Thursday, April 30, 2009

Authenticity... again. Now with more historical and cultural context!

I mentioned this briefly in class today, but I've been thinking about it more since then.

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.

vessels

I wasn't as excited about listening to Hwy 61 as NWA because I've unfairly relegated Dylan to the group of artists that every hipster ever claims to love.  Not fair, I know, and I like him more upon listening, though I still prefer Straight Outta Compton.

I second Rachel's idea that Bob Dylan's somewhat "ugly" reedy voice reflects beauty in ugliness, and I wanted to expand on it a little.  

Bob Dylan conveys beauty and sadness and love and all of that in a decidedly ugly vessel - his voice.
Humbert Humbert/Nabokov communicates horror and shock and ugly, unspeakable things in a really, really beautiful vessel - his words and his prose.
NWA delivers truth and rawness (both good and bad) in a shocking, vulgar, abrasive yet innovative way - their lyrics and beats.
David Simon delivers that same truth and rawness in a packaged-for-HBO-but-not-overly-glossy, realistic TV container - the dialogue and visual effects and cinematography.

So. It's all sort of circular.  Each of these artists, or groups of artists, is innovative in that they present emotions in a different way, or vessel, than is expected.  What is more surprising is that they all do it beautifully, eloquently, perfectly.  No one here matches up subject matter with a corresponding, expected style, and I think that's part of what makes them all so important, and maybe why we're studying them all in tandem.
 
I had this phase in eighth grade when I was still really into the Sex Pistols and Gang of Four, but I was also starting to get into fashion and wearing skirts and stealing my mom's jewelry.  My art teacher kind of raised his eyebrow at me one day, and was like, "Heels and pearls with a Ramones shirt?  really, Elizabeth?" I mean, he was kind of a dick, and I was pretty embarrassed initially - how do you defend that?  But the more I thought about it, the more okay it seemed.  If I was going to be a clichĂ© by liking outdated punk music that wasn't very relevant to me as an upper-middle-class white girl, I might as well do it in a different way than every other grimy, well-to-do suburban kid in a Clash tshirt.  

Reading/listening/watching these things reminds me of that this overly sentimental anecdote, a little, because the work of these artists is unexpected, but not just for the sake of being unexpected.  Not for shock value.  They do it to highlight the importance of their message, of communicating these things to the general public, Maybe even to garner a bigger audience?  Because you are getting both people that are attracted to the aesthetic value and then people that are attracted to the feeling or meaning behind the work - the lyrics of the song, or the emotions portrayed, or the events written? I just thought of that last question.  I'm not even really sure about it.  What do you think?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The idea of Games

For the past two weeks, we have been talking about the game in the wire, and most recently in N.W.A. and Highway 61 revisited. The game is still something that is on the outside, the cops, drug dealers, the law officials, politicians. I do not see myself as any of these people, so it was interesting when we were asked to write about the games we play in our own lives. This brought the whole idea of the game inside for me. A game that I am deeply involved in and I hate but can’t get out of, is the game of hiding true emotions and intentions. If you say what you are really thinking, you lose, and if you don’t, you still loose. The adults always have the upper hand, but they too are caught in the net of fake smiles and kisses. The more I thought about it, it seemed that all of life was a game. Let’s play a game: Who could eat the most calories and not gain weight, who can make the most money, who can replace The United States as world leader. All of life is one game after another. The Pope himself must play the game every now and then.
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.

Studying NWA

This whole semester we have challenged ourselves to come up with a definition and have come up with various clashing definitions as to what may or may not fit under that label. Now we have NWA's Straight Outta Compton to qualify.

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

N.W.A and The Game

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.”

Bob Dylan & The Game

Lolita, Bob Dylan, and NWA all play the game in different ways. They all attempt to play the game by not being mainstream. None of these artists would be considered pop-culture. They all have elements of counterculture. The majority of people in America play the game by being successful, but this group of people does not conform to the usual route of getting successful. An indication of success is making a lot of money. These players of the game have achieved that in an unusual way. On the surface, these artists could be ignored. These artists require a deeper look to be appreciated.

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.

Dylan/The Wire and The Game

I know we've talked The Wire to death, so I'll be brief with this part. The Game in The Wire is all about individuals doing whatever they can to either advance themselves or just prevent themselves from falling into a worse position. McNulty admits after Kima is shot that to him the case is all about making himself look good. Wee Bey does a lot of dirty work to stay on Avon's good side. Bodie agrees to kill Wallace so that Stringer won't see him as weak. Omar kills and steals to make a living. When someone messes up, they have to deal with the consequences. D'Angelo is almost convicted of murder, so he gets bumped down the chain and has to work his way up again. Little Man shoots a cop, so he is killed. Prez is punished for hitting a kid unjustifiably by having his gun taken away and being confined to the office. Basically the game is harsh and it's every man for himself. 

Bob Dylan is completely against this way of playing the game. His game is to speak out against those who are all for themselves. Bob Dylan isn't about money and personal advancement, but rather peace, equality and pretty much making fun of anyone who does care about material things. "Like a Rolling Stone" is a good example of Dylan's lack of respect for people who place too much importance on tangible things. The subject of the song used to have money and dress well, and s/he didn't pay any attention to the misfortunes of others ("You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns when they all come down and did tricks for you"). This person has now fallen- s/he has been taken advantage of, has to compromise with the tramps, and has no place to go. Dylan advises that s/he pawn his/her diamond ring and insists that s/he has nothing to lose and no secrets to hide anymore. Bob Dylan's game is that he won't play the game that Avon and his men play in The Wire. D'Angelo gives up 20 years of his life in prison so that his family can keep living the high life, but here is a quote of Dylan's that I've always really liked: "What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to." There are tons of Dylan songs that express this same sentiment. He is always rooting for the underdogs, those that don't have all the money and power, because he believes the things they do have are much more important. 

Those in Power despise Change (unless you mean Coin).

Bob Dylan is literature. Being a groupie of Milton, N.W.A. is worthy of our contemplation, and therefore literature and appropriate for this class. That out of the way, I want to talk about one of the major similarities of the two.

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.

More on White People..

The things Rachael blogged about “defying the status quo” and “the man” are so true. That is hilarious what her friend told her because I’ve seen it firsthand. I even catch myself listening to rap and actually enjoying other things I don’t usually, when I’m drunk. -Lol- And I definitely see it with my hickish friends from my hometown. We seriously grew up listening to country music and that’s pretty much what we all still do, but once the alcohol kicks in and they feel all big and bad, they break out the “bad rap” and sing along with a little more twang than the rappers themselves. As for “defying the man” I feel like we all like to be a little rebellious at times, but N.W.A. and Bob Dylan saw that as a lifestyle. Not saying all they did was try to break “the rules of the game”, but they sure liked to push their limits. We also saw this with the characters in The Wire, they weren’t always the guys causing the trouble, but they weren’t afraid to stand up and do something bad-even when they knew they shouldn’t. The censorship the radios and people put on N.W.A. is something I don’t think can happen in the real world scenarios they sing about. The cops can try and stop them all they want, but if “bad guys” want to start something up, they’re going to do it.

Successfully incorporating F. Scott Fitzgerald is very impressive

By now, it’s old news to say that Bob Dylan is frequently hailed as America’s greatest singer/songwriter. Undoubtedly, on every countdown, Dylan and his work are rated among the very highest. For five decades this guy has been making great music, and yet with this one album, Highway 61 Revisited, all of Bob Dylan’s talent is exhibited. After really listening to Highway 61 Revisited and reading the lyrics, it is pretty clear that the highly revered titles given to the singer have been rightfully earned. This album’s lyrics are very original and the new, different method of songwriting really works.

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.

RE: N.W.A and Bob Dylan

I have to agree with Kat completely. I think that we can study these "texts" in class because N.W.A has been censored a lot and their song "Express Yourself" is specifically about being censored.
"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.

N.W.A. and Bob Dylan

Question: Can we justify studying these records in an English class ? Why or why not?

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.

White people

"The drunker white people get, the more they want to listen to bad rap." A black friend of mine told me that that was the hard truth. He then laughed and railed a G of coke and pointed with his straw to some drunk white girls who brashly claimed that "Lollipop"was their favorite song. When one is listening to music that ultimately defies the man and bashes authority, it makes one feel like a badass in the abstract. When I listen to Bob Dylan not only do I feel a strong aversion to authority, but also a desire to take up Bob's cause. I have yet to conquer the man. Dex (my friend in the afore mentioned story) told me when he listens to early Snoop or NWA or Dre he feels the exact same way, but he has yet to kill a cop.
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.

Dangerous Games

Since I didn’t have any immediate ideas on what to blog about, I suppose I’ll just post my initial thoughts on one of the questions Krzyz posed us in his email:

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

Fronts and beats. re: Emily

Straight Outta Compton is pretty cool so far.  And by the way, Pitchfork gave it a 9.7, and if you know anything about insufferably pretentious, if well-done, music reviews, you know that this is a pretty huge deal.  Like I said, I really like it, but I've only listened to the whole thing once through as of yet.

Emily discussed the weird "front" that is so prevalent in rap culture in last night's post.  In rewatching ep 12 of the Wire last night, my group saw an example of said front.  We were kind of laughing about D'Angelo's weird knit/rugby/zipper concoction of a shirt.  He quickly goes inside to change into it, which is a two-minute endeavor, but ultimately seals his fate.  Had he not been preoccupied with his looks, had he not come out with a slow, exaggerated shoulder-pinch, he would never have gotten caught.  Krzys has alluded to the similarities with Greek tragedy in The Wire, and in a way, D'Angelo's vanity, his 'front', is his Achilles' heel... it ultimately destroys him.

more later

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fuck the Police

Although this is one of the most well-known songs on NWA's album, it was never a single. Unlike many mainstream rap songs, this song has a message. It is about the plight of the black race against the LAPD in the 80's. The song contains many racial slurs toward white police officers, but is also negative to the black officers. It calls them frauds who have to show off to their white counterparts. This song is not about a fight for equality, it is a fight against the injustices of the police force. It is giving a voice to all of those who have been racially profiled. After the song's release, riots continued to ensue in LA.
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.

More NWA

As I was listening to these albums, I realized how old they seemed but they actually aren’t, I feel old now.. Clint wrote about Fuck Da Police and whether it was funny or not, and it really made me think. How can something so very real, be humorous to anyone it actually relates to? I am one of the people it could be funny to, because I have a life completely opposite to those guys and their music, but some live the exact same way. But for the people who live the same lives, it would be like someone rapping about studying for tests at UT for us, (lame compared to NWA, but I know we all have them). Reality isn’t that funny unless it’s someone else’s reality. I know a few others have mentioned how it fits perfectly with The Wire and I completely agree. These guys have lives that are what they are and they either can’t change or don’t really want to, but even if they wanted to, could they ever escape their own reality?

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”

As I sifted through the NWA lyrics I tried to find what about it we should consider useful or literary. While sometimes I went through entire tracks shaking my head (“Ain’t tha 1”? Part hilarious, part just plain horrible) the number of discussable lines exceeded my expectations.

“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.

a brother that'll smother yo' mother

The first NWA song I ever heard was "A Bitch Iz a Bitchh," which was, quite frankly, offensive ("Now, the title bitch don't apply to all women, but all women have a little bitch in 'em."), even if I had to agree with parts of it. So, as you can imagine, I was a little wary about having to analyze this album and consider it in the context of the literary.

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.

Little piece of my mind

My favorite song so far, has to be Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of a thin Man. I am not aware what so ever what the real meaning of this song is but it makes you feel. There are times in life when you just have no clue what is going on. It is as if the world is spinning while you’re standing still. There is just this sense of detachment that you can’t seem to do anything about. Most of Dylan’s song I feel have this deep meaning, that allows you to connect with them emotionally weather you understand what is being said or not.
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.

The first nigga that I saw--hit 'em in the jaw/Re: So Aggressive

I would be lying if I claimed the ability to take NWA's album seriously the first time I heard it. With lines like the title, I was laughing the entire time--no room to be offended or horrified or anything but amused; it sounds like a parody of itself. 

Of, course, once one gets past the incredibly dated early 90's vibe and takes another listen, there's the fact that these lyrics are supposed to represent a real place, real people. I have to agree with Emily post: that in many ways, they've failed at the latter by refusing to acknowledge one side of themselves that surely exists. I would argue (and her post did not negate this) that by hiding it, though, they lend themselves even more credibility by staying within this ridiculous masculinity because it is what is required where they come from. 

What I liked even more, though, was something I noticed in Fuck Tha Police. After MC Ren is entreated to "give his testimony," he says 
       
 Fuck tha police and Ren said it with authority
because the niggaz on the street is a majority. 

which just brings the whole thing back to this machismo power struggle. More niggaz means they get to say whatever they want, and he's bringing the police into it. He keeps it up by accusing the police of being afraid of him and of having a "fake-assed badgeBasically, I think he's accusing the police of putting up a front when that's exactly what he's doing himself, as Emily so aptly noted. Whether he notices this contradiction is up in the air, but I would guess not. 

Dylan and Nabokov

Bob Dylan's song "Ballad of a Thin Man" is about a man who appears to be really intelligent, but he actually doesn't understand anything that is going on around him. Mr. Jones "walks into the room with a pencil in his hand", ready to take notes and describe everything. He is constantly asking questions and he thinks he is better than everyone around him (it's impossible that he is a freak). Mr. Jones has spent time with intellectuals like professors and lawyers and is "very well read", but despite this all the strange characters around him are insulting him, calling him a freak, a cow, and saying "there ought to be law against him coming around".  Bob Dylan seems to be poking fun at the same kind of person Nabokov was mocking in the introduction to Lolita. John Ray is a person who would seem to be very intelligent; after all, he does have a Ph.D. However, he doesn't really understand anything about the book on which he is claiming to be an expert. Ray reads Lolita as a case history and for a moral lesson, when in fact Nabokov did not intend for the book to be read this way. Both Mr. Jones and John Ray are characters who are definitely real people, out there somewhere, and Dylan and Nabokov have pointed out that while they may find themselves to be superior, they are in reality clueless. 

Is Fuck Da Police Really Funny? Yes.

I was listening to Fuck Da Police (any of the songs on the album will work, but this one is especially wonderful) and couldn't help but laugh. That's pretty weird once you get to thinkin' about it. I mean, I don't think the NWA really wrote Fuck Da Police with the intention of humoring long-haired, hippy wannabe, middle-class white boys. Maybe it's the context. Maybe the idea of listening to something like the NWA for the same class where you read Lolita is an ironic juxtaposition that can't not be funny. Or maybe it's because I remember my older sister and brother listening to Gangsta rap in the early nineties and acting as if they had any idea what the hell the rappers were talking about.

Once you really get to listening though, it's not funny. There's not much humor in the very sad, and very real, situations that they are rapping about. Who doesn't remember Rodney King? This is serious shit, and we all know that. And yet we continue to chuckle innocently.

It's almost as if we don't really think that they are justified to say these things, and so it's laughable, and, in turn, censorable. I think this fits in nicely with the Wire (like a few other people have noted). We've been so conditioned into viewing criminals and the police as a black and white affair that we fail to realize that there are good and bad people involved on both sides.

I don't know anyone from Compton, but I bet if I did they wouldn't think Fuck Da Police was funny.

All together now

I thought I'd talk about how Bob Dylan and NWA both tie in so nicely with The Wire.

For one, Bob's song Like A Rolling Stone tells the story of this humbling experience, which watching the Wire was for me. It talks about this girl in who I'm presuming is upper-middle class "gone to the finest schools" but now she's "scrounging for her next meal" and making deals with the tramp she used to never associate with. It's important because although none of us would like to think we'd sell drugs or join a gang, how do you really know? If you were put in the situation the kids in the wire were, you might have to readjust your standards, not because you want to but because you need to. Season 2 of the wire shows this theme even better I think, where the mostly hard working people turn to crime to make ends meet. The people in the wire season 2 are willing to work hard and legally, but legitimate work is hard to come by. This is repeated again, this theme of hardworking people in Tombstone Blues: "mama's in the factory, she ain't got no shoes."

Another, both Dylan and NWA comment on the political corruption seen in The Wire. We've talked a lot in class about the excessive use of force by the police, and for me, this was probably the most difficult aspect of the show to watch. NWA presents this force from their point of view in Fuck Tha Police. While there is no denying the brutality on the part of the police force, I think NWA nicely show the arrogant attitude we see in the characters of The Wire, Bodie in particular comes to mind. Dylan, on the other hand, comments on the upper-level political corruption. The song Tombstone Blues opens with this line, "the city fathers are trying to endorse/the reincarnation of Paul Revere's horse." Well we all know Paul Revere was the guy from the American Revolution who warned the colonists that the British were coming. I think what Dylan is trying to say here is that the city leaders are trying to maybe warn the people (like Paul) but "the town has no need to be nervous" meaning that there is nothing to be worried about, their just trying to stir shit up. I also though this verse from that song was very pertinent:

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in ?"
The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken.


John the Baptist is a very good man, who under the direction of his hero, the Commander-In-Chief, has tortured a man, and now feels sick to his stomach about it. The Commander absent mindedly ("while chasing a fly") says something obviously untrue and nonsensical ("the sun's not yellow its chicken"). This line shows how good people (Wallace, the detectives) are made to do something by their higher-ups, people they used to admire but now realize have big character flaws. I thought it was kind of striking, the resemblance between the John the Baptist in this song and Wallace, who does get physically sick after he sees what has been done to Brandon (a thief). The commander orders the death of those who are weak; hmmm sound familiar Mr. Barksdale? The part about the sun and the chicken just shows how someone in a high position can say a load of crap and it will be accepted, just because of who they are. 

So aggressive

One thing that has always bothered me about rap music is that rappers always have to put on a front. Even when rapping about legitimate, real life situations, the rapper always makes himself appear fearless and tough. Music should be a free flowing form of art. Like with all kinds of art, the artist should be uninhibited and real if he truly wants to express himself. N.W.A presents social and political issues in a realistic manner, but N.W.A fails to present its individuals as real people.

Even the toughest, hardest people in America’s slums get scared occasionally, but one would never know that if they had only listen to N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. By not addressing human weakness, N.W.A’s pertinent message loses some of its appeal and believability for me. The tough guy persona gets old after a while. In their defense, N.W.A was one of the first groups to utilize this ridiculous, fearless, masculinity since they came out fairly early on the rap scene.

But maybe N.W.A and numerous other rap groups use this intensely aggressive front simply because it’s what they know. Citizens living in slums most likely will live their entire lives in the same area and continue the trend of poverty that they have been presented with. So when the resources one has are very limited, but the individual’s goals of success are the same as other’s who are not living in poverty, the realistic means for achieving success are going to be different than from someone who is from a higher socio economic status. In sociology, this is called the Strain Theory. Kids living in Compton are going to want money and material things and will go about typically nontraditional ways of attaining their wants. Kids know they can make money selling drugs. Kids know they can be safe if they join a gang. The point I’m trying to make is, kids know they can the respect and materials they desire by being tough. Even though the tough guy persona seems very fake and put on, the guys in N.W.A are actually from the streets, where acting tough is imperative. So is the macho, powerful attitude a front, or an inevitable product of society?

Attitude legit cause I'm tearin up shit

Sorry for the title, I just had to. I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Highway 69 Revisited” while looking at the lyrics, and all of his songs sounded and read very profound. But the fact was, I didn’t understand the majority of it. I looked up the “meaning” of each song, and came across this site that annotated certain parts of Dylan’s songs. Here’s a (long) example:

You used to be so amused at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was a French military commander who conquered much of Europe and made himself Emperor of France…As to why one should be amused by the language the French Emperor used, this is a reference to the fact that as a boy Napoleon was mocked because of his Corsican pronunciation, that being his first language. This is illustrated in the 1927 silent film written and directed by Abel Gance, NapolĂ©on: in one scene his fellow schoolboys laugh at the way he says his name in his native Corsican way. It is said that Napoleon, who could not suffer ridicule or slights, declared at an early age that he would have his "revenge on the French people." Considering the great loss of lives during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of national prestige following them, this comment seems rather prescient, despite the fact that France considers Napoleon a hero.”

Without reading the annotations, there are so many references in Dylan’s songs that would be lost on me, partly due to the fact that I wasn’t alive during this time. I approached both albums with the question, “Is this literature?” And as far as Dylan’s goes, I would say yes. Though I doubt anyone can understand his lyrics 100%, there is no denying that all of his songs were written very carefully—they’re not just pretty rhymes. His songs have meaning, even if it isn’t obvious at first. During this course we learned that there is no such thing as reading, only rereading when it comes to literature—Dylan’s songs definitely require rereading to fully understand.

N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” on the other hand, I do not consider to be literature. (Though very catchy, no doubt) All the songs are straightforward and crude. I know we learned from The Wire that literature doesn’t have to have clever sentences and a high class vocabulary, but there was reason for The Wire’s using the word “fuck” in every other sentence—It appropriately conveyed the situation realistically. N.W.A’s songs are all about sex, drugs, violence, and their overall power and status. I don’t see how the curse words add anything, other than to add to their “G” status. There is no need for annotations. Even if someone didn’t understand what a term meant, it isn’t too hard to guess using context clues. Sometimes, they even give the definition to you. (“Just like burglary, the definition is 'jackin'And when illegally armed it's called 'packin'”) I don’t need to reread any of N.W.A’s songs to comprehend them. In fact, most of the songs seem to have common themes. All I got out of their songs was that they have sex with women a lot, do drugs, are capable of killing, and are not to be messed with, especially by racist police.

Straight Outta Banned Books

I think it's fairly important when listening to N.W.A. to remember that the album is a reaction to the area and time they grew up in. The 80's and 90's weren't exactly a good time to be young and black in Compton. Several of the members were former drug dealers and they all witnessed first hand the kind of brutality and apathy that the police in L.A. showed towards them. These experiences led them to rap about the things that they do.

N.W.A. also had some really really awesome songs like Express Yourself, which samples the soul and funk song of the same name from the 1960's. It's also anti-censorship, which they saw plenty of (and makes it relate nicely to Banned Books).

Mash-Up: N.W.A and Bob Dylan

I heard Bob Dylan had a bad set 2yrs ago at ACL. 
Ice Cube is an actor. 
Dr. Dre did some work with Eminem. 
What's 'Brass Monkey' cause both N.W.A. and Beastie Boys reference it?
[edit: I'm going to assume it's the drink or the colloquial expression, and not the English folk band. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brass_Monkey ]
Bob Dylan sang about F. Scott Fitzgerald. How American! 
_______________________________________________________

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton

I listened to the first two songs and had to adjust to something that was AutoTuned. And then "Fuck tha Police" played; and I laughed. It's amazing how much rap has changed in 20 years. I've not heard a song that even comes close to touching the subject matter. Well, not on the radio. There is actually a very cool movement going on, more youngsters are going back to the origins of hip-hop/rap. While underground rap as always been in production, it's just now making a resurgence thanks to the internet and blogs. 

So while I'm writing this post I'm looking at music videos. And since I don't watch TV anymore, I'm finding I am behind a good year or two. What I remember watching was scantily (if even) clothed women (for lack of a better term) shaking and rolling around. I looked up an NWA video [Express Yourself] and while their lyrics may speak about women in a less-than-appreciative way, the visual aspects are striking. 

1) The video shows slaves working in the field, and a white man on a horse comes up and whips one of them. Then we time travel to a banner with the words "I have a Dream." Then we time travel again when the band breaks thru the banner and starts walking down the street - enter a white policeman on a horse. 

2) I can't ever recall seeing a video like that on MTV or VH1. 

I'm at a strictly preliminary level with this album. But I like it. It's something I could stand listening to in the car. 

___________________________________________

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

I have the entire Dylan collection on my iTunes. A friend gave it to me. Aside from a few songs, this is the only actual time I've listened to Dylan with purpose. And I have to say....I get antsy listening to him. To be able to listen thru a song, I have to be doing something else. I can't get past the .... grating. 

I'm sure the lyrics and their meaning are great. I know a lot of great and intelligent people that love Dylan, so I assume he's profound on all sorts of levels. Not to mention how much of a cultural icon he is. 

Dylan is going to be tedious for me to get thru. I like his genre of music...but he gives me a headache. 

____________________________

N.W.A.- Straight Outta Compton: Express Yourself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFK3pkb9uKY

N.W.A and Bob Dylan

Like Kat, I also do not listen to a lot of rap, sometimes I will listen to the rap that is on a pop radio station, but eh, I can't really say much for the radio. Anyway, I actually knew a lot of the N.W.A songs and found that their lyrics were used in a number of other rap songs and I know that a lot of famous solo rappers came out of the group, such as Dr.Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E. But I wasn't listening very closely to their album because its not exactly my cup of tea, although I do like some of their songs, and I was kind of trying to fix my schedule because everything I wanted to take next semester is taken. I digress. Anyway, I too am looking forward to analyzing it more deeply to understand it better.
Bob Dylan on the other hand, is one of my favorite people. I already had Highway 61 Revisited on my itunes, and to my enjoyment, this is the second English class I have had where we get to study his songs. Although this is not my favorite Bobby album, I am excited to discuss him in class.

Rap/N.W.A.

Other than the daily dose I get from my neighbors through the thin walls of my dorm room, I really don't listen to rap much. And honestly, (purposefully) listening to N.W.A. today kind of gave me a headache. I've only hit the observation stage and not the analysis, but on the surface N.W.A. seems to me just a crude group of guys who talk big and brag and exaggerate about things they've never really done. I do see the culturally significant statement they are making in 'F*** the Police' and I think its a really interesting way to shed light on the topic. But most of the other songs...just really annoy me.
I'm really interested in discussing N.W.A. in class and getting 'below the surface'. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something I'm missing, in fact I expect to find something I'm missing. Its a good time for me to be discussing this because I'm taking an anthropology course in which we are discussing Ebonics/hip hop/rap/African American culture etc. So I'm really looking forward to this discussion!

A Plea Bargain or a 100 Year Sentence

This is in response to Miku's post about TV/Film and how Novels are adapted. It brought up the age old battle between Literature and Film. 

There are a lot of sour apples when it comes to book adaptations. The problem is that as a writer, you have to condense a 200-800+ page book down to about 145 pages (1 page = about 1 minute). So then it comes down to: what is the most integral part of the novel; which story lines/characters can be eliminated without affecting the story at large. It doesn't help that a lot of the films made are produced by studios that are just looking for the buck. Which means that the adaptation of Lolita turns it into more about the sex than the story we read. People as a whole don't want to pay $6-8 to see a beautifully terrifying film about a child kidnapper/rapist. However, if you make it about the sex, then that desire can be sold (in both positive and negative ways. People who go to films for a little T&A will enjoy it; and people that go to 'see' evil will enjoy turning Hum into a villain). 

It also depends on the director. As much as the director is an overblown status, if you're not a face with a name in some capacity...you're going to be given bad scripts, poor acting, and high-concept editing. [Just like with all things, if a director writes their own work, it can be a rich or poor production.] 

Stanley Kubrick [Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut]
Paul Thomas Anderson [There Will Be Blood]
Joe Wright [Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist]
Ang Lee [Brokeback Mountain, Taking Woodstock]
Tim Burton [Batman, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory]
Martin Scorsese [Raging Bull, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas]

-Now most of those names should be recognizable. And they have awards on their mantels. 


Tommy O'Haver [Ella Enchanted]
Hamilton Luske [Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland]
Andy Tennant [Ever After]

-Now most of those films should be recognizable. But are the directors?


Now you have to ask yourself how the first set of films compares to the last set? What is the quality of the adaptation? Is it the same? Is one better or worse than the other?

Another problem with Text to Visual is people's interpretation of the characters. Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's is the story of a 19yr old blonde....Audrey Hepburn was neither 19 or a blonde in the film. Also, the narrator in the novel is gay....so they don't jump out of a taxi at the end of the novel. 

And yet that film as probably sold memorabilia on an even level with Star Wars, despite what could be considered a poor 'adaptation.' 

________________________________________________


It's an everlasting debate and struggle as long as the two forms of expression exist. There are several major factors that should be considered with book adaptations. 

Just a little fact: Short Stories are better feature length films. Paragraphs, pictures are better short films. So trying to get 800pgs into at most 2hrs means a lot will get lost in translation. 

Tom Perrotta is a novelist and screenwriter and spoke at UT last Monday. He said that as a screenwriter, he is able to write what he feels is the important parts of his novels. As an author, he can't be a decent screenwriter because he cannot include everything -- he is limited in film, and is boundless in novel. 

__________________________________________________

Two films that I recommend. Both for their absolute beauty and also for their adaptation.

Read Before I Saw:
Everything Is Illuminated
-The novel is two parts intertwined together. The movie is just one of those parts. 

Read Because I Saw: 
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
-The film shows what the book says -- thru the eyes of the author. It's all about seeing. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Wire makes you think

Something I noticed that was always given a lot of focus in the wire, was how A person regardless of what they or anyone else wanted, will always be a product of their environment. This idea is seen throughout the Wire, but a scene I want to focus on is the beginning of episode 10 when Bubbles tries to get clean. When Bubbles is thinking about getting clean, the first thing he does is to change his environment. He does not try to look for a job, or clean himself up, first he looks for a clean place. It is not till he has found that place, can he even begin his transformation. This Idea ties in greatly with the situation of the kids in the drug zone. There is no way you can expect a kid growing up in an environment like that to come out clean. Like Wallace, even if their heart is in the right place, as long as their body remains in the slums, there their souls will remain.
Another issue that was prevalent in the Wire was the breakdown of the Family unit. Every one you see, with problems, Bubbles, Wallace, De’Angelo, they do not have healthy parent child relationships. Even deeper than that, is the absence of father figures. De’Angelo is a father, but he is barely able to do that. He is in jail, or out dealing drugs, you hardly see him interact with his child. The fact that he dies in the second season only goes to support my point, another father gone. Single mothers are making ends meet in all aspects, but when did raising a child become a one person deal? I think of Wallace, taking care of all those children, and he himself barely a child. I want to help somehow. Even though the Wire depicts a time a little ways in the past, many of the issues it deals with are still prevalent, and are still not commanding the attention they deserve. My question is: has the drug world gotten weaker, or has it just gone deeper?

Drugs

I agree with the previous posts about HIV. In that society, it is a huge risk, but no one names it. It is weird that no one has a problem talking about other graphic or dark things, but won't mention HIV. It is something that their culture has not become desensitized to. Although most of their killers and threats are visible, HIV is an invisible killer. It is also not a quick death, it is a long, painful disease. Most do not have the money to buy pills. HIV is a product of the drug lifestyle that is a constant reminder of the rest of the world, where people are not killed by each other. They are killed by the elements. It is also an outward manifestation of the symbolic disease: greed and lust.

Off topic

Sorry for the late post—I wasn’t sure what to post earlier and opted for a late post rather than a complete BS one. I loved everyone’s blogs about Omar. He’s definitely one of my favorite characters as well.


Anyways, I was trying to figure out what to write about tonight and after a while I began to think on the literary aspect of the show; how it’s filmed like a book rather than a regular television show. Sure it’s slow at the beginning. (I was on imdb.com looking for inspiration and came across this Q and A in which a person asked if the show was going to get interesting, because after 3 episodes it seemed to be slow) But I have to admit, by about the 4th or 5th episode I was hooked. I think this has to do with the fact that it required patience on my part, so in the end I was that much more invested in it. When it comes to books I feel the same way—the ones that stay with me are the books that take time and patience to get through. I know I use this example all the time, but take Harry Potter: It takes about 100 pages to get really interesting, yet somehow it is read by millions of children around the world. So then I started thinking about movies that were based on books. Why is it that most of the time, movies that are based on books are horrible? It seems like it should be easy to make popular books into great movies, since they are already laid out chapter by chapter. I can’t think of a single time in which I thought a movie did a book justice. Looking at The Wire, I now know why—they don’t take the time to pay attention to each detail. I understand that it’s impossible to include everything in a 2 hour movie. But maybe, if instead of movies, these books were made into television series similar to The Wire, then it would be possible to take a book and put it on the television screen without completely butchering its beauty.


Sorry this blog is really off topic!

Re: What About the Drug Addicts?

I thought Brandi brought up a good point about the show never actually coming out and saying AIDS or HIV. There is always some euphemism used in almost all movies concerning it. It's strange that so many people who do the drugs and sell them know they are at risk, and their world seems so harsh but they are usually so straightforward about it. But they are afraid of one small word.
I too thought the narcotics anonymous meeting scene was really profound. I liked how they had the big beefy guy, almost the least expected, to be the one to motivate others and be really well spoken (in his own way). This was a good scene it really seemed realistic.

Omar and pushing

Omar is a particularly disturbing character for me. Mostly because while he isn't romanticized, he is honored. I knew many men like him. Every literary depiction of Satan sort of has the same attitude and convictions. Satan is wonderfully fascinating and complex, and often quite sophisticated. I am not sure how relevant my own experiances are regarding this world, but I suppose it would come out sooner or later. I used to deal Ecstasy, speed, and coke  in Dallas and Houston when I was fifteen and sixteen. There are two classes of dealers the higher "designer dealers" and the "low dealers". I used to deal designers and dealt mostly with older very wealthy men, and then sold to college students (SMU kids love their coke)  but sometimes I had to go over to Oak Cliff and push my product in exchange for some manufacturer information. Omar reminds me of my dealer (higher up on the proverbial food chain) Tony. He insisted that we be clean while we dealt and never cause any sort of ruckus. He said we should remain respectful of the customer and never sell bunk product.  In exchange he provided various and sundry drugs and made sure we were protected.  The trick is, you get addicted. Not just to the drug, but to the money and the game. Simon is particularly good at capturing that aspect of pushing. Omar is excellent at embodying the irony of the entire situation. Yeah, he's loyal but he still kills people. Yeah Tony protected us, but he still gave fifteen year old kids rolls of E that cause permanent neural damage. It's hard because you love them for their honesty but you hate them for it too.

A little more on Omar

The posts about Omar are the exact things I have been thinking about him! Out of all the characters, “bad and good”, he really is the only one who stays true to who he is. There’s not one time I can remember him backstabbing or doing anything like that to anyone. He knows what he wants and which game he wants to play. The other guys are all just in it for themselves, and don’t care about anyone else. To be in the “drug war” must be tough enough but to actually care about the people on your side is a whole other thing. I hadn’t realized he was the most moral character in the show until Krzys said that during our analysis Tuesday, I just thought they were all kind of crazy. Besides being a drug dealer, I think Omar is an awesome guy. Hell, even with his drug stuff, he is still awesome. Loyalty is a huge thing to most people in the world and if you can show loyalty to crazy guys in that “game”, you’ve got to have something going right for you.

continuing on Omar

Omar is the most engaging character in the whole show for me. A calculating stick up kid, agent of chaos, and a revengeful romantic with a reputation bordering on myth. Our first strong experience of him is incredibly violent and sets him up as a mysterious figure who just broke down an organized drug operation. Another scene has him on some steps with Brandon to his side holding him close giving him kisses on his head and so we are introduced to him as a romantic.

I sometimes wonder why Omar is in this show. He seems perfect to cheer for in a show where no major player is heroic and if so, too flawed. His sexuality is hardly a moral issue unless you're strongly religious. It is so easy to accept him as a man fighting for his dead lover that we will easily overlook his own role in the game in which death and betrayal are accepted characteristics.

The story allows for us to cheer him as a man of vengeance doing what the cops cannot. It is so very satisfying for us to see Omar whistling down and punishing the antagonists of the show. Omar also shows himself to be intelligent and careful. He has a reputation that can only be achieved with tact. He schools the police on the way of the streets. He is almost too perfect of a character and most likely the least realistic of the show. However, that does not matter to me. I want more of Omar and I would seriously watch a spinoff about him.

Re: What About the Drug Addicts?

Like Clint, I thought the scene at the Clinic was really profound and I thought that it further developed Bubbles' character. I thought the speech by Walyon was quite moving and it was shown by Bubbles getting up and getting his 24 hour chip even though he had not been clean for that long, but it showed that he was thinking about what it would be like to be clean. It also showed the passiveness or stubbornness of his friend, Johnny, that even after being almost beat to death and arrested multiple times, he still was going to keep using. Bubbles contunues to use for a bit before meeting with Waylon and making his desicion to get clean.

The drug addicts in the wire remind me of a less glamorous version of Rent, But instead of singing and dancing, there is a dangerous game that is being played on all parts. In both rent and the wire, they don't use the words "aids" or "hiv", probably for the connotation of the words, and the other less powerful words that can be used instead like "bug" and being "sick." They both just kind of show the power of words no matter what they are or how they are used.

Omar

I thought Krzys raised an interesting point when he brought up the idea of Omar being the most morally sound character on the show. I hadn’t really thought about it that way before, but it’s an interesting way to look at, and there’s certainly a lot of evidence for the position.

Omar can be violent and cruel, as we see in the robbery, but he also strictly follows his own moral code, unorthodox as it is. He never robs or acts violently against anyone who isn’t a drug dealer. This is contrast to the other street killers that we see. Bird kills the witness William Gant in cold blood, even though the trial has already ended. Wee-bey has no qualms about gunning down innocents such as Avon’s ex Dierdre, and is quick to backstab his co-worker Little Man when he realizes that it is to his benefit in avoiding the police after Kima is shot. Omar, on the other hand, is visibly upset when he is informed of Bailey’s death, and after Brandon’s murder he risks his life to get revenge, by killing Bird and attempting to kill Avon. In this way, Omar shows much more loyalty to those he works with, and much more respect for the “rules of war” by only targeting people in the drug trade.

Omar also doesn’t lie about what he does or try and euphemize it. He is straight up, and gets by on his skill and intelligence. Stringer, a character who displays similar intelligence and reason, does not share Omar’s honesty, and at the end of season declares a truce with Omar, with the actual intention to catch him unaware and kill him. Omar sees through this ploy, however and wisely leaves town.

Omar doesn’t even curse, a minor disgression that pretty much every other character on the show commits. Omar scolds Brandon for cursing and tells him that “no one wants to hear those dirty words”, displaying an unexpected level of manners for someone who robs drug dealers for a living.

The contrast between Omar’s line of work and his moral fortitude is yet another example of David Simon challenging our assumptions. A principled homosexual who doesn’t curse is not exactly the stereotypical image of a drug hold-up man. Certainly, Omar is one of the most interesting characters on the wire, and I’m interested to see how his story plays out in the rest of the seasons. My intuition (and the surprising length of the “Omar Little” entry on Wikipedia) tell me that his departure to New York at the end of season one is not the last we’ll see of Omar.

What About the Drug Addicts?

There has been one scene that has really stuck with me throughout all of the Wire, and until lately I haven 't exactly been able to figure out why. It doesn't involve any of the main characters, and it doesn't take place in a setting that's very common to the show, but I think it speaks volumes. I couldn't find the clip on YouTube, so I'll type it all out manually, but if you want to watch the scene again it's in the seventh episode right at 30:00.

Context: Bubbles and his friend are at the mandatory Narcotics Anonymous meeting and a big, scruffy looking white guy named Waylon is getting up to give a speech.

Waylon: "Well hell, y'all, you all know I'm Waylon and I'm an addict. And the fact is that I want to be clean today more than I want to be high. It's good to be here, hell it's good to be anywhere clean, even Baltimore. I been clean a few 24 hours now and I'm still dead certain that my disease still wants me dead. I'm in here with y'all talking shit about how strong I am and how strong I feel but my disease is out there in that parking lot doin' push ups, on steroids, waitin' for the chance to kick my ass up and down the street. Scars on my hands, on my feet, 2 bouts of endocarditis, hep c and whatnot knockin' out walls and kickin out windows in my liver. I lost a good wife, a bad girlfriend, and the respect of anyone who ever tried to loan me money or do me a favor. Pawned my pickup, my bike, my National Steel Guitar, and a stamp collection that my Grandad left me. And when it was almost over for me, and I was out there on them corners, not a pot to piss in, and anyone who ever knew me or loved me cussin' my name, you know what I told myself? I said 'Waylon, you're doin' good.' I surely did. I thought I was God's own drug addict, and if God didn't mean for me to get high, he wouldn't have made bein' high so much like perfect. Now I know I've got one more high left in me, but I doubt very seriously I've got one more recovery. So if there's anybody out there who sees that bottom comin' up at em, I'm here to talk sense. I don't care who you are, what you done, or who you done it to..if you're here, so am I."

That's pretty powerful language, even if it is spoken in the hick vernacular.

In the scene (which I really encourage everyone to re-watch, simply reading it doesn't do it justice) you can see Bubbles seriously impacted by what Waylon is saying. Afterwards when they are giving out the chips, Bubbles takes one for 24 hours despite the fact that he got high that morning, not to mention that he wasn't even the one enrolled in the program. The series does a good job at instilling a real sense of ambiguity; the audience is always challenged to question their preconceived notions of "good" and "evil." The drug lords and the cops who are trying to catch them seem to be put on the same pedestal and we're constantly shown both doing bad, bad things. But this is one of the rare moments when the show seems to almost take a stand, very obviously, against drugs. We're not watching the detectives in their dungeon-esque office engaging in their Orwellian Big Brother antics over Baltimore's criminal underworld, and we're not watching the members of the surprisingly organized drug ring deal with their own moral dilemmas or structural problems, we're watching one of the people caught in between. Waylon speaks on behalf of the people who, with the notable exceptions of Bubbles and his friend, don't get much of a part despite the fact that they are essentially the true perpetuators of the conflict that the detectives are trying to solve. When I saw that scene and got to thinking about it I couldn't help but wonder if the writers were trying to say something central to one of the main themes of the show: the true path to the end of the drug war isn't through either of the two organizations who fight over it "winning," but rather through getting all the people caught in the crossfire, the drug addicts, help.

It was also interesting because my brother was a drug addict and I got to grow up seeing everything that Waylon described first hand. Usually when there is a NA scene on TV or in the movies it shows people sitting in a circle and awkwardly greeting one another as they take turn giving corny "motivational" speeches. Anyone who has ever been to an NA meeting knows that isn't how it really goes. That's not how recovering drug addicts really feel, this is. It was was a refreshing dose of reality (!).

Maybe I read too far into it, but it seemed pretty damn important to me. It changed my opinion on the Wire from "good" to "whoa..."

Why I Love Omar

Omar is my favorite character in The Wire, hands down. Of all the people in the show, Omar isn't trying to be anyone he's not. On the cop side, a lot of people are ass-kissing, or just going along with what their higher-up told them, regardless of wether or not they agree with it. On the gang side, you have kids pretending they're okay with shooting their best friend, acting all hard ass about "sending a message". Omar is really honest about who he is. When Brandon gets shot, he openly grieves, and admits to Kima that he might lose his temper and retaliate against Bird. In Season 2 (SPOILER) he goes into court and testifies against Bird, my whole scene of the show so far. He isn't a typical witness, his testimony is hilarious, and his outfit is great. When the prosecutor asks him to state his occupation, he tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Also in court, he manages to push Bird's buttons as well as the slimy lawyer for the Barksdale crew. This is due to another of Omar's great qualities, he sees people for who they really are. When Kima and McNulty first bring him to the office and McNulty starts bitching about something or other, he candidly asks "Bad time for ya'll?" He doesn't try to gloss things over, he's just upfront about it. Omar also knows a lot about the rules of the game, and therefore he knows how to break them. He isn't loyal to any gang but himself. When Bailey (the other dude who robbed the Pits with him and Brandon) goes missing, Omar doesn't pretend like he was all worried about him, like the Barksdale crew might. He doesn't try to figure out who pulled the trigger so he could go blow people up to "send a message." He just says, "eh, that guy's enemies got enemies." By living by his own code (I ain't never put a gun on anyone who wasn't in the game) Omar never has to do anything he doesn't agree with. People on both of the other sides do: D'Angelo, Poot, Lester, Carver, all of them do. Krzys presented the idea in class that Omar may be the show's most ethical character. While that is debatable-because what is ethical is debatable on its own- Omar's upfrontness, sense of humor, moral code and mysterious scar make him an all around badass. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I counted 38. Thoughts on fuck.

I didn't post last night because we still have three weeks until the end of school, and it's still too early to bullshit assignments that are supposed to be meaningful.  Also, everyone else's posts were excellent and, again, I had nothing to say, especially after all of those.

 So there was some digression today on the scene in episode 4, in which the only word used is 'fuck.' Something Krzys said stuck with me, and I've thought about it all day. (natural consequence: I use 'fuck' in everyday conversation sixty percent more.)  He said that they are actually communicating perfectly, even through just this one (very versatile) word.  So I want to break it down, because this is the power of language demonstrated in a pretty interesting way... we can communicate a million different sentiments by using intonation and inflection and gestures to augment our limited speech.  Due to McNalty's and Bunk's close relationship, they understand each other perfectly, though I get the feeling that if I were with a stranger, this conversation would be just as powerful and effective.  We'd both get it.

Here's the scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQbsnSVM1zM
Roughly broken down - sorry my 'meanings' sound so ridiculous...

1: context: Bunk discovers the pictures of Diedre.
meaning: "Oh, man, this makes things so much more complicated."  Expression of frustration.

2: context: McNalty responds.
meaning: "I know/Unbelievable/I can't believe it."  Echoing Bunk's thoughts, adding surprise.

3, 4, 5, 6. context: Bunk laying down the pictures on the ground.
meaning: "I still have to look at these and deal with them/Goddamnit." 

7. context: Checking out the photos/autopsy report.
meaning: "Shit/This just keeps getting worse."

8, 9, 10, 11. context: Laying the pictures out again.
meaning: "Shit/We are overwhelmed." Simple expletive, echoing frustration.

12. context: Discovering the bullet wounds on her back and chest in the autopsy photos.
meaning: "Oh, check this out/What?/This is getting more terrible."

13. context: drawing circle on ground.
meaning: "We are still shocked/We are piecing this together."

14. context: McNalty snaps his finger in the tape measure.
meaning: "Ow/That hurts/Goddamnit." simple expression of pain.

15. context: McNalty is measuring her height from the ground and pointing the gun.
meaning: "This is making sense/We are finally starting to piece this together and it is horrible."

16, 17. context: McNalty is kneeling on the ground.
meaning: "I need a better angle/I'm going to move back."

18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35. context: Seeing the angle where the bullet might have gone.
meaning: "Oh no/Really?" expression of incredulity/slow comprehension.

36. context: McNalty using... whatever tool that is.  (I am an idiot.)
meaning: "I am struggling with this."

37, 38. context: Pulling out the bullet.
meaning: "Holy shit/We figured it out."

Fuck.

Monday, April 20, 2009

and your mama don't know shit about me.

One day I won't be the last person to blog, I promise.

As always, I've been thinking about women in this show; it's sort of a curse. As I mentioned in my last blog, I've tolerated a much higher level of women being shit upon than I usually would, due to the fact that I don't feel this show is presenting any sort of ideal reality on any level. But, I'll never put it out of mind completely. Here are some things I have been noticing in regards to females and The Wire:

-*-Kima is obviously a really strong female character. She doesn't take anyone's shit. My only problem really is that her strength comes from her ability to "be one of the boys." However, I realize a group effort to value nurturing as much as strength within the BPD is not going to happen. More importantly than her strength though, from a feminist viewpoint, is that she generally has the total respect of the men she works with, which is really impressive for a television show.  I sort of feel like her lesbianism is a cop-out, a way to make her less female within the show. (Although I like the way she and her girlfriend are portrayed, if I may digress into how gay people are treated), and that it send the idea "strong women are less feminine (lesbians)." She straddles the line between bulldyke lesbian and "hot" lesbian in place for male viewers. Her and her partner are real and do not conform toooo much to stereotype.

-*-One would think that police (good guys) would have a healthier view of women than drug dealers (bad guys) but like every other good/bad aspect of a person, there seems to be an equal amounts of good and evil on both sides here. D'Angelo is pestered about why he didn't fuck a bitch if he was gonna kill her anyway. Officer Herc says if a female officer complained to him about sexual harassment, he would "slap her parter for dipping into [his] stash, take missy home and fuck her 'till she smiles." In both instances, these things are met with either a look or a comment of disapproval from male peers. Probably not the level of disapproval warranted, but I'm looking for the silver lining in rape glorification, a tough lining to see indeed.

-*-The amount that a woman or the concept of women is referred to as "pussy" on the drug side is almost ridiculous. I'm glad to know that I can be reduced to a vulgar euphemism for my genitals--apparently the only useful part of me. 

-*-I was almost excited about the judges seemingly high opinion of Rhonda Pearlman, only to find out moments later how attracted he is to her. This of course does not directly negate what he said to her about her professionalism and competence, but as far as I have seen, Kima is the only main female character who has garnered respect from men without them obviously wanting to sleep with her. The flip side of this is that Rhonda Pearlman is not a young super model and she's viewed as sexy anyway--the case with several women in the show.

-*-Actually, Kima is one of few main female characters period. I get that this is supposed to be real and that there simply aren't many female homicide officers or many female drug dealers, but clearly women are sometimes crucial in a plot (in real life, I like to think it's half the time). I feel like some of the women that were instrumental but remained secondary or even tertiary characters could have had more focus on them. In general, I've found if a show actually has 50% (like real life...) female lead characters, it's perceived as a show for women. Shows with mostly male characters are for everyone. Obviously, in the Wire, the vast majority of the leads are male, so that's not a strong point as far as gender equality goes. 

Overall, I've intentionally overlooked dozens of utterances of "bitch," "fuck her," "pussy" and various other ubiquitous reminders that this is a man's world to save my sanity. I also spared you from the gangsters' insults about Omar's sexuality and what that implies for women. This IS a man's world, more than most shows, I think, but it has a few progressive notes and I'm taking into account the reality vs. pretend ideal in all of this. 

PS. So you don't all think I'm humorless or some worse fate, I must make it known that the scene where Bunk is trying to determine whether he smells like pussy and has burned his clothes in fear of it is hilarious.