if they do not remain docile (see above), they should understand the consequences.  For proud whites, self-defense is a basic human right (like carrying a concealed firearm).  Blacks needs to understand that fighting back is NOT self-defense if accosted by a white, because they are the instigators in the first place with their inherent scariness, their “thuggish” appearance, their known proclivity for criminality, etc.  I mean, what is a white to do?*
  • Many modern-day Americans call black teens with no criminal records “thugs.”  They do this, they say, because of their chosen “look” (probably too “hip-hop”), and because they have trace amounts of marijuana on them and have maybe gotten in trouble at school (or because they have been boastful and macho on Twitter).  This isn’t “normal” teen-boy behavior, like white teen boys exhibit, that they will eventually grow out of.  White boys like guns because they are passionate about their constitutional rights and being good Americans.  White boys like pot because all teens have possessed a trace amount of marijuana at some point.  Black teens like guns and pot as an expression of innate, inner thuggery and a disrespect for law and order (and common decency) encouraged by their culture.  Many modern-day Americans believe this key difference justifies the death of these black teens almost regardless of any other factors or context.  The young thugs aren’t really even human, they are dangerous animals, they are beyond redemption, and it’s better to put them down sooner rather than later.
  • Many modern-day Americans believe that black families do not mourn the loss of their loved ones if they are killed by someone black.  They feel that black people only care about friends and family unexpectedly taken from them when a white person does it.  In that sense, their mourning is really mostly about sticking it to whites, rather then a genuine feeling of momentous loss like whites feel when they lose a loved one*.  This is unfair to whites (see below).
  • Most disturbingly, many modern-day Americans believe, that just like with the N word, that the fact that sometimes black people do kill other black people means it’s ok to kill black people generally.  Not until all black people stop killing other black people should white people have to stop too.  It’s hypocrisy after all, why do they get to do it and it’s no big deal, but we can’t?
  • Many modern-day Americans believe in an absolute right to gun ownership and self-defense.  You can seek out threats and confront them.  You have an absolute right to protect you and yours.  The deadlier the better.  If you’re white that is.  If you’re black, gun ownership makes you a “thug” and a criminal (black + gun is not the constitutional victory that white + gun is).  Defending yourself in any way is reason for you to be put down.  You are to be docile.  White rights are expansive.  Black rights are very narrow.  Find this frustrating?  Well, until you convince every other black person in America to be the way I want them to be (whatever that is; see below), you’ll have to deal.  That seems fair.
  • One would be forgiven then for assuming that many modern-day Americans would be happy if young black men all dressed like Carlton and were “clean” and “articulate” and studious and academic and physically meek and didn’t do suspicious things like be out so late for so-called “snacks” (white teens don’t do this; white teens are widely known to go bed early and not crave junkfood).  However, this same community has been less than enthusiastic about embracing Barack Obama, black academia, and basically any black people who aren’t athletes, musicians, comics, or movie stars.  It turns out, if you don’t adhere to the white-normative expectation, you are a thug and threat to my life/safety (unless you are a professional athlete, in which case, stay a safe distance away and entertain me).  If you more closely align with the white-normative ideal, but are black, you are a wimp, a joke, probably an affirmative-action case, and a threat to my job (unless you are a musician (non-rap; if rap, see above about “thugs”) or a movie star, in which case, just be docile and entertain me).  One would be forgiven for seeing this as a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario/Catch 22 for black men.
  • Many modern-day Americans don’t see anything wrong with piling extreme amounts of negative scrutiny on everything a black person does, even black juveniles.  They are ok with the situation being that blacks have a constant affirmative obligation to prove potential negative presumptions wrong, even as adolescents.  There should be little room for error, after all, each black is on thin ice given the prior bad acts of blacks generally.  If they slip-up, the death penalty seems appropriate.  It is also ok to do the opposite and always assume the best of non-blacks.  This will be ok until all blacks together do everything to dispel every negative presumption whites have.  This is not racist, this is just statistics, and being sensible (but holding whites accountable for prior bad acts of whites? living in the past! the race card! reverse racism! get. over. it. people.).
  • Many modern-day Americans are fucking hateful idiots.

* When a black approaches you at night, you can be sure what’s up.  When a white approaches, however, take a bifurcated approach depending on your race: (1) if you are white, do whatever you want (duh); (2) if you are black, stay put, put your hands up to show you are unarmed, don’t sass or talk back or be disrespectful (certainly don’t use your “ebonics”; few things inflame white men more than this butchery of their precious English language), and work with the white until the white feels non-threatened enough to let you go.

* When a black mother loses her son, gunned down in his prime, she is likely to inquire about the race of the murderer.  If the murderer is black, she is likely to not care about the loss of her son.  If the murderer is white, you can bet she will suddenly “make a big deal about it.”

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Do Attorneys Dream of Electric Beats?

24 Nov

I’ve been seriously addicted to electronic music lately.  I went through a brief stint in college of going out crazy drinking and winding up in clubs, then using pirated DJ software to write increasingly expansive dance tunes the morning after as a sort of hangover remedy.  After that, I retreated into more lo-fi musical stylings for a few years, before simultaneously discovering the digital joy of Kraftwerk and Daft Punk.  From different ends of The Continent, spanning almost 40 years of technology and evolving influence, I found myself immersed in this fascinating alpha and omega of what is possible when you make music in the astral plane.  From there, it was an educational fill-in-the-blanks of what came in between, most notably the Manchester scene from the late 70’s to the early 90’s (as documented in the Tony Wilson pseudo-documentary 24 Hour Party People, which charts the up and downs of Wilson’s Factory Records label).  With their German influences firmly in place – both in the form of nascent electronic music exploration and post-Reich crippling industrial decline – the scrappy Manchs infused a dark, gritty punk sensibility with a burgeoning appreciation of what technological advances in recording and post-production could do.  Once Joy Division – the all-time thought leader in melodic droning – lost their morose lead singer in 1980, the haunted bass and drums became haunted synths, and borrowing some Kraftwerk samples (a new concept at the time), New Order was born.  The aural aesthetic of this time period blows my mind, it’s like time-traveling to a future/past that was too beautiful to ever exist.  Add a few years, and the introduction of ecstasy to the same pale, depressed masses – now raving at Wilson’s “Hacienda” club – and modern dance music as we know it was underway.

"The Hacienda," ground zero for the mainstreamization of electronic music.

From that same time period and relative place, another moribund influence appears that will monopolize the artistic palate of techno: 1982’s Blade Runner.  From Northern England descends Ridley Scott and his Philip K. Dick-based pièce de résistance of futurama.  A few things stand out while watching the director’s cut of this movie now: (a) it’s dense but accessible and therefore highly rewarding; (b) this movie is completely infused in the DNA of cinema, and almost no one has had an original thought about the future on film since (although Blade Runner itself looks to have drawn substantially on Fritz Lang’s impenetrable Metropolis, it is definitely its own thing); (c) the existential implication of humans against similarly capable artificial intelligence/computers/robots was never more deeply or movingly explored.  Daft Punk’s robot versus human imagery is clearly a direct descendant of this motif (is “Human After All” an answer to over-produced early albums or Deckard’s identity quandary?).  Kraftwerk’s 1978 album “The Man-Machine” picked up and ran with this theme a few years earlier, and its iconic cover certainly echoes Metropolis‘s modernist style.  Of course, the touchstone for the sci-fi struggle over what is unique and indelible, if anything, about being human – a collection of organic computational  structures versus artificial ones – dates back to the late 50’s and early 60’s in the Cold War paranoia of The Twilight Zone and P.K. Dick himself*.

It's hard to imagine a time before we thought the movie future would look like this, probably because few of us lived in a world where that was not the case.

If Kraftwerk’s homemade vacuum-tube synths and sparsely inhuman Bloc sound and outfits describe the skeleton of what was to come, Daft Punk, with their endlessly palatable repetition and penchant for Tron-like graphics and permanent robot costumes,  were the fruition of what’s possible on a commercial, multinational scale.  Both also prove that the best electronic music comes with a healthy dose of avante garde style.  Not surprisingly, Daft Punk is doing the soundtrack for (and “starring” in) the perhaps horrible, perhaps interesting rehash of Tron, and is now featured in their own adaption of the Guitar Hero franchise, something called “DJ Hero,” that uses two fake turntables for controllers, and was well-received enough that Activision was willing to invest in a sequel.

Kraftwerk style, circa back in the day.

Daft Punk style, circa now-ish.

So if Disney movies and blockbuster rhythm video games are now on the table, who’s making music that still warrants forty consecutive listens?  More Europeans, that’s who!  Right now I can’t stop listening to Miike Snow and Mark Ronson and his Biz Int’l*.  Both of these projects benefit from the musical genius and chameleonic voice of American hipster Andrew Wyatt, who is the lead singer/songwriter for the Miichael Snö and a frequent collaborator of Ronson’s, most notably on the raise-the-dead catchy “Somebody to Love Me” (along with full-time eccentric and face tattoo-haver Boy George).  Unlike most American artists working in this genre who have mysteriously eschewed nuanced hooks in favor of harshness or pure intensity, Wyatt and his Euro cohorts have a gift for fusing traditional music elements like piano and banjo with brain-melting electronic sounds, creating surreal, unreal, 4 dimensional*, textured earscapes*.  I’m sure Mr. Wyatt et al.’s work is well-complimented by psychedelic drugs, but they nearly make them beside the point.  It’s not quite clear to me what trust fund baby Mark Ronson’s exact gift is – be it networking, or being a super cool dude super cool people want to party with, or just rocking a crazy blond pompadour, or what – but his new album is straight stupid with relentless electro-driven hits, and each song features a minimum of three additional parenthetical guest artists.  Ronson is an especially delightful throwback to The Hacienda scene, sounding frequently like a mash-up between Eurotrash DJ’s, hyper-literate rappers, and The Smiths, the lattermost being the one band Tony Wilson regrets not signing to Factory Records.  I’m holding my breath for Ronson to charm Morrissey out of whatever self-imposed reclusion he is no doubt currently in, and offer him a guest spot in a parenthetical on his next album.  Honorable mention on this note must also be given to Miike Snow’s “Burial,” a song which is such a fantastic piece of poetic dance-mope that it could make Old Man Morrissey implode with misery-envy.

Andrew Wyatt, the new voice making robots rock in the plastic jungle.

Perhaps I find this music so entrancing because there is no IRL limitation to the sound dynamics and the images they conjure in my head.  Or maybe it’s because electronic music always feels like a projection of the zeitgeist’s conception of the future, and regardless of dystopian themes or alienation lyrics,  has some sort of lost optimism about it, a snapshot of a place that’s unattainable, beautiful, and will never exist.  The dichotomy of the ideal and the correspondingly impossible, as the ancient Greeks and Mad Men viewers both know (see etymology of the word “Utopia,” elucidated equally well in either Plato’s Republic or Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel pitch), is painfully lovely.  Also, as an intellectual property lawyer who is taking his first class in computer programming, it’s transcendent to be working in all this mundanity and then realize what is possible with the ultimate end result.  How you get from .txt files filled with numbers and brackets to “Silvia,” “You Gave Me Nothing,” “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” or “Blue Monday” is beyond me, but it’s an amazing concept.

There is probably the fantasy factor too.  Being a DJ (like a real DJ that makes music, not the slash “club promoter” type) seems like the coolest lifestyle ever ever ever.

*To be fair, the origin of this thematic device probably has direct roots to Shelley’s organic-yet-artificial creation in Frankenstein.

*I’ve also been listening to a lot of We Were Promised Jetpacks, but despite their futuristic-sounding name, they’re pretty much a traditional, albeit good, indie rock band.

*Height, width, depth, and awesomeness.

*New word, copyright me, right now.  Hey, Sarah Palin Shakespeare does it.