Archive | April, 2013

Give me beats or give me death (guest post)

28 Apr

This is a guest post from my bf about Eminem and hip-hop culture during the late 90s. It’s not very long, just a snapshot, but enjoy.

There is a wealth of discourse to be had around homophobia, misogyny and glorification of violence in a certain set of hip-hop. It’s the hip hop I grew up with, the artists from the Death Row Records label soundtracked half of my weed-tinted teenage years. It’s not the only nor the first form of the art obviously. There’s the overtly political Public Enemy, the gentle Tribe Called Quest and many other less notorious forms of the verbal beat poetry.

The shocking and much storied feud of Tupac with former friend Biggie Smalls that ended with them both dead. It was a febrile era for an art form that had its roots in far gentler expressions. I can’t hope to explain the roots of it all, I have neither the intellectual skill nor breadth of music knowledge to do so. So I’ll briefly recount something that even at the time struck me as a false note.

There came a point during the ascension of Marshall Mathers’ star (as chainsaw wielding latest menace to white collar kids moral fibre: Eminem) where he came under increasing critiscism for his homophobic content.While of course conservative americans had long railed against him for his free use of profanity, exhortations towards drugs violence and disrespect iof the flag- the criticisms from those quarters were his due. You expect no less when you set out to be the most dangerous thing since the Panthers free breakfasts for kids program.

If they aren’t burning your records you aren’t trying hard enough.

The homophobia concerns came from more liberal quarters though. Never mind of course that black hip hop artists have been saying the same things and worse for years, you can’t expect anything else from negroes right Clinton? Right Naomi Klein? Bag carriers, pimps and rapists hmm? But this was different. This was a young white artist tainting little jonny’s ears with attitudes that were so “not-our-kind”. Forget of course that his trailer park background meant Marshall was a thousand light years in socio-economic terms from his horrified liberal critics (this is not to condone the lyrical content- rather to expand on the hypocrisy here).

there was a clear progression from the overtly political stuff NWA came out with and the guns/money/bitches stuff that took over FROM THE SAME ARTISTS during that period when crack flooded the areas and police went mental (bulldozing peoples fucking houses). Iran/contra/drugs happened at the same time, these things are linked

Eminem was thoroughly depolitiscised but had the anti-establishment ‘fuck you’ attitude that was carried into gangster rap from its roots in beat poetry

Help was however soon on hand. Mathers performed ‘Stan’ at the 2001 grammy’s with none other than Elton John, an aceptable face of gay for liberal america. In that he’s white, extremely wealthy and british.This event still tops polls as one of the most suprising collabs of the last decade.Thus blessed by the godfather of gay, an absolved Eminem was free to go forth and shock some more. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Eventually his star waned as they do and by the time he was singing ‘White America’ it was less the boast of a relevant artist but the war stories of a once was. He’s quietly joined Marylin Manson and others in the retirement home for americas last great moral outrage.

This is an offhand skim, a snapshot of something that struck me at the time. For greater essays into the musicology and provenance of lyrical content, please check out ‘www.google’com

Keep yer hand on yer gun

Meanwhile back in the real world … the curious case of steve topley

28 Apr

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2013/apr/26/atos-zoe-williams?CMP=twt_gu

If the story is as it seems to be there are truly disturbing implications. Not only could you have your support cut off for saying the wrong thing or getting to an ATOS assessment on a “good day” rather than a bad one (or you might have it cut off anyway) now you could well be locked up for a casual comment.

Although ATOS staff have medical training there is actually no obligation for confidentiality as there would be in a medical setting – so people are falling foul of it because of what they say, imagining it’s confidential.

Load of bollocks …

“My Train Journey” an article for the New Inquiry.

25 Apr

Although I come from a generation of young, creative people who have gone to the best schools, taken courses at the best universities and got the best internships, in today’s world of decadent capitalism we are discarded like a used ticket receipt in the rubbish-bag of Cameron’s Britain. If one mode of transport was to be a metaphor for the radical social movements of today the train – fast moving, dynamic, yet seemingly filled with relics from another generation in the guise of grumpy old RMT men and stressed, dishevelled passengers who are more interested in checking their timetables than checking their privileges, the train would surely be a worthy contender.

I set out at 6.49 in the morning, an ungodly hour for those of us who are accustomed to getting up at 10 in the morning after a hard day’s work calling people on the internet out on social media networks for various types of oppression. Yet this is the condition which bright young people like myself find ourselves in. As I queue up to place my card into the ticket machine it occurs to me that this mechanised monetisation of transport is little more than an Orwellian hell.

Without a ticket, you are nothing in the world of rail transport. As I take mine dutifully like the good citizen I have been taught to be by my bourgeois surroundings, I hear a pair of Spanish Stalinists muttering about those mysterious beings any train traveller hears if they wait on the station concourse longer than a few weeks. The fare-dodgers. Perhaps you don’t have to be nothing without a ticket at all. Perhaps you can be something. Or somebody.

The train pulls into view, after a whole ten minutes of standing on the platform in the drizzle with the other commuters, with not even the humble roof of my Islington hovel, unslightly though it is, to shield me from the effects of Mother Nature. I step onto it and into another world. The coke bottles and old copies of Metro on the floor, thrown away like Britain’s brightest talents. Under a commuter’s foot I see a crumpled copy of the Morning Star. I wonder whether the squatters I met in Greece would see it as the death of the old tired dogmas and the beginning of something new.
The Spanish Stalinists have their own opinions. “That paper is being crushed, just like all our hopes.”

The train driver announces the next stop. Like so many other things in life our future destination on this carriage is being decided by an unseen white man.

“Tickets, please,” comes a gruff voice from behind me. A ticket inspector, employed to ward off the evil fare-dodgers no doubt, policing those who may even dream of another world, of a non-monetary revolution on the tracks. He wears an RMT badge on his lapel and I wonder whether Bob Crow ponders this intersectionalising of those identified by class (the train workers) and those who are no longer defined by their class, but simply whether they have a ticket, and what type of ticket they have.

“You have reached Reading, where this train will terminate.” I descend from the train. “Stand back from the platform edge,” we are told. We may be able to stand back from the edge of the platform but as I write this article on my iphone I realise that we can never stand back from the edge of a fundamental change in how we see not only the world of First Great Western, but the hipster squats of New York and London and the ethical cafes set up by Occupy activists. Would any of the grim-faced commuters standing about me know of these things, know that they are intended to benefit them?

I walk up the narrow escalator. Starbucks have a kiosk here, an intrusion of American globalisation into that very English institution, the train station. Throughout the station and even the train itself we are bombarded with advertising, and the tragic thing is most people aren’t even aware of it. For most of my generation, although luckily not me, the overpriced Starbucks coffees inside train stations are perpetually out of financial reach.

As I hold in my hand that most potent symbol of imperialist capitalism, the disembodied robotic voice of First Great Western bursts into life. “The 7.40 service to London Paddington is cancelled,” it says. Cancelled it may be, but despite the groans of middle aged men in suits and workwear wishing to turn up to their dreary forbidding jobs, our young, vibrant future is not.

Ding Dong!

16 Apr

A column of soldiers marches past the Margaret Thatcher Museum. Each one salutes to the giant statue of the Iron Lady standing between the two enormous pillars, and her second in command but just as revered antecessor whose Little Blue Book is required reading throughout the UK. Big Ben is silenced on the anniversary of the Lady’s death – the dinging and donging of the clock would detract from the solemnity of the occasion and provide amusement to the critics of the Tory Ideal. The armoured vehicles and tanks cruise past skyscrapers with posters of the inspirational leaders’ faces.

David Cameron, otherwise known as the Young Leader, lies in a specially created section in the Margaret Thatcher Museum. “Adoring” members of the public come to view his body every year, where it is preserved using state of the art techniques. He and Thatcher are remembered as the Inspirational Leaders who transformed a nation, who saved it from internal and external enemies such as the unions and benefit scroungers.

Every public building has a portrait of the Iron Lady inside and usually outside the building as well. The Young Leader’s Little Blue Book takes up pride of place on most bookshelves and those who do not possess a copy are treated with suspicion at best. There are few pockets of dissent, except in the North of England and among descendants of former miners, and even they hesitate to speak their minds.

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Does this sound like an unnerving vision of the future? It’s meant to be. The “preparations” surrounding Thatcher’s funeral are reaching North Korean levels of absurdity. Cameron does seem to want to create some sort of Thatcher leadership cult, which will be a difficult task given how divisive a leader she was.

I will write something longer about the funeral once it’s done. I apologise I’ve not been writing very much on here the last few weeks, I’ve been very busy as well as being tired having just started a new job. I hope to write more soon!

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Review of China Mieville’s “The City and the City”

5 Apr

New

I’ve just finished reading the City and the City by China Mieville. I’ll probably go back and read it again at some point.

I thought that throughout the book there was a very strong sense of place and it definitely reminded me of the former Soviet Union and some of the craziness of it all, the characters’ accents sounded just right in my head. It reminded me of a place like Chisinau where I lived, where there are definitely “two cities” (perhaps more than two) and to speak russian or romanian to somebody can be like committing this terrible anti-social crime, and to an extent people live in very separate worlds despite living together. But yet they can’t live completely separately.One of the things it also reminded me of was Transnistria where people live under separate laws, have a separate currency and “passport” despite living in Moldova.

There’s also a theme about class in there too, the whole idea that the middle class often have absolutely no idea (and vice versa) about how the working class live, definitely true in many parts of the former soviet union where speaking the two languages mixed together is often only something that working class people do. I think he captured some of the whole insanity of lots of aspects of this type of society perfectly.

As for the Breach thing I thought they were quite cool, they were very realistic and it’s like an exaggerated version of what actually happens. The unificationists were universally loathed and completely out of touch and actually the two cities were a lot more intertwined than anyone liked to admit, they all needed this ridiculous situation to continue. There is a line towards the end where one of the “avatars of Breach” says that they don’t need to stop people breaking the rule but they do it themselves because they’re scared of the consequences.

It’s like loads of social rules which people follow and nobody knows why and they don’t really matter at all, but actually in some ways they do. Both about capitalism like the “value of money” and so on and about other things.

I liked Borlu and the other characters, especially Dhatt who reminds me a lot of some of the people I met out there. I also liked the way that none of the characters were given strong political opinions that we were meant to agree or disagree with, you could even understand the point of view of the far-right characters who weren’t really villains, they were doing what they did in their way. In a lot of contemporary detective fiction I feel like the author puts their views into the characters’ mouths so you’re meant to agree with it. The nationalist’s line about “there’s only one city and that’s Beszel” that’s so true, that’s exactly what they would say and the type of thing I’ve heard people saying.

It’s such a great book, it’s so realistic, a lot more so than many people would want to think. I am sure I’ll go back and read it again and think of something I haven’t thought of before.