Monday, May 4, 2009
Also it is 1 am and I accidentally fell asleep at 8 pm or so and completely intended to blog on time. Anyway,
The question of which of our texts will stick was pretty difficult for me. I suspect that the answer is Lolita, but I felt like that was a cop-out because we spent so much time on it. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize I have legit reasons. Nabokov's prose is so rich and beautiful; how could such brilliant imagery NOT remain with me? For the rest of my life, when anything tangentially related comes up, so will pictures in my mind of Humbert and Lo in some random location in the Northeast, him over-protectively watching her by the poolside. Or perhaps Humbert coming into his bathrobe while she sits in his lap, completely unaware. (Ha, I said it. Just try and get that out of your head!)
Additionally, I'm a long time fan of ee cummings, so I'm bound to run into one of his poems we studied again. When I do, I will of course think of the particular analysis that we did to them. I'll probably be with other people and want to sound educated and say something like "you know, this is actually about war... mhm, the unrefined girls are cannons... yup..."
Blue Velvet: I already find myself yelling "Heinekin? FUCK THAT SHIT! PABST BLUE RIBBON!" on occasion. This seems like a pretty juvenile, uninspired thing to take from the movie, but really, every time I yell this and look around for a buddy that got the reference, I won't just remember that line--but many more bits of Blue Velvet. Frank raping Dorothy, Dorothy stark naked and frightened in Jeffrey's lawn, etc. Like Lolita, the imagery in Blue Velvet will remain with me always.
The Wire and NWA have changed my view of inner-city and the ghetto sort of together as one entity (more the Wire than NWA, however). Mentions of drugs, drug dealers, drug wars, ghettos, the projects, and homicide units currently evoke that little false world in false Balitmore. As time passes, my list of "tags" will probably shrink to half of those listed, but that's not bad. Mainly, I (probably incorrectly) feel like I have a handle on such things. I feel more enlightened about how things there "really" are.
Truly, though, I shall never forget the epic set of all-nighters I am about to pull exploring the Wire, and then subsequently arguing for my grade. :P
Last blog post in this blog EVER?,
Deanna Christine Marie Louise Kilgore III Esq.
I was wondering if I would enjoy a different major more, with more interpretation and less formulas (although Eagleton opened my eyes to literary formulas). I realized that perhaps the fact that this class was not my ultimate major is why I enjoyed it. There is something about having freedom that makes things worthwhile.
From this class, I learned a lot about analyzing everyday texts and literature. I will continue to read for enjoyment, but hopefully I will get more out of what I am reading. Perhaps I will actually take a moment to reflect on things. I am more about reactions than reviewing. That is what I hope to take most from this class, thinking with a purpose. I can learn things without reflecting on them, but maybe wisdom is being able to put the learning into words and pass it on.
Blue Velvet affected me profoundly in that my ideas of right and wrong were completely turned inside out and around. I watched the "Candy Colored Clown" scene numerous times and turned the absurdity about in my mind and still wonder about how David Lynch does it. Blue Velvet was a lovely segue into Lolita another of my pet projects from this class.
Lolita disturbed and excited me. It is certainly a novel that I shan't forget and will definitely reread in order to catch all of Nabokov's nuances. On the surface of this masterpiece one certainly has to admire the incredible wordplay. Deeper one has to admire the mindplay. Kryzs and in turn Lolita taught me one vital thing about becoming a better reader and in turn a better writer, not everything is about you. Sometimes you have to separate yourself from the content in order to get a more (dare I say it) imaginative view. It isn't about the content, it's about using your imagination to delve deeper into something that can be beautiful.
The Wire was another particularly disturbing bit for me as I had a great deal of trouble separating myself from the content. I guess as one who was raped as a child might a bit of difficulty finding sympathy for our beloved Humbert, I had trouble sympathsizing with Omar until anticatharsis where I gathered up all of that baggage and instead looked at the story as it was, real, complicated and accurate. I will carry the moment where I was able to relinquish control and just slip into a story in which I had so much vested with me until I don't remember it anymore.
This class has been for lack of something less cliche, a blessing. Therapeutic and provoking, vicious and strange, but most of all the most useful English class I have ever had. Thanks guys.
One theme that really resonated for me was the duality and interdependence of good and evil. This has already been touched on in other blog posts, but this idea was brought up in Areopagitica, and then expanded (much more accessibly, in my opinion) in Blue Velvet. This whole “good cannot exist without evil” thing is hardly a new idea, but our class discussions were the first time I was every really forced to sit down and contemplate and discuss it seriously. Considering it’s one of the loftier metaphysical ideas around, I have no doubt our discussions will serve to enlighten future conversations and add layers of depth to other works and texts. So while I may not remember Frank Booth, Jeffrey, or what’s-her-face in 2024 and I’ve already purged a good portion of Areopagitica from my brain, I’m confident that the ideas about the nature of good and evil that these texts brought up will stick with me nonetheless.
This has also already been expanded on by others, but I’ll definitely think of this class whenever I hear the question “What is Literature?” This question was pervasive throughout the semester, but I’ll especially remember On the Pornographic Imagination’s discussion of the artist as “a freelance explorer of spiritual dangers”, someone “making forays into and taking up positions on the frontiers of consciousness”, not least because it makes being an English major sound really exciting, but also for bringing up the idea that no subject is necessarily unliterary. I’ll even begrudgingly remember Literary Theory, especially since I have a feeling I’ll be referring back to it in semesters to come. The metaphor of the different theories as lenses through which to view a text is a good one, and I definitely added some lenses to my arsenal this semester. This class also definitely helped (read: forced) me to reevaluate my definition of Literature, something that I’ll definitely remember as my personal definition solidifies in years to come. But even more, I’ll now start recognizing literary qualities in many more non-text works, as our work with Blue Velvet, The Wire, Straight Outta Compton, and Highway 61 Revisited, has taught me to do. While the subjectivity of what is considered Literature was a bit scary at first, I now see that it is one of the qualities that makes Literature such a interesting subject to study, and I’m glad that Eagleton left the “what is Literature?” question open, so that we could write the next chapter. (Sorry that was really cheesy, couldn’t resist)
Another theme I noticed was the “everyone’s playing some sort of game” theme that stretched across The Wire, Good Old Neon, and Lolita. What I mean by this is the way all these works focused (some more than others) on the aspect of life that’s just putting on a show for other people or just playing their games. While this is certainly most evident in Good Old Neon, reading that short story sort of opened my eyes to this theme in other works. In Lolita, we really get a personal look in H.H.’s mind, or so he’d like us to think. As we read, we must be wary of H.H.’s game, and keep his motives (to persuade us that he is innocent) in mind. This complicates the novel, and really adds another layer of depth when you realize just how cunning H.H. is being. In The Wire, we must keep track of each character’s motivations and the difference between who they appear to be and who they are. Even though D’Angelo actually wants to get out the drug business and is a pretty softhearted guy, he must play the role of hardcore thug; even though Avon is running the town, he’s still scared when he sees his brother lying in the hospital, etc. etc. The difference between who people are trying to appear to be and who they actually are is an important concept not only in literature but in everyday life. As Krzys brought up, even being a student is just a game, in a way. Throughout our career as students we struggle to get a X on our SAT, or keep a GPA above Y, to show people that we’re good students or smart or whatever. But it’s all just a game we’re playing to get into college or make dean’s list or get a job or whatever, these numbers only have the meaning we give them. Life exists without all these little rules and all this pretending to be something we aren’t, and we’ll be a lot better off if we can know when we need to play the game, and when we need to pull an Omar and play the game by our own rules.
In conclusion, this is by far the most interesting class I took this semester (although there wasn’t much competition) a lot of it thanks to everyone’s good insights in class or on the blog. So whether you said something I hadn’t thought of, showed me a different side to an argument, or even just posted a funny link on twitter, thanks a lot. Seriously (and double thanks to YOU, person who reads to the end of other people’s blogs, even when they’re long and rambling). I’ll see some of you around campus I’m sure, but otherwise, good luck to everyone, in whatever games you choose to play.
It's difficult to pick out a few works from the whole list of things we studied. I feel like everything was so interconnected, as if joined by this invisible network of threads (in good 'ol Post-Structuralist fashion), but some works were more striking than others, especially when side by side.
1. I really think I'll always remember facets of Nabokov's "Good Readers and Good Writers" and Azar Nafisi's lecture. I initially really struggled with the concept of sympathy versus empathy as a reader and how they were different, but I think now I can distinguish the two and use this lesson to improve my skills as a reader and see literature as "the space in which we all recognize each other."
2. Oh, "Areopagitica" and Blue Velvet... Really made me not too fond of Milton for a bit, but when we started talking about Paradise Lost in class, the idea that good cannot exist without evil, although rather simple (and elegant in its simplicity) was actually almost a revelation to me. Then David Lynch and Blue Velvet really helped to embed the idea further in a truly unforgettable fashion.
3. Little Lo and dearest NWA. Just the very fact that both this beautiful, intricate prose by a master of language and this marketable, catchy pop culture product share so much in common really amazes me. Before taking this class, I never would have been able to see the similarities between them. Going beyond just these two works, a foundation has been set in my mind that I think will help me to see the similarities between other seemingly dissimilar works as well.
4. Literary Theory. At times this was so difficult to get through, and it took me a very long time to catch up, but I finally did it, and in the end I was glad for it. It really helped provide a nice historical perspective on how analysis of literature has evolved. It also shows that we should keep our minds open and maybe regard our current way of analyzing literature as just another step toward the "best" way, although how it can evolve further is beyond me.
All right, some massive reading to do on some terribly depressing subjects like Palestinian refugees.
Over the course of this semester, we’ve read, listened to, and watched a wide range of things. Come fifteen years from now, I won’t remember the texts as much as I will the new perspectives and concepts that they showed me.
Since I started this class, I’ve done a pretty good amount of pleasure reading in my spare time. Nabokov taught me the value of rereading and the importance of reading with an open mind. Most of all, he taught me the power of the imagination with Lolita. The close reading techniques I learned in this class I applied to the books I read in my leisure. From e.e. cummings to The Wire, this class taught me to close read and those skills will stick with me through the years.
Blue Velvet will stick in my mind as the movie that made me distrust movies. I can’t help but overanalyze any movie I see now. All those hours spent watching and re-watching it and constantly thinking about it have just changed the way I watch movies. I certainly drink more Pabst Blue Ribbon than I used to (though I was a fan prior to Blue Velvet).
The details may fade, but the new perspectives and ways of thinking I picked up in this class will stick with my through the years.
I think it is fair to say that almost everyone in the class thought Eagleton was fairly dry and traditional compared to all of the other works we studied; however, reading Literary Theory gave our work a nice, conventional consistency. I really like the structure of this class and how the Learning Record is used, but at times it can be slightly overwhelming. By assigning single chapters of Eagleton’s book over the entire semester, a regular, predictable pattern was established that I thought was very appealing.
Don’t get me wrong, I hated reading Literary Theory, but in retrospect I see that I am much more knowledgeable about basic literary studies of the twentieth century than I was at the beginning of the semester. The concepts of New Criticism, Structuralism, and Post-Structuralism are frequently referred to, even outside of English classes, so having this new understanding is hopefully going to be very beneficial. Grasping the basic components of literary theories is pretty essential for future English classes and general conversations and I feel like I can speak knowledgeably, to a certain extent, about each of the theories mentioned by Eagleton.
Firstly, I think I will remember the unique writing style of ee cummings and the class' bewilderment on his poety. As an English major, I think I might study more of his poetry and I will remember this class as the start of it.
I think reading and learning about Lolita will remain with me throughout the years. First I will remember the first thing I read by Nabokov, which was "Good readers, Good Writers." I think I will always remember Nabokov's insight into what a good rader is, because some of his ideas I didn't agree with at first. Like putting yourself in the shoes of the protagonist is something a bad reader does, when I think that some books are made for you to identify with the main character. They may not be the greatest of literature, but literature still. And oh, how I will remember Humbert. His articulate, playful word flow. His story. Most of all that he was a pedofile/rapist.
I think I will also remember The Wire, because I think it most surprised me. My expectations were that it was going to be just a normal cop show, but it is so much more than that. Its themes, structure and langauge make it unlike any television show that I have seen yet.
Another topic that I KNOW will stick with me is Blue Velvet. The movie came to grow I me I think, but at first I was so weirded out by it, and the fact that we were studying it in this class. Now I can't go anywhere without seeing references to the cult classic. I was watching 30 Rock and Isabella Rossellini was on it, thought of Blue Velvet. She was on a really good episode of friends, and now I can't watch Cassablanca without thinking about BV. (she is Ingrid Bergman's Daughter) Not to mention the othe rnumorous movies the famous co-stars are in, and how different BV is from any of them.
I think there is still so much more I will take away from this class, but I can't know it yet. But I will when I get there in 15 years.
Reading Lolita and seeing how an author’s mastery of language could turn something so horrible into something beautiful is going to stick with me for a long time. Normally, our feelings are pretty simple cause and effects. Something bad happens, you get sad. Something good happens, you get happy. The fact that Nabokov was able to make the reader go against their natural feelings is truly amazing, and what I want to experience again in the near future.
Also, when we first started this class I was pretty puzzled as to why we were only reading two books, yet watching two movies and one DVD series. I thought, this must be a joke! But now I can see why. From “The Pornographic Imagination” to N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton,” I can definitely see the importance in studying (or just reading for fun) things that normally might not be considered “literature.” I’ve learned that even if a piece of work doesn’t have high class vocabulary with flowery sentences, it can still be considered literature. In fact, it might be considered better because it is more authentic—we saw how the crude language in The Wire added to its realism, since it more accurately told the story of the people.
Lastly, the idea that you have to reread a book to get the full experience will stay with me. Whether we were close-reading a scene from Blue Velvet or Lolita, I definitely got more out of it the second time through. I doubt in 15 years I’ll have the time to reread books every time, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
In any case, I’m excited to start reading for pleasure again, though I probably won’t start until after school is out. Good luck with finals everyone!
Something else that will always be in the back (but not super back) of my mind, Is the definition of literature. As much as I disliked reading literary theory, once I was able to understand it, I was able to see why the book had so many good reviews. The Question “What is Literature?” is one that most people will not be able to give a straight forward answer to. Even Eagleton in his infinite wisdom could not give a straight forward answer. Literature for me has always had a narrow definition, but studying all these works, made me think hard. In the past I would not have called a show like The Wire literary. I would have noticed its sophistication compared to other shows, but I would not have called it Literary. This whole Idea is still very new to me, and there is no way I will approve of a high school class studying a “literary show” in place of a book, but I don’t know why not. I guess this change might be too much to swallow in one semester, but it is one of the biggest changes in mindset that I have had in this class, and will not easily forget.
As far as texts, Lolita is defiantly one to remember. I think more than anything, I will remember the way the book felt. The way the language made you go along with the story, and made you feel strangely comfortable with what was going on. You are not fully aware of what you are reading till you are done, and then you have to go back, and say “what?”.
We covered am lot of ideas that I feel we will continue to encounter in life, and not only in our memories when we remember this class.
Fifteen years later...
Supposing I don't do anything absolutely stupid to get me killed, Ill be thirty five. Going by how my dad has aged, Ill look the same for the next two decades. Maybe Ill have random gray hairs (already have one!), but Ill still be immature. I have no idea what Ill be doing but Ill probably be doing whatever I feel like doing disregarding repercussions. I don't see myself being married unless someone dares me to do so. Essentially immature and always nerdy, I'm sure I'll be nostalgic for the days in which my future and present characteristics were accepted as normal.
The only question is what I'll vaguely remember but embellish anyway. Judging by the impact these works have on me right now, I would wager on The Wire, Blue Velvet, Straight Outta Compton, Lolita, Highway 61 and The Pornographic Imagination. Its not just the works themselves that have had an impact on me but in the way they have been studied.
The Wire may be the smartest TV show and the best TV I've seen since the "Company Man" episode of Heroes season 1 (believe it or not Heroes was actually good at some point). The way the content is treated with such unflinching maturity will stay with me, and I plan to continue the series all the way up to the end. This may seem easy but the show requires so much time invested and focus that I can't imagine it will be similar at all to when I went through four seasons of scrubs two summers ago.
Blue Velvet blew my mind. Not because I thought it was brilliant, but because I had no clue what was going on and it was the biggest mindfuck since I decided to watch that wretched Neon Genesis Evangelion. Although my personal opinion of Blue Velvet is rather blank, I surprised myself when angered is response to Ebert's inane review of it. I came to appreciate Blue Velvet the more we studied it and that may have to be a method I employ in the future to works I don't have a real reaction to.
I totally brag to my friends I get to study Straight Outta Compton and Highway 61 Revisited in this class. Continuing to challenge the "Literature" label, I'm glad we got to take a good look at these works. I'm especially happy I finally got to hear other students talking about a rap record that doesn't have Lil Wayne in it even if they had to. I only wish we studied Illmatic or a A Tribe Called Quest album as well.
Lolita may be my best remembered work we've done. I can easily see myself rereading Lolita several times in the next few years just like I've done with other novels. I wonder how the experience will differ from reading to reading. I'll continue to explore this work. I think "On The Pornographic Imagination" will be something I'll eventually go back to and read. Maybe it will be this summer. I think some of the arguments made are something to apply to other areas. Also, how can I just forget a long argument for pornography. I'll probably show it to my parents and tell them it was totally okay for me to watch porn in 7th grade because it can be real literature.
Going through these works in a personal way and then discussing them with my peers is what will, in part, keep some of these works memorable. Having to twitter may be selectively forgotten but the blogging won't. I'll definitely remember reading posts by classmates that were often well written. Not sure if I'll be a great reader by then. Maybe I'll be able to read an ee cummings poem and actually know what it is talking about.
After reading what we were supposed to write about I Lolita immediately came to mind. I learned all kinds of things about language, about the idea of literature, and about how to go about interpreting something as complicated as good literature, that's it would be difficult for me to not have learned anything from our Lolita discussions. I'm sure whenever I see or read anything by Nabokov (is anyone taking that class next semester, by the way? It's a REE class, which is really random) I'll think of Banned Books and Novel Ideas and I'll have to smile.
The Wire will stick with me for a more literal reason. The length of the episodes combined with the fact that there are 4 more seasons and my short attention span seem to imply that I may very well not have finished the Wire in 15 years. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, I think that The Wire will serve as something to compare to any future great TV shows I might see. The idea of the game has also helped me articulate the problems in society that I've been bitching about for the past few years. Maybe now that I'm more aware of "the game" I'll get better at it. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing...maybe that's the point.
Blue Velvet is hard to ignore. I'm much less judgmental of seemingly "stupid" movies now. While I still think that a huge portion of "cult-classics" are only popular because people want others to think they are unique, I've come to appreciate the fact that "weird" isn't always "trying too hard."
I'm not sure what I'll be doing, but I do know that I won't forget this class. Despite the hour, I've enjoyed every class we've had, and I'm glad I got to meet you all. The game is over for this year..but for most of us it will start back up in August. Happy playing!
The main thing that will more than likely stick with me is Lolita. I have never read a book anywhere near as horrifying or beautiful as this, and definitely not with the same combination. Nabokov showed me that language can turn anything into what you want. He made me believe that what he thought/did was okay, or made me think it was okay to think it was okay. Sorry if that was hard to follow, but you get what I mean. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an author forcing me to think the way I thought. It was like he controlled what we liked and if we didn’t let ourselves be completely absorbed by his words, then we would miss the whole point. I’ve always had my own opinions about works of literature, but I felt like even if I did have bad opinions of the story of Lolita, there was no way I could ever criticize the language used. I know many of you had read Lolita before, but I had never even heard of it. I am still amazed how Nabokov controls the reader, it’s like we are his puppets and he just gets to kick back and watch how we react to his plans. Genius.
Nabokov and Lolita have shown me to always expect the unexpected. Although not everything will be that way, you never know when something will be the complete opposite of what you think. I feel that if I keep that mind set, I will be more open minded to the world around me.
I feel like the Wire will also stick with me for a while. It was a really well made television show with some deep insight into how we function as a society. It goes with one of the themes of this class that not everyone is 100% good or 100% bad, which I think is kind of an important realization about life. The David Simon interview we read, and the one on PBS also really gets this point across. It was also really interesting to see how the inspiration of Greek tragedy went into making this show.
Watching this show and the movies and listening to music we have, made me realize that literature is a much broader concept than I originally thought. And that many things can be close read and analyzed, and have more meaning than what's on the surface. I've learned to 'fondle the deatails' in this class.
The Learning Record was kind of eye opening to me. I think I'll always remember what I learned about how I am and how I learn. I've learned to close read and analyze myself in a way that I have never done before, and now I think it's kind of an important thing to do.
And honestly pretty much the only thing that will not stick with me (it's pretty much already gone) is Literary Theory. The only thing about Literary Theory that will stick with me is how much I hate it... Sorry, but it's true.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
In the entire N.W.A. album, I felt e most that the powerful and moving song for me was “Fuck the police.” I found it so because the police are supposed to be the good guys, the people you can trust. This song shows the not so glamorous side of the police force, very similarly to the Wire. It breaks that wide spread Idea that the cops are always right, and their actions always justified. The problem is how we get past all of this. After watching the Wire, and listening to N.W.A, when your house gets robbed, you still pick up the phone and call the police. Regardless of what they are doing, there is no way for us to live if we do not have faith that they will do the right thing. It is true that we have seen the dark side of the police force, but after all that we must return to the real world (our world) where we push aside that image and convince ourselves of their complete goodness.
In class, a topic we dwelt on was the authenticity of the image that N.W.A portrayed. Even though many of them were not hardcore gangsters, their songs made it seem that way. I first heard about the N.W.A. album about 2 years ago, I think when VH1 was doing the documentary about them. I was utterly convinced that these people were hard core gangsters. They were the real Avon Barksdale, killing and never looking back. I found it interesting that they were just using their imaginations. I never understood the similarities between the album and Lolita until I got this concept. Finding out that the N.W.A. was not a group of thugs did not make the album any less powerful for me; it just gave me a different way of looking at it. Compared to the Dylan album, I felt straight outta Compton was less layered, and the language although rough was easier to understand. I also felt N.W.A dealt with more simple emotions than the emotions Dylan focused on. While N.W.A focused on anger, Dylan focused on pride, individuality, and a sense of self. I think this might be a reason for the quality difference in their use of language. It seems that It would have been extremely difficult if N.W.A. tried to focus on an issue like the complexity of the human soul, and had to accomplish this with the same level of sophistication used in Straight outta Compton.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Krzys asked us why we thought that middle class white kids liked NWA so much. I said that both Bob Dylan and NWA have an authenticity thing going. I didn't actually mean to answer the question, I just needed a vehicle to say that once I thought of it, so I tied it back in. Ha. In fact, I mostly had stuff to say about Bob Dylan.
But anyway, the extent to which Bob Dylan tried/succeeded in being authentic is pretty impressive. We studied him a lot last semester in history of rock music. Rock'n'Roll was in full force in the late 50's. While a couple folk musicians gained popularity (Guthrie, Pete Seeger) then, it was Bob Dylan that brought folk music to the mainstream in the early 60's. The folk music revival coincided nicely with the civil rights movement in New York at least, Bob Dylan writing about it often.
The authenticity part comes in because of how folk music changed rock music, which is mostly lyrically (at least, that's the relevant part. It worked stylistically also, of course). Folk brought activism and politics into rock music at a time when mainstream music had always had banal lyrics about puppy love and throwing parties. This mingling came later, though. When folk being popular was a new thing, folk musicians sought to separate themselves as much as possible from rock music and it's falseness. Fans and musicians dressed differently and opposed any poisoning of the authenticity of folk with rock influences (why Bob Dylan plugging in at the festival was such a huge disaster at the time).
The ironic bit of all of this, of course, is that stating rules and boundaries for folk music is somewhat contrary to the heart of the genre and rather inauthentic inherently. Theoretically, it would be about pulling influences from wherever felt appropriate, but that attitude in music didn't come until later.
This post seems pretty off-topic, so I'll backtrack to NWA and the Wire:
I see a common thread between the authenticity of Bob Dylan and that of NWA. In both instances, it's a little hypocritical (Bob Dylan will not ever really be on the receiving end of racism; NWA aren't quite as on the streets as you might guess), and in both cases, they were using authenticity to make popular a genre of music which contrasted the current mainstream. Bob Dylan brought folk out against rock, NWA brought gangsta rap out against... well, everything wholesome. AND lyrics/message were a huge factor in both!
As far as the Wire goes, it's not a musical artist of course, so that comparison is out the window. I do think it shares the slight hypocrisy in that any television show created for entertainment isn't going to be totally realistic, much like any real gangsta is not going to be in a recording studio. The idea that it's creators are ex-cops and such lends it some credence, though. The "lyrics" of the show, much like NWA or Bob Dylan, are pretty revolutionary. I think the dialogue is one of the strong points in the Wire, both for authenticity and entertainment.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Throughout the Wire, there were references to games being associated with children (The Nursery rhymes and the scenes of children playing games.)It seems (let me try to explain this), the idea of a game plays such a big role in our lives, that we begin learning it as children, and perfect it by the time we are adults. At least how good you are at it determines your success. It seems like the concept of games is like the concept of eating. If you can’t eat, you die. There are different ways of eating, different things to eat, and different ways that eating can go wrong. The game, an essential piece of life, but I guess not all games are bad. It is when the games go bad that it become a problem, a cancer that must be removed at all costs.
I feel this album fits with this class. It is easily the most vulgar and grimy of all the works we've looked at. The Wire is realistic in its crudeness so I hardly find it offensive and I doubt reasonable people would find it so. Banned from the radio and venues, the NWA sound blazed from the streets causing many who do not understand the culture uneasy. The inclusion of this work is only qualified in the sense that it was a hot hot issue about twenty years ago.
If this class was just about what could be considered literature then I would be hesitant to include NWA. Well, maybe just not in the good literature category. Straight Outta Compton's importance stems from its place in hip hop history as an originator. Actually, I've always wondered why every music magazine that made a best albums list since so and so year always placed Straight Outta Compton so highly while hip hop focused magazines never acclaimed it as so.
NWA featured one of the most prominent rappers of the 90s (Ice Cube) and one of the best hip hop producers ever (Dr Dre) but it never seems to exceed exceptional. Ice Cube is easily the best lyricist and his delivery is leagues above anyone else in the group. Dre's work is before it develops until his fantastic G Funk style. If we were to study a truly phenomenal rap album like Illmatic, Ready to Die, Madvillainy, or Reasonable Doubt and numerous others, then I think I would have been more excited when I saw we would study several different works in different mediums at the beginning of the year. As it stands, I think Straight Outta Compton is a fine work to study in this course due to its nature and historical importance
Like I posted in my other blog, I wasn’t impressed by N.W.A when I first listened to their album. They just sounded like the same ol’ rappers rapping about the same ol’ things. However, just to explore the possibilities I asked my boyfriend about them since he is more knowledgeable about rap in general. He said “I don’t even want to explain N.W.A to you ‘cause you won’t understand. They were the real O.G’s.”
By this he meant that the group members in N.W.A were “real” and what they rapped about they meant and probably had done—unlike most of the rappers today. They were drug dealers in Compton, and not just the kind that sell weed here and there. Basically, they were legit. Knowing that, I can see the value of studying their songs more now. They weren’t rapping about topics that sold, they were expressing their world or at least how they saw it (like Sam commented on my blog). Their raps are a way of reasserting their power—the cops might have the law on their side, but they have the freedom to disregard the law and are willing to suffer the consequences of it. Catchy lyrics like “Everwhere we go they say [damn!]/N W A's fuckin' up tha program” says two things to me: They realized they were rapping about taboo subjects and they played by their own rules. N.W.A’s group members were fearless of the law and it’s consequences. If someone disrespected them and broke their rules, their solution was simple—kill or seriously hurt that person. (“The police are gonna hafta come and get meOff yo ass, that's how I'm goin out”) And even if they did get caught, they wouldn’t be held down for long. (“And if I ever get caught I make bail”) I’m not sure how many people they actually killed, but that’s the message they send. And, they sent this message through catchy songs that had even the white middle class listening to them. Using the police and the illegal activities that they do as topics for their songs is the ultimate slap in the face for the law. It’s almost like they tease the law by confessing to their crimes, knowing that the police wouldn’t be able to arrest them for it. In this sense, N.W.A played by their own rules and won “the game.”
Lolita's subject matter is shocking. It is disgusting, but it is beautiful. It is about a child molester. When we took a closer look, we found molestation is not what the work was about. It is about the way it was written and the prose. Lolita is unusual subject matter that will not produce piles of cash, but did because it was executed perfectly.
Bob Dylan has an unusual voice. Simon Cowell, American Idol Judge and Expert on all things good, said that Dylan has a terrible voice. It is his lyrics that make the music worthwhile. Anyone can have a nice singing voice, but few can create poetry and social commentary in their lyrics. He is a success and is one of the most respected musicians, but for all practical purposes, his voice is not the norm of beautiful. Dylan commanded attention despite his imperfections.
NWA's subject matter and language is offensive. It gave voice to injustices and an underrepresented sector of people. They aren't offensive for the sake of being offensive like so many rappers are. Like the other two, they present their views in a way that is not mainstream. They cannot be compared to their contemporaries only. They have to be examined on thier own merits.
We are assuming Bob Dylan and N.W.A. acknowledged the existence of everyone else’s “rules” and “game.” What each album drives home to me is that both play by rules in a game of their creation. Neither artist agrees with the Rule imposed on them, so they disrespect these rules and want to implement their own. When something is broke, fix it.
Dylan lyrics and N.W.A. lyrics rebell against their current situation instead of offering Active Ideas for changing this current situation. Both have Anger Igniting lyrics and themes, but few of their songs offer solutions. Season 1 of The Wire similarly failed to offer any proactive solution. I’ve heard rumors there is more hope in Season Three, but we only watched the First.
There’s not a very poetic or exciting way to put “go to Law School and work to enforce anti-corruption legislation” or “work with community organizers to make an alliance with your local police” into a song. Nor are either of these solutions very RocknRoll/Hard or even effective. The music and The Wire are good to get amped up, but their main focus is not on being constructive. They are more instructive; they draw attention to problems and leave the audience searching for the solution.
It is much easier to passively accept the Game and Rules we are dealt. But, shouldn’t we constantly seek the optimal Game? The Rules should be fluid and allow for change. The Wire, Highway 61 Revisited, and Straight Outta Compton all call us to challenge our current Game.
The first and most striking aspect of Bob Dylan’s lyrics is that they are neither predictable nor typical. In so many songs today, especially popular music, there is a definite conventional formula that is followed and I do not think Bob Dylan ever fell victim to the prescribed formula. However, despite his songs’ originality, they are all still very catchy and gained mainstream success. Dylan is the perfect example of a genuinely talented individual who has fairly earned his title.
Another part of Dylan’s appeal is that the audience can actually feel his brain churning and creating all sorts of innovative and interesting phrases. After reading the lyrics to the album, it undeniable that this is a crazy talented artist and for me, it is difficult not to get caught up in his thought process. In Ballad of a Thin Man, he incorporates “F. Scott Fitzgerald” into the lyrics. Even if Dylan’s lyrics were completely meaningless and unenjoyable, I think people would have still taken note of him, simply because of his novel writing style. Not only does Highway 61 Revisited take on a completely inventive, unpredictable new formula of music writing, but that new formula is amazingly good.
"Some musicians curse at home
But scared to use profanity
When up on the microphone.
Yeah, they want reality.
But you wont hear none.
Or they ban my group from the radio.
Hear nwa and say hell no!."
N.W.A. makes a point to break the limits of censor ship, and this album changed the way that rappers rapped, as this was one of the first to use a lot of profanity and violent language. So you might say that they had quite a few "novel ideas"
As for Bob Dylan, I would say that you can study almost everyone of his songs as a poem or a piece of literature. I don't think his lyrics were as controversial as N.W.A but his style and music were revolutionary. As for loving him or hating him I don't know why people hate him so much. I have heard a lot of different responses but I don't know, I personally like Bob Dylan a lot. He changed the way people thought of Folk and Rock by combining them, and upsetting a lot of people and I think for that he does plays his own game with his own rules.
I think we can, but for different reasons.
Since part of the title of this class is 'banned books' I think we have a lot of reason to study N.W.A. Though it's not a book, this album has had a lot of controversy and songs like F--- the Police never even made it onto the radio like Rachel was saying. In this way I think it is beneficial to study something like music that has been banned and be able to compare it to how it is similar/different from banning a book.
The other half of the title of this class is 'novel ideas' and I think Bob Dylan has a lot of these. His material isn't really controversial like N.W.A.'s but I think his ideas are really unique and insightful. His lyrics are read like poems. I don't have to listen to his actual singing to appreciate what he was trying to say. (Though I do enjoy the music quite a bit). I would consider Bob Dylan's songs to be literature.
N.W.A.'s lyrics on the other hand, to me aren't as sophisticated. They are pretty crude and mostly straightforward. I don't read their lyrics as literature. To me one must actually listen to the music to get the effect of N.W.A., without it I don't find any interest in what they are saying. It's just like someone complaining a lot about life.
These artists are different. I think they're both good to study in our class but for these different reasons. They have different aspects that make them good.
I always feel a bit out of place listening to hard rap and Dex always feels a bit out of place listening to folk/blues /Bob Dylan. Essentially, they are both defying authority in a way that is not at all subversive or subtle. This is what makes for FCC panic. I'm not going all conspiracy theory on you but it is so interesting that in the history of censorship and banning, most if not all had some sort of social commentary that defies the status quo. In defying the status quo, those in power are shown in a new light, a light that exposes the game they are playing. Yeah, drug dealers play the game, white suburbia plays the game...oh but politicians that's a whole new ball game. Kryzs told me once that all stories need to be told, otherwise that's where censorship comes from, stifled stories. Never has this statement made more sense than when I listened to Highway 61 revisited and Straigh Outta Compton.
The Wire tells us we are all players in a dangerous Game. Why is it dangerous? Partly because we are not in control of either the rules or the other players. How does N.W.A. play the game? How does Bob Dylan play the game?
Applying the theory that “the game is dangerous because we are not in control of the rules or the other players” to N.W.A., it follows that their game is dangerous because they cannot control the laws that govern their land, the market that sells their music, or the other players: government officials, police, their competitors in the rap game, record label executives, drug dealers, and all the women only interested in them for their money.
So now that we know why N.W.A.’s game is dangerous, how do they respond? They play by their own rules. They sell, use, and rap about drugs, in spite of the rules set out by the law. They rap about fighting back against the police, attempting the redefine the rules on what players of the rap game are allowed to do. Their album was and is very controversial, ignoring the traditional rules on what subjects rap could discuss. They openly criticized the police, drug dealers and users, and the materialistic nature of American society and the music industry. Instead of watering down their music to make it onto a big label or increase sales, instead they recorded tracks about the importance of free expression (“Express Yourself”) and against censorship (“Parental Discretion iz advised”) and formed their own record label to distribute it. N.W.A. are important as artists because of their insistence on saying what they wanted to say, “’Cause [they didn't] give a fuck about radio play”.
[Yeah yeah, I didn’t answer the part of the question about Bob Dylan, but hey this a blog post, not an essay. I play this game by my own rules.]
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
This song had a huge influence in the 80's after its release, but it continues to thrive. It is covered by Rage Against the Machine, not for racial tensions, but for more police injustice in Philadelphia. The lyrics "a little bit of gold and a pager" show up in The Cool Kids song of the same title, referring to this influential song.
The song came out before illegal downloading of music, so it had to be bought, then shared. It did not appear on the radio, yet its message was heard and influenced a generation of not anti-authority thoughts, but pro-justice.
P.S. I blogged a little late because I went to see The Hannah Montana Movie- how far away from NWA and Bob Dylan could I possibly get?? :)
“From a kid to a G it's all about money”
This idea, expressed as a line in “Dope Man”, is a recurring theme in both Straight Outta’ Compton and The Wire, and if you extend it broader, to Highway 61 as well. All three works deal with the idea of people being products of their environments, and America’s material society forcing people into roles. And in Straight Outta Compton and The Wire, we also see how inner city youth are forced into crime because they have no other option.
But to get back to my original intent of focusing on Straight Outta’ Compton, one thing I recurrently noticed was N.W.A.’s rejection of the material splendor that is the subject of so many stupid, stupid, recent rap songs (Let me buy you a drank?). Even in the middle of the brutal objectification that is “Ain’t tha 1” Ice Cube offers “You shouldn't be, so damn material/And try to milk Ice Cube like cereal”. Assuming that the first line wasn’t added solely to rhyme with cereal, Ice cube reveals that he is actually arguing against the material nature of the world he finds himself in. And when Dr. Dre adds “But chu know it ain't all about wealth/As long as you make a note to, express yourself”, we see that indeed, N.W.A. seems to be the antithesis of what much of rap today is about. Sure they’re cocky and seem to have about 15 different words to rhyme with “gat”, but they’re actually trying to send an artistic message, in their own way. They argue against the way our material society puts focus on what makes money rather than what is new and original, which is in itself, a refreshingly new and original topic for rap, even 21 years later.
As several people have pointed out, there seem to be repetitious themes throughout NWA's songs, such as murder, sex, drugs, and the rest of that good stuff. I haven't closely read the lyrics of even half the album yet, and I'm already a bit tired of this subject monotony.
There is one line in "Straight Outta Compton" that really struck me, though.
In the third verse:
"...straight outta Compton
Is a brother that'll smother yo' mother
And make yo' sister think I love her"
I think it's interesting that Eazy-E compares murdering someone's mother and breaking the heart of someone's sister as if the actions are equally as grave. I sort of have to respect a person who believes that romantically deceiving a naive girl is equal to killing someone. It shows a personal honor code (the Wire!) that, while deviating from the conventional, has no tolerance for deceit and betrayal. While NWA may be involved in drugs and murder, they have a high regard for loyalty and to some extent others' emotions, which is an aspect that I think could easily slip by most listeners.
Dylan and the N.W.A. seemed to come from two different angles. Dylan’s songs connected with the human emotion, but its approach was mellow, and I am not sure if it was because of the tone, or the softer language, Dylan made you think, but it did not hurt. N.W.A’s F. The Police for me was the strongest piece in the album. This is what they are going through, but they expressed so much anger through their language and their beats, that I was hard to listen to.
The use of language in Straight outta Compton reminds me of the scene in the Wire were McNulty and Bunk figure out the crime scene just using the F word. It has always been hard for me to see why curse words are necessary. I have always heard that when people curse words, it is because they do not have a good enough vocabulary to express themselves better, but the Wire made me think twice. What if those curse words were precise enough to get the message across? Imagine “F. the police” being played on the radio with all the curse words bleeped out. In this form, I think we can all agree the song would be destroyed. Never the less, I would like to know what exactly makes curse words wrong, and if there are times when their use is acceptable, or if their use will always be a scandalous move.