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Friday, October 22, 2004
Eh, I disagree. If anything, Eminem's new song is far less political than what came before--or, rather, it's more ideological than political. Whereas before he conjured opposites into abivalence and thereby mirrored real attitudes that weren't being portrayed elsewhere, or at least not as effectively, here he tries to will a coalition that doesn't really cohere, to try and unite opposites instead of letting them fight out like he usually does. His position makes sense, which is why he can create it in the first place, but the paradox of our current situation is that, for various reasons, it largely doesn't, at least not yet.

In some ways, I guess it's related to the rock-as-rebellion trope Mark (whose NYPLM posts have been very good lately, incidentally) brings up in the post, especially in regards to the particularly jarring messianic trope being expressed. He's trying to conjure a constituency that doesn't want to come together, trying to bring together by sheer will something that probably would exist already if the potential was there. We've been separated, all other issues aside, by culture; culture is politics now. More on this later.[1]

The major thing that's annoying about the old hippie "rock-as-rebellion" trope, of course, is that it massively overstates the effect both music and old hippies, i.e. white dudes, actually had. There were real gains in the 60s, sure, but mainly by, er, actual minorities, and culture played a wee tiny part in that change. The rebellion of white dudes against social norms really isn't any different than the play-acted rebellion that comes across today--it was just surrounded by far more vital and important social changes. The youth vote is unimportant for any kind of measure of vitality, it's just useful for the Democratic party, so if you support them, then a higher turnout among a certain younger demographic is important, but no need to pretend like getting it or not getting it indicates something beyond good fieldwork on the part of the DNC. I half-agree with Mark when he says "MM is right and aging leftists are wrong, if they think the anger-energy isn't just as present now, latently, as it wz in 1969, overtly," but for different reasons--I think they're both basically at the same ebb they were, depending on your constituency. Energy ain't really the problem. And I think Mark's wrong when he says "There's all kinds of reasons the 'Youth Vote' went back to sleep after the 60s - one being the fact that they fought for and GOT musics (and film and TV and... ) which variously provided outlet for all kinds of lesser frustration"--aside from the fact that I think the whole idea of cultural rebellion as being a impotent outlet for possibly productive political action is as far-fetched as cold fusion, if there was a decline in youth voting (figures?), it's more attributable to the fact that they actually, um, acheived a heck of a lot of their goals. It's one of the quickest ways to take the starch out of a rebellion, and one of the reasons democracy can be such a stable-yet-equitable system.

Incidentally, I feel like Em's career arc kind of just stopped after 8 Mile, in a way sort of related to something Matthew was telling me a while ago about R.E.M. and Stipe's narrative as played out over a decade and a half of records. Eminem's acceptance and turn to seriousness neutered him in a way I didn't think it would--although, in retrospect, maybe it was the movie that did it. Maybe setting down your mythology inevitably fixes it, and thereby ends it. Eh.

[1] There's also, in some ways, a misunderstanding of the constituency being addressed, both here and in the Cole piece linked to--as disingenuous as it may sound, the whole white-black coherence mentioned in the song does have a fair real-world equivalent, and "rebel yell" is Billy Idol more than General Lee (either one) at this point. It's punk, downclass, trash, white trash--it's redneck culture, but via whatever odd alchemy of culture that has, I think, yet to be mapped (expressed in Kid Rock, Bubba Sparxx, as much as Eminem himself). It's not the cry of the South, it's the cry of punks, gangstas, whatever you want to call it, or yourself, realities beside the point.

UPDATE: Some reaction letters over at Juan Cole's site that are pleasantly politics-geeky. I tried to explicate the comparisons being made over in the comments to the NYLPM post, but I might as well crosspost 'em here:

I think he's just saying pessimissts v. optimists, basically--Hobbes' negative view of human nature and the need to control the beast v. Rosseau's hopefulness and Enlightenment striving. Then the baptists v. bootleggers thing expands this to the new left's tendency to try and legislate the negative aspects of human nature v. Em's (self-viewed or actual) working class audience's tendency to celebrate it and negotiate around the negative effects. Or something.