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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Eh...I hate to even get into this, because there seems to be some serious piling-on happening on both sides, but I'll ease into it, I suppose. "It" being the Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)."
This all stems from: an Anthony Miccio Village Voice review, Jullianne Shepherd's and Jessica Hopper's responses, and Anthony's rebuttal. And, since they're pivotal, the lyrics are here.
First off, I just don't like the song. Not even in the way where I hate it but deep down I know that it's just because it pushes my buttons really well and that's a form of love--in the way that I heard it and didn't really like it. The beat's boring and the lyrics aren't very good, irrespective of their offensiveness, which itself isn't that funny. The whispering is a nice idea, but they could've done something much more interesting with it. It's unfortunate, then, that we're arguing about it, because arguing about crappy art always seems kind of depressing and pointless, like making a big effort to get to a party you know is going to be kind of lame, but you're already in the process of going, and there's nothing better to do, so we might as well.
So my response to the responses are mainly questions--questions, mind you, that I mean less as challenges and more as legitimate inquiries. When people dance to "The Whisper Song," what does it mean? Does it indicate ignorance, approval, or something far more complex somewhere in the middle? (And does context matter? Like, if I told you I just saw a mixed-race, mixed-gender, mixed-sexual-orientation crowd of liberal arts alumni dancing to it, is that different from an all-white, all-straight, all-male crowd at a sports bar, or the crowd at a lesbian bar? If so, why?) Dancing is different than listening is different than expressing artistic admiration is different than expressing personal approval.
Also: if a female likes "The Whisper Song," does that mean she doesn't respect rape survivors? If a rape survivor likes "The Whisper Song," does it mean that they dislike themselves? What critics of the song seem to be positing is a necessary relationship between "The Whisper Song" and sexual violence, and I'm interested in the implications of that.
Not to mention, and perhaps more pointedly: can you have a different opinion on "The Whipser Song" than Jessica and Julianne while also having a clear understanding of the realities of sexual violence?
What's ultimately interesting about the song itself, so much as there is anything interesting about it (and clearly there is) is that people like it--which, incidentaly, is one of the reasons I really like pop culture, because this simple fact sometimes forces you to engage with things you otherwise wouldn't. The fact that our interest here stems not from the fact that the song exists (if you want to talk about porn-rap I have a song here called "What That Thing Smell Like" you might want to xxxamine) but from the scope of its acceptance, catching all genders and races in its net, forces us, I think, to approach it with this as a constant rather than something to be argued against; at this point, you're not going to be reversing Soundscan numbers, so it seems far more productive to try and explain why people like something. And that's why I think Jessica's question of "how long must we forgive in the name of hot beats?" is misguided, because you could not get this many people to listen to someone chanting "beat that pussy up" without those particular beats. We always have to keep our minds open to the question of how the music changes the lyrics' meaning, because it does, because these words are being conveyed in this particular form. And while I think the conventional explantion would be that the hot beats are masking the meaning of the lyrics, that they're sneaking in misogyny under cover of the groove, I've never been so willing to accept that. I think each effects the other, that they are changed into something new, and that those electro-toms behind those words mean something different than the words alone, and the fact that it accrues approval despite its off-putting lyrics is a constant check to our gut reactions, a reminder to not accept these things on their face value.
That said, while I do generally like Anthony as a writer, I also recognize that the contrarian thing he sometimes does, and in particular does here, is the same thing I spent 6 months yelling at Pitchfork writers for doing, and just because I have fairly similar opinions to his doesn't make what he's doing legitimate, or the Voice article particularly good. I'm willing to grant that this was due to space limitations more than anything else, but, you know, that's what them blog things are for.
I'd also like to say something about how if we're going to have an unashamed conversation about sexual violence, we should also be able to have an unashamed conversation about the frequently offensive things adults say to each other in the bedroom, about the realities of roleplay in sexual contexts, and about the way this song (although far less effectively than others) plays with the dynamic between pop lyrics ostensibly being a personal expression of private thoughts and their reality as something shared and sung and dance to by all, and whether we should address them then as something private or public (because even when public they mainly exist to be disseminated and transformed into the private), but Jessica's already mocked the idea of not equating the personal and the political, so I'll be quiet.
I do agree with Julianne on the "it's OK to be wrong sometimes" front. Yay, agreement!