»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
RACISTS? HERE? YOU'RE KIDDING, RIGHT?
Jan 18th, 2001 by Clark Humphrey

SEVEN DISGRUNTLED MICROSOFT EMPLOYEES (current and former) have filed this here $5 billion race-discrimination lawsuit. They claim there’s a “plantation mentality” at the software giant, in which black employees were routinely denied promotions and raises and were subject to retaliation if they complained.

In its statements of denial, MS officials essentially said such a thing could never, ever have occurred at a company so forthright, so diversity-conscious. The routine tech-media gang of MS defenders has gone on to share this line.

Why are some people so shocked to hear about the Microsoft discrimination suit? You all oughta know by now how the software giant’s got this corporate culture in which only a certain type of person (the Gates clone wannabe) gets ahead.

The MS corporate culture was, at least indirectly, inspired by that of Nordstrom (which, you may recall, faced its own discrimination suit a few years back).

In both companies, and in whitebread Seattle society in general, the real goal of preaching “diversity” isn’t to bring more minorities into the corridors of power but to allow the white folks already there to feel better about themselves. If corporate Seattle could figure out a way to support minority rights without having to actually deal with real black (or hispanic or American Indian) folks in their own offices, they would.

One quintessential example of this hypocrisy is the awful movie version of that breast-beating, locally-written novel Snow Falling On Cedars.

It’s ostensibly about the WWII relocation camps and other racist acts against Japanese Americans in our state not too long ago. But the movie (in which no Asian-American actor is billed higher than eighth!), and the novel, are really all about raising audience sympathy for the nice white-boy hero, a noble hack journalist (and the author’s presumed alter ego).

This past week’s local Martin Luther King Day public-service ads further exemplify this faux-diversity mindset.

The ads all venerate King as a visionary, a leader, a forward-thinker (i.e., a representative of the values CEOs often imagine themselves to have). The ads then close with pats-on-the-ol’-back to the forward-thinking corporations who pitched in to pay for the ad space or time. Little or no mention is made of the real social issues King confronted, many of which still need confronting today.

So it stands to reason that a theoretical company that participated in these and other “diversity” themed self-celebrations (which theoretically might also include donations to inner-city schools, representatives at minority recruiting fairs, and internal sensitivity-training classes for white employees) might theoretically, and informally, decide it’s been doing enough to feel good about itself diversity-wise, and that it doesn’t have to go that extra, often-unpublicized step and actually demand fair treatment for actual minority persons within its own employment ranks.

If that’s what really went on, I (though perhaps not top company management) wouldn’t be the least surprised.

TOMORROW: I know what IT is. Will I tell you? Find out.

ELSEWHERE:

SOUL FOOD TO GO
Dec 14th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION was seldom among the proudest examples of African American cultural achievement.

Its schedule relied heavily on music-video blocks, including a lot of the gun-totin’ and woman-dissin’ gangsta minstrels manufactured by L.A. promoters for mall-rat consumption. Its original shows were heavy on the kind of self-deprecating comedy acts that Spike Lee savages in his new movie Bamboozled. And it ran as much as 12 hours a day of infomercials.

But black audiences were often willing to give the channel at least a little grudging respect, because it was “their own.” It was officially owned by a black entrepreneur, Robert Johnson. (Even though its financing and ultimate control came from TCI’s Liberty Media subsidiary.)

But AT&T, which now controls Liberty, has been involved in some major corporate reorganizing; while Johnson’s tried to start a new commuter airline.

So BET will soon disappear as a nominally independent entity, to become just another of Viacom’s many cable properties.

Some commentators have mourned that the only black-owned national TV channel’s going to be just another piece of a media conglomerate.

What they’re not fully considering is that a Viacom-owned BET just might be a more effective voice for black America. Not just with more and costlier original shows, but with a more respectful atittude toward its core audience.

Viacom’s MTV and UPN channels have certainly traded in the kind of jive talk and booty shakes vilified by BET’s critics. But its Showtime pay-TV channel has commissioned perhaps the most respectful black-middle-class show since Cosby, Soul Food (and its Hispanic counterpart, Resurrection Boulevard).

These shows, along with HBO’s The Corner, expand the notion of “TV Worth Paying For.” Those with just plain old broadcast reception get Af-Am role models limited to over-the-top sitcom mugging and Oprah. Those with basic cable can also see Li’l Kim’s cleavage, Wyclef’s loverboy posturing, and CNN’s Bernard Shaw.

But for the adventures of more-or-less ordinary black families with more-or-less ordinary relationship and career problems, ya gotta pay extra.

Maybe, just maybe, that’ll change.

TOMORROW: Bjork’s dander in the dark.

REMEMBER: It’s time to compile the highly awaited MISCmedia In/Out List for 2001. Make your nominations to clark@speakeasy.org or on our handy MISCtalk discussion boards.

ELSEWHERE:

THE SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA
Nov 3rd, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

HEARD THE CLASH’S “Hitsville UK” on the Linda’s Tavern jukebox (now, alas, CD-based) the other day. The song, from the premier political-punk band’s 1980 Sandinista! magnum opus, was full of contradictions then and bears even more today.

First, it was a tribute to indie labels (and a scathing indictment of major-label marketing practices) that came out on a major. The song’s British 45 release acknowledged this with a sleeve depicting a score of minor-label logos in a “background” color shade; while the CBS Records logo on the record itself was in a brighter shade of the same color.

Second, the song’s title, lyrics, and booming-beat arrangement all invoked the Motown label (originally known as “Hitsville USA”) as an inspiration and a model for artist-centered, commerciality-be-damned music making.

Perhaps to a Brit, a Black-owned company making and selling Black music all on its own from outside the media capitals (albeit within the established music-biz infrastructure; its ’60s classics were distributed in Britain by EMI) could be seen as having blazed a trail leading to the initial punk/indie revolution, and from there perhaps toward the destruction of the major labels and their prepackaged pap. And, as historian Suzanne Smith has shown, many Black Americans saw similar hopes in the label’s original success.

But to some old R&B purists and modern-day indie idealogues, Motown was as ruthless and centralized as the majors. It was an assembly-line operation that produced one product (the “Motown Sound” hit single, an R&B subgenre engineered in every detail for white teenybopper consumption) in assorted models and upholstery schemes. Its stars had to fight for any degree of creative or career control (only Smokey and Stevie really succeeded).

When the Motown Sound had finally played itself out as a top-40 commodity, boss Barry Gordy shut down the factory and split Detroit for L.A., taking all his remaining stars out there with him. (Aretha Franklin, the one Detroit R&B legend who stayed, recorded for Atlantic.)

Still, “Hitsville UK” and its themes of empowerment and innocence regained struck a powerful point in 1980. Its (oversimplified?) depiction of art-loving, street-credible outfits like Factory and Rough Trade reclaiming music from the industry’s “mutants, freaks and musclemen” provided as much hope as a progressively-minded young adult could reasonably expect to have at that time of Reagan’s and Thatcher’s rise to power. Maybe we couldn’t stop the assaults on public education and the environment, the military buildups, or the revival of racism; but at least we could gain control of what was on our own turntables and in our own Walkmen.

Twenty years later, the song’s main message still reverberates. Music-making technology has become so democratized that almost anyone can put out a recording (and, if you look at the post-your-MP3 sites, it seems almost everyone has). Virtually every aspect of music production, performance, and marketing has been, or is being, demystified and popularized. The majors, meanwhile, are consolidating ever further, relying more heavily on rosters of ever blander and/or dumber superstar acts to justify their bloated organizations and their intellectual-property lawsuits.

If these dual trends continue, the whole Napster fracas may prove to have been the least of the majors’ problems.

The song’s proclamations might even come true: No slimy deals with smarmy eels, no consumer trials, no AOR, in the new Hitsville USA.

MONDAY: A pre-election rant of sorts.

ELSEWHERE:

RAP SHEET
Jun 7th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

A REMINDER to make plans for our MISCmedia@1 party on Thursday, June 8, starting around 7:30 p.m., at the quaint Ditto Tavern, 5th and Bell. Yeah, it’s 21 and over.

TO OUR READERS: Yr. ob’t corresp’d’t has been summoned to that great spectator sport known as jury duty. Daily site updates may or may not, therefore, be spotty over the next few days. Stay tuned for more.

ONE OF THE RISKS involved with having so much of one’s past writing available online is the risk of readers finding something you wrote long ago, which in retrospect has proven to be rather stupid.

Example: Somewhere back in the early ’90s (oh, the ’90s, weren’t they such a simpler time?), I wrote something to the effect that rap music had “fulfilled what the bebop jazz guys had set out to do: create a black music that didn’t

need white people to ‘popularize it’ (i.e. muscle in).”

I seem to have actually believed at the time that hip-hop culture had attained the long-sought holy grail of African-American musicians–a style so intricately, innately black that any white hipsters who tried to take it over would sound hopelessly inept at it.

I was SO wrong.

Not too many years after I wrote that, Hollywood promoters essentially took over rap. They aggressively promoted their gangsta stars to nakedly exploit white mall kids’ stereotypes of young black men as sexy savages. Whereas early hiphop had often been about challenging images of black males as dumb, sexist, gun-happy drug dealers, gangsta rap relished in precisely these images.

This gave rap a much bigger market. But it also turned the white “crossover” market into the force that drove the business. It helped determine which artists would get signed, get radio and MTV play, get large promo budgets, etc.

That shift, in turn, meant that mainstream rap would become more musically tame each year. Samples became more obvious. Wordplay became simpler. Delivery became slower, steadier, easier for an untrained listener to understand.

The result, by late 1998, was a hiphop sufficiently dumbed down that not only could clueless white guys understand it, they could make it.

Hence, Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, Kid Rock, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and the other “aggro” acts and novelty acts now profitably spreading messages of egotism, violence, misogyny, profanity, etc.

Thus, the music that began with messages of black intelligence has morphed into something that, as often as not, wallows in notions of white stupidity.

I don’t quite call that progress.

TOMORROW: Some things that aren’t as much fun in one’s forties.

ELSEWHERE:

THINGS YOU THINK YOU KNOW, BUT WHICH ARE WRONG
Jun 2nd, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

AN EARLY REMINDER to make plans for our MISCmedia@1 party on Thursday, June 8, starting around 7:30 p.m., at the quaint Ditto Tavern, 5th and Bell. Yeah, it’s 21 and over.

TO OUR READERS: Yr. ob’t corresp’d’t has been summoned to that great spectator sport known as jury duty. Daily site updates may or may not, therefore, be spotty over the next few days. Stay tuned for more.

SOME SHORT STUFF TODAY, starting with a few attempts to correct some commonly-believed but untrue “facts”:

  • There is no “healthy cigarette.” Not even (or rather, especially not) that brand that’s also commonly but falsely believed to be made by Native Americans. Yeah, the additives and flavorings stuck into some other cigs aren’t nice to inhale. But tobacco itself’s lethal enough on its own.

  • Safeway Food and Drug is not owned by the Mormon Church. It’s really owned by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the leveraged buyout/junk bond kings chronicled in Barbarians at the Gate. The Mormon church also doesn’t own CBS, Coca-Cola, or Hershey’s.
  • You can’t really get away with a racist joke by backtracking and claiming you were only making a “parody” of a racist joke. That tactic’s known in the trade as a “lame excuse.” Try it too often, and you’re likely to end up with a “parody” of a punch in the face.
  • You’re not ‘the next step of human evolution,’ no matter how much E you take. You’re just a normal, mortal, fallible human being like all the rest of us.

THE FINE PRINT (in the masthead of the women’s bodybuilding magazine Oxygen, no relation to the women’s cable channel and website of the same name): “Oxygen reserves the right to reject any advertisement without reason.”

At last, someone strikes a blow for rational arguments in advertising!

JUNK E-MAIL OF THE WEEK: “The domain: www.miscmedia.com, is ranked #68919 out of 400118 domains in the WebsMostLinked.com database.”

Alllrigghhttt! This month, we’re gonna try to make it all the way up to #67324!

THE MAILBAG (via Nick Bauroth): “Enough with the baby-boomers already! Can’t you find something else to blame for your shortcomings? And no, yuppies and fratboys are not acceptable substitutes.”

Actually, when I criticize others it’s for the sake of criticizing others, not out of misplaced blame or jealousy or any other excuses.

And as for any “shortcomings,” they’re just about all my doing (or the doing of specific, deep-rooted, influences upon my individual personal/career development).

I come, after all, from the same age group and race/gender status, in the same metro region, as folks who’ve gone on to win Pulitzers and Emmys, get elected to public office, record triple-platinum albums, and/or threaten to permanently stifle all present and future competition in the software industry.

IN OTHER NEWS: It may be the end of the company Seattle’s landmark Smith Tower was named after.

MONDAY: Never mind Never Mind Nirvana.

ELSEWHERE:

  • The creators of this Bad Candy website appear to have a cross-cultural phobia thang going on. Just about the only product they dislike that’s not from Asia or Latin America is Circus Peanuts (which I, naturaly, love)….
A POST-WHITE AMERICA; A POST-CALIFORNIA AMERICA
Jan 5th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

YESTERDAY, we discussed something I’ve long hoped for and others now fear and wish to prevent: The decline of the New York/California duopoly on pop culture in America (and, hence, the world).

Meanwhile, in the sociopolitical realm, some misguided guides still insist that we all will become just like California. As Newsweek claims, “California, as always, shows us our future.”

The magazine’s specifically claiming that all of the several states are going to repeat what that state’s gone through; as an emerging “majority of minorities” racial makeup realigns old political coalitions and fuels an Anglo reactionary retreat from multicultural ideals.

But not all of America has the major corporate-agribusiness lobby that helped give California the political careers of Nixon, Reagan, et al. Northwest “progressive” politics had some of its roots in family farmers fighting the big banks and railroads. California Republicanism was hugely influenced by factory-farm interests who’d been in cahoots with the banks and the railroads.

This, along with the Hollywood-bred schtick of hyped-up and dumbed-down “populist” campaigns on behalf of those already in power, led to the peculiarly divisive, reactionary breed of politics that have bogged down the most populous state lo these past three decades or more; and which have been exported to the nation via Nixon, Reagan, Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet” advisors, et al.

(It also might explain a political left-of-center up here that, during of the first half of the last century, tried to build organizations and institutions; and a political left-of-center down there that, by the end of the last century, seemed to define protesting as the limit of what it would or could do.)

We must also go beyond simplified notions of “whiteness” for a closer look at our ethnic past. European immigrants may have come in vast numbers through NYC, but they didn’t all move on to other places in the same mixes. German and Irish Catholics helped settle the Great Lakes; Nordics came to Minnesota (and eventually from there to Washington); Hispanics are still more numerous along the southern-tier states than elsewhere, except for the Puerto Rican component in NYC. California’s blessed with Mexican and other Latin American immigrants; Washington’s proportionately more blessed with assorted Asian newcomers.

The U.S. is definitely going to become a nation of “a majority of minorities.” But which minorities are more influential in which parts is going to help keep things lively.

Even the Newsweek article acknowledges that these emerging ethnic voting blocs don’t vote alike. It doesn’t, but could’ve, noted the big wedges between blacks and Cubans in Florida as well as the rift it did note between Latinos and Asians in California.

If we’re lucky, Washington (the first mainland state to elect an Asian-American governor) and the other states will learn to avoid some of the divisive rancor California politics has gone through.

The nation, as a whole, is becoming less uniform. But it won’t become less uniform in one uniform way.

(An aside: In the ’60s, legendary ad designer George Lois made a campaign with the faces of New Yorkers of every possible ethnicity, each clutching a slice of bread in his or her own portrait above the slogan “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s Jewish Rye.” The campaign was dropped after market research showed everybody loved the ads featuring their own ethnic groups, but hated the ads with everybody else.)

TOMORROW: Is incomprehensible “political” writing really necessary?

ELSEWHERE:

BACK TO THE (MORE LIKELY) FUTURE
Nov 24th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

ON MONDAY AND TUESDAY, I’d discussed Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian tract.

In it, a “refined” young man of 1880s Boston awakens from a 113-year trance to find himself in the all-enlightened, worry-free Year 2000. The doctor who’d revived him (and the doc’s comely daughter) then spend the rest of the book telling him how wonderful everything has become.

The chief feature of Bellamy’s future is a singular, government-run “Industrial Army” that owns all the means of production and distribution, employs every citizen aged 21-45 (except child-bearing women), and pays everybody the same wage (less-desirable jobs offer shorter hours or other non-monetary perks).

Obviously, nothing like that ever happened. Soviet communisim was a police-state regime that used egalitarian ideals to justify its brutality. Euro-socialism featured government-owned industrial companies that operated just like privately-owned companies, only less efficiently and less profitably.

But could Bellamy’s fantasy have ever worked in anything close to its pure form? Undoubtedly not.

It would’ve required that everybody (or at least enough people to impose their will on the rest) submit to a single, purified ideology based on rationality and selflessness. Any uncensored history of any major religious movement shows how impossible that is, even within a single generation.

We are an ambitious and competitive species. The “rugged individualist” notion, long exploited by U.S. corporations and advertisers, has a real basis in human nature.

We are also a diverse species. Especially in the U.S. whose citizens are gathered from the whole rest of the world. Bellamy’s totalized mass society would require a social re-engineering project even greater, and more uprooting, than that of the steam-age society he’d lived in. The kindly-doctor character’s insistence that all these changes had coalesced peacefully, as an inevitable final stage of industrial consolidation, may be the least likely-seeming prediction in the whole tome.

As I wrote previously, most utopian fantasies require that everybody in a whole society conform to the writer’s prescribed sensibility. (Some even require that everybody belong to the writer’s own gender or race.)

In most cases, the prescribed sensibility is that of a writer, or at least of a planner–ordered, systematic, more knowledgeable about structures than about people.

The impossibility of such monocultural utopias hasn’t stopped writers and planners from thinking them up. But at least some folks are realizing any idealized future has to acknowledge that people are different from one another and always will be.

We’ll talk more about this idea of a post-mass, post-postmodern future in future weeks.

TOMORROW: Musings on Biggest-Shopping-Day Eve.

ELSEWHERE:

TOMORROW'S STILL NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Nov 23rd, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

AS WE LEFT OFF YESTERDAY, I’d finally gotten around to reading Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy’s (1850-96) 1888 utopian tract.

In it, a “refined” young man of 1880s Boston awakens from a 113-year trance to find himself in the all-enlightened, worry-free Year 2000. The doctor who’d revived him (and the doc’s comely daughter) then spend the rest of the book telling him how wonderful everything has become.

The chief feature of Bellamy’s future is a singular, government-run “Industrial Army” that owns all the means of production and distribution, employs every male and childless female citizen from the age of 21 until mandatory retirement at 45, and pays everybody the same wage (less-desirable jobs offer shorter hours or other non-monetary perks).

Some other aspects of Bellamy’s ideal state:

  • Our species is still referred to as “Man,” and its chief players as “Men.” The big future benefits for women: One-stop shopping (in government-run warehouse-order stores); government-run restaurants called “public kitchens” (eliminating the need to cook); and housework-reducing technology.

  • Racism apparently doesn’t exist, but the narrator apparently meets no nonwhite people in his future journeys and doesn’t seem to think that’s worth noting.
  • The other big-industrial nations have adopted the same economic-governmental system; and “an international council regulates the mutual intercourse and commerce of the members of the union, and their joint policy toward the more backward races, which are gradually being educated up to civilized institutions.”
  • Instead of cash, everybody carries a punch card (called by the then-novel name of a “credit card”), nontransferrable.
  • Music is fed into every room of the home via telephone wires from central studios, where live musicians play edifying classical selections 24 hours a day.
  • Consumer goods are distributed by hyper-efficient pneumatic tubes, which connect all the buildings in the major cities (and, the doctor promises to the narrator, will soon be built out to farm communities).
  • Efficient calculating and industrial forecasting are a vital functions of the Industrial Army, but no computational devices are mentioned.
  • With no poverty or homelessness, there’s almost no crime. The apparently only major taboo is “laziness” (refusal to perform one’s assigned job). Those convicted of this are detained and fed bread and water until they repent.
  • Despite total government control of the means-O-production, ideas and arts are not censored. Rather, visual-art projects are voted by citizens (in what sounds alarmingly like today’s “public art” bureaucracy). Book and periodical publishers must raise their own startup costs (the closest thing to “capitalism” permitted in the system), ensuring artistic freedom while discouraging “mere scribblers.”
  • And most importantly, just like in most utopias, Bellamy’s “Age of Concert” doesn’t just demand personal uniformity, it claims that’d be the inevitable result of everybody getting together and figuring out that a hyper-rational, planned-economy society’s the only way to go.

One person’s utopia, someone I can’t remember once wrote, is another person’s reign of terror. You don’t have to be a Red-baiter to see elements of other folks’ dystopian nightmares within Bellamy’s utopian dreams.

Soviet-style communism used some of the same ideals spouted by Bellamy to justify its police-state brutalities. But the “human face” experiment of post-WWII Euro-socialism had its own problems–uncompetitive enterprises, bureaucratic sloth & corruption, massive worker dissatisfaction.

Of course, neither of those systems went as far as Bellamy would’ve liked. They still had rich-poor gaps and ruling classes. But that’s reality for you.

TOMORROW: Back to the (more likely) future.

ELSEWHERE:

  • A round, yellow icon celebrates 20 years of conspicuous consumption; but this story (found by MacSurfer’s Headline News) doesn’t mention the secret behind Pac-Man’s status as the first video game many women liked to play. As punk-rock cartoonist John Holmstrom once noted, “Some women couldn’t identify with games about shooting and other obvious male metaphors. But Pac-Man engulfs its opponents–the female sexual function….”/UL>

STILL MORE OF WHAT THEY (AND WE) DON'T KNOW
Sep 28th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

LAST FRIDAY, we discussed Beloit University’s annual list of once-ubiquitous pop-cult references incoming college students might not know about.

Yesterday, we began our own such list.

Now, in the spirit of equal time, a few reference points today’s 18-22-year-olds get that folks closer to my age might not:

  • Safer sex as a normal discipline, no more spotenaity-killing than putting on seat belts or a bike helmet.

  • The whole Internet/World Wide Web/email thang. Such a common gen-gap notion, there are even whole books devoted to assuring oldsters that it’s good for the next-generationers to be adept at cyberskills that confuse and frustrate some oldsters.
  • Electronica. Big-beat synth-dance music has its roots in the early ’70s, and became largely what we know it in the mid-’80s. But to many old-line music critics, nothing that sounds so unlike Dylan or Springsteen-type balladeering could ever deserve critical attention. So an audience of kids, gays, and young cyber-hustlers has embraced it as a scene combining Euro-glam, community spirit, and rebellion against tired old ideas of song structure and artist-audience relations.

    (Though the self-congratulatory hype surrounding the electronica scene can be just as annoyingly smug as that surrounding “progressive” rock. But that’s a topic for another time.)

  • Advanced image “reading.” So-called “MTV Style” composition and editing still haven’t made for many good feature films, but that’s because it’s a shtick for short-form concentrated doses. But when applied in proper amounts and degrees, the strong-imagery and precision-editing can indeed make for strong, even haunting stuff in the hands of a D. Lynch, P. Greenaway, or P. Spheeris.
  • Anime and related lore. Japan seen not as a far-off land of “inscrutable” exotica but a center of pop-action entertainment of astounding varieties of weirdness; which gets even weirder when exported. (True fans know there were two female Power Rangers in the show’s new U.S-shot footage, but only one in the original Japanese stunt footage.)
  • The (hetero) male body as object of desire; from boy-butt cleavage to designer boxer shorts to Calvin Klein ads to the rubber costumes in the last Batman movie.
  • The demystification of cultural production. Anybody can record an album, stage a performance-art piece, make a movie (at least on video), or desktop-publish a zine. Couldn’t they always?
  • Information saturation. Reading from a coputer screen, with a TV on in Mute mode and a CD spinning away in the same room, can actually improve concentration and retention in some students.
  • Gender/race equality. Interracial romance? No big deal. Women doing all sorts of big important things? All the time. Girls picking up boys? Common. Whites and blacks and Asians and Hispanics all on the same dance floor? Not as common, yet, but when and where it does happen it works just fine.
  • Each Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and his individual weaponry.

TOMORROW: Can Net hype REALLY sell movie tickets?

ELSEWHERE:

HOW LIMP WAS MY BIZKIT
Aug 25th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

SOMETIME LATE LAST YEAR, erstwhile Stranger music writer Everett True called for a “Campaign for Real Rock” (inspired by the British beer-lovers’ lobby, the Campaign for Real Ale).

True’s premise: Just as the great British brewing traditions were being threatened by callous cost-cutting measures at big corporate breweries, so was classic American hard rock n’ roll threatened by the commercial-pop acts manufactured by the major record labels.

True’s gone back to the U.K.; but without him, real rock (or, as Backfire zine editor Dawn Anderson calls it, “Rawk”) is back. Alas.

Lost in most mainstream-media coverage of rape and pillaging at Woodstock 99 was the fact that the festival bore only a trademark connection with the ’69 original. This festival was not a corporate exploitation of “Peace and Music” but a showcase for harder, louder, more aggressive acts, especially on its last night.

Now there’s a radio station devoted entirely to the likes of Limp Bizkit, KORN (the group which relegated BR-549 to being only the second most popular band with a Hee Haw-derived name), Eminem, Kid Rock, etc. etc.

It’s called “The Funky Monkey,” though its official call letters are KKBY. It had been a fairly progressive, Tacoma-based R&B station, but hadn’t turned a profit with that format; so it’s now going straight for the white-gangsta-wannabe market.

The contrast between the station’s new and old formats couldn’t be much more stark.

The old KKBY had played music by and for African-Americans who’d long ago gotten weary of gangsta rap, that “authentic ghetto voice” concocted or at least pushed by Hollywood promoters eager to nakedly exploit white mall kids’ stereotypes of young black men as sexy savages.

The new KKBY plays mostly white artists who’ve taken the gangsta acts’ “Xtreme” hiphop (via such crossover pioneers as the Beastie Boys and Jane’s Addiction) and removed all blackness except for a thin veneer of supposed street-credibility. White artists “admiring” their black gangsta forebearers for fostering an image of doped-up, violent, woman-hating jerks with a finely-tuned fashion sense.

In other words, “Angry White Rappers.”

A mostly-white continuation of former black-music trends many black listeners had rejected. (Which is nothing new. Black audiences have long rushed to the Star-Off Machine after a black-music subgenre had been infiltrated, then taken over, by white acts, from big-band to doo-wop.)

This new white-rock-rap genre (KKBY calls it “the new heavies”) is at least as stoopid as most other Rawk waves over the past three decades. What’s different is the level of personal aggression–a rage often not against the machine but against one’s peers and the opp. sex. Rock n’ roll used to be about trying to seduce, to woo, to attract sex. The “new heavies” are often boasting to other males about their sexual prowess, while snarling at females to shut up and take it.

I’m really trying not to sound here like an old fogey–or worse, an old rock critic. There are too many parallels in what I’ve written above to the ’50s critics who loved authentic black R&B but loathed that commercialized white teenybopper corruption of it known as rock n’ roll.

And, there are some signs of non-idiocy within the genre. Eminem, at times, approaches the electro-laconic wit of, say, MC 900 Ft. Jesus. And those old-school new-heavies, the Beastie Boys, know the ultimate idiocy of the “Wigger” stance (and also shouldn’t be blamed too much for having some of the same retro-fetishes as Quentin Tarantino).

But compare these SK8-rappers to the best real hiphop and a wide creative chasm remains. Even the most corporate of fin-de-siecle R&B product-suppliers, such as Missy Elliott or Sean Combs, has a sense of the complex potentials of their music you can’t find in Insane Clown Posse, and certainly not in white doodz who wish they were Insane Clown Posse.

TOMORROW (in person):Get everyone you know, plus any strangers you might run into, to get to the big promo event and reading for The Big Book of MISC. tomorrow night, Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m., at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Co. Be there or be isogonal.

TOMORROW (on the site): The beauty that is The Imp.

IN OTHER NEWS: The good news is Seattle’s public-access cable channel’s getting a massive infusion of new studio equipment. The bad news is the whole studio will be out of commission for at least two months during the renovation, so everything on Channel 29 (probably starting in October) will be pre-taped on location, or a rerun of an older studio show.

ELSEWHERE: This new learning-tools site for schoolkids features some of the dumbest adult-writers-trying-to-sound-young slang ever attempted–even in the plot summaries of major books!… Speaking of learning tools, will Microsoft’s new print dictionary include nonstandard definitions for “monopoly,” “coercion,” or “protection racket”?… Now, for a limited time only, you can make up your own Netcolumn. The professionally-constructed ones you find here at Misc. World, of course, will still be better….

WHAT, ME BIGOTED?
Aug 13th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

I COME TO YOU TODAY to ask a blunt yet necessary question.

How prejudiced are you?

No, I don’t mean the person next to you.

I don’t mean your parents.

And I don’t mean All Those People supposedly out there in Bad Old Mainstream America.

When I say You, I really do mean You.

It’s something that’s been running around in the background-processing cache of my brain for some time now.

It came to the foreground when a kind reader, who’d noted an older page here in which I’d talked about that deconstructionist buzzword “The Other,” slipped me a copy of a long academic essay which used the term profusely. The piece was ostensibly about men’s stereotypes about women, but ultimately turned out to exemplify certain women’s stereotypes about men’s stereotypes about women.

Only the piece’s authors didn’t realize that was what they were really writing. They were too caught up in the fashionable notion that Dehumanizing The Other is something done only by Those People Who Aren’t Like Us.

But it’s not just sexist “anti-sexists” who practice this eternal double standard. It’s darn near everybody. Even people who listen to NPR. Even people who sort their recyclables.

Even people who read ‘hip’ websites.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR!: More live events for The Big Book of MISC. are comin’ at ya. The next is Thursday, Aug. 19, 6 p.m., at Borders Books, 4th near Pike in downtown Seattle. If you can’t make it then or want a double dose, there’s another one the following Thursday, Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m., at the venerable Elliott Bay Book Co. Be there or be a parallellogram.

MONDAY: If the Religious Right collapses, who will liberals complain about?

ELSEWHERE: Cereals of the Apocalypse; plus The Trouble with Tang…

YOU YANG?
Aug 10th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

AFTER ALL the self-parodic inanities on TV attempting to appeal to “guy culture,” finally came something that put it all into historical perspective.

A brief voice-over passage in Showtime’s Sex in the 20th Century noted that, as a Nation of Immigrants, the U.S. has long had a sub-population of sexually-frustrated single men. In the late decades of the last century and the early decades of this one, our big cities and factory towns teemed with tens of thousands of Euro and Asian settlers who came over without moms, wives, girlfriends, or kids. (Chinese-American immigration was officially male-only for many of those years.) Westward expansion created frontier and ex-frontier communities comprised mostly of unattached males.

It was for the patronage of these men that America developed the rowdy saloon culture and the raunchy/satirical burlesque shows (both of which were fought by women’s suffragists and other “progressives”). Not to mention underground porn, “stag films,” and a once-booming brothel biz. (The documentary noted that prostitution provided the only coital opportunity for these immigrant and pioneer men.)

Anti-censorship and sex-freedom advocates today like to blame the differences between U.S. and Euro sexual attitudes on a damaging legacy of Victorian prudes. What the activists neglect is how and why those prudes came into power in the ’20s and early ’30s.

As women gained more political clout (and neared gender-parity in these ethnic and working-class communities), their sociopolitical agenda almost always included the eradication of the “guy culture” of the day.

To the “progressives” and the suffragists as well as to social conservatives, the world of single men, especially the hedonistic elements of that world, represented everything icky and worse–pre-penecillin STDs, the self-destruction of alcoholism and other drug abuse, laziness, cynical attitudes toward patriotism and the work ethic, a flight from family commitments, disrespect toward women, profanity, irreligiousness, and the pigsty living conditions still commonly associated with the undomesticated male.

So the saloons were shut down (Prohibition speakeasies had a much more coed patronage). Red-light districts were quashed one city at a time. Burlesque houses were busted. By 1934, Hollywood movies were strictly censored.

(One could also mention the implicit racism in the progressives’ “clean” and bland civic aesthetic, but that’s a topic for another day.)

To this day, the single male is treated as a social-sexual pariah in many “progressive” and even “alternative” circles, and not just by radical feminists either. Some “sex-positive” authors and journals that advocate women’s sexual liberation have a heck of a hard time accepting non-gay men’s right to sexual expression (except in the forms of masochism or servility). “Swing” clubs routinely ban femaleless males from attending; the more wholesome nudist movement used to do the same (some nudist camps still do).

And the current wave of “guy” magazines and TV shows wallow in icky-man stereotypes as universal givens.

And both corporate porn and reverse-sexist writers allow no exceptions to the premise of male=brainless sleazebag.

But beneath all these one-dimensional overgeneralizations lies a basic truth. Men need women. For sex and a hell of a lot more.

And women may no longer need men for brute-strength labor or protection, but a society unbalanced on the yin side is just as dysfunction as a society unbalanced on the yang siade.

Gender parity will happen not just when men are forced to fully respect women, but when women allow themselves to fully respect men. Then more women and men might feel more comfortable with their own yang energies, and we could all feel freer to enjoy wining, dining, coiting, and other hedonistic pleasures.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR!: More live events for The Big Book of MISC. are comin’ at ya. The next is Thursday, Aug. 19, 6 p.m., at Borders Books, 4th near Pike in downtown Seattle. Be there or be rhomboidal.

TOMORROW: Web journals, the evil (or is it good?) twins of Weblogs.

ELSEWHERE: UK essayist Theodore Dalrymple’s got an alternate explanation for our troubles accepting the hedonistic life: “Southern Europeans seem to enjoy themselves more than northerners”–including the Brits and much of the folks in their North American ex-colonies–“who regard even pleasure as a duty… in the south one drinks to enhance life, in the north to drown one’s sorrows”… Once there was a nation whose leaders openly denounced liquor, tobacco, and even meat, and which funded pioneering cancer research. Too bad about some of its other policies…

NETTY AND NUTTY
Jul 19th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

LAST FRIDAY, we mentioned the recent explosion in “Weblogs,” sites that contain little or no original content but instead provide highly selective links to articles and stories on other sites.

MISC. World isn’t turning into a pure Weblog. Don’t worry; there’ll still be all-new stuff here all the time.

But, from time to time, we like to mention some fun and/or serious stuff being written elsewhere in Netland. Such as these pieces:

For everybody who loves/hates the inanity of misspellings on huge public signage, it’s the Gallery of “Misused” Quotation Marks. A recent item: “A billboard for a bank in Idaho Falls reads: ‘We believe that “PEOPLE” should answer our phones.’ ‘PEOPLE’ are about the same things as ‘robots with Gap clothing,’ right?” Speaking of inanities…

Rocket writer Jason Josephes has a hilarious listing of “The Top 20 LPs Among People Who Hate Music,” as determined by what he sees most in thrift-store record bins. (I personally disagree with Josephes’ #1 choice, Abba’s Gold. I recently listened to a cassette somebody in Belgium had made, collecting every known cover version of “Dancing Queen,” from elevator to punk, and was blown away by the tune’s sheer endurance capability.) Speaking of hatreds…

Now that press coverage of the delayed Buffy the Vampire Slayer season finale’s allowed journalists to revisit their post-Littleton pontifications, Philip Michaels has something called “Your Guide to High School Hate,” showing once again that the pontificators had it all wrong and Buffy has it metaphorically right–high school, too often, really is a Hellmouth. Speaking of teen insecurities…

Understanding Comics author-illustrator Scott McCloud is back with a wistful, beautiful reminiscence of his adolescent retreat from peer pressure into the ordered, rational universe of gaming, in “My Obsession With Chess.” It’s a comic strip meant to be read online, with panels arranged in the sequence of chess moves along a “board” that would be about 16 feet long in real life. Simply gorgeous.

TOMORROW: Continuing in this vein, some wacky search-engine keywords that brought people, perhaps mistakenly, to this site.

UPDATE #1: “Oh oh, must have been another Bite of Seattle riot!” That’s what certain Belltown bystanders muttered when they saw throngs of teens, about half of them Af-Am teens, streaming out of Seattle Center toward the surrounding sidewalks around 9:30 p.m. last Saturday night. But it wasn’t a riot. Center authorities had simply brought in cops to empty the grounds, including the Fun Forest amusement area, after the Bite’s scheduled 9 p.m. closing time. (The incident last year wasn’t really a “riot” either. Somebody made a noise in a crowded Fun Forest that sounded like gunfire but might have just been a leftover fireworks noisemaker, and a few dozen kids started running in panic.) Ah, the “enlightened, liberal, diversity-celebrating” city that still can’t grasp that dark-skinned teenagers are not necessarily gangstas… (sigh)…

UPDATE #2: In happier news, the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which previously was stripped of much of its entertainment-licensing authority by a federal judge, is now proposing rules that would allow afternoon or early-evening all-ages music shows in the dining areas of restaurant-lounge spots. The proposed rules would still be stricter than those in Oregon, but it’s a step.

WEBBED WORDS OF WORTH
Jul 7th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

SIX MONTHS AGO, you couldn’t see a string of TV commercials without at least one website address flashing on-screen.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to see a string of TV commercials (except maybe on Pax TV) without at least one ad that’s all about a website.

Yet despite the hype over e-commerce and the dubya-dubya-dubya as a marketing tool, the Web remains what I hoped it would become five years ago–an all-accessible repository for great, immediate writing.

Herewith, a few examples of fine online verbiage that are not Salon and heavens-not Slate:

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Accompaniment to the print somewhat-less-than-quarterly McSweeney’s alterna-lit journal, but sharing no content with the paper version–just the same sense of literate whimsy and post-postmodern graciousness.

Rat Bastard. Washington, DC-based Don Bruns doin’ the personal-net-diary thang, with self-effacing wit to spare.

Exquisite Corpse. Andrei Codrescu’s little paper litmag is now indeed a corpse, but he continues to present brash-yet-thoughtful voices online.

My current fave: James Nolan on American doublespeak in the age of spin-control (a topic that gets beaten to death every election cycle, but he manages to bring it back to life).

Bittersweets. Each day, a one-paragraph narrative or observation about the wistfully-regretful side of life.

The Napkin. Like Bittersweets, but shorter, usually less bitter, and sometimes even cosmic (in a nice way).

Word. Besides the fun contemporary-art pages, the pages of found-objects pix, and the “Junk Radio” section full of moldy-oldies in streaming audio, the words on Word are themselves darned interesting and lively. Current best example: Philip Dray’s probably-fictional yet realistic reminiscence of being “a Jewish caddy at a WASP country club.”

You can tell the folks running Word have the right attitude if you hit “View Source” on your browser when you reach its homepage. There, amid all the HTML codin’, is this hidden (until now, anyway) treat:

“META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Forget about whatever you were searching for. It’s not important. You may not be aware of it consciously, but you really want to read Word instead. So go on — click here. You’ll be glad you did! Satisfaction guaranteed!”.”

Random Story Generator. I know it’s just an automated version of Mad Libs, but damned if it’s not a total laff-riot each and every time.

ELSEWHERE: There’s a big convention of ethnic-minority journalists in my town this week. The Seattle Times has been dutifully covering and previewing the event, but its big Sunday feature story tie-in was strictly about the “minority” the Times, and Seattle, are most comfortable with–upscale, white women (preferably blond and blue-eyed); in this case, TV anchorwomen.

TOMORROW: David Foster Wallace’s new fiction collection is anything but ‘hideous.’

THE PICTURE OF TOGETHERNESS
May 24th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

MISC. WORLD, the online column that still hasn’t seen the new Star Wars, is proud to announce The Big Book of MISC. has now gone to press. Even better, online ordering is now up, at this link! The prerelease party’s Tuesday, June 8 at the new Ditto Tavern, 2303 5th Ave. near Bell Street in Seattle’s glorious Belltown. Be there.

FAST FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Denny’s Diner concept, first mentioned in Misc. about a year ago, will now be phased in at all U.S. Denny’s restaurants. From the looks of the prototype restaurant out by Sea-Tac Mall, it won’t be as big a revamp as the newspaper stories promise. The one I saw looks largely like a regular ol’ Denny’s. The interior’s done up in muted greens instead of garish orange shades, with a few touches of aluminum trim. Aside from a few soda-fountain items, there’s not much on the menu that’s not on the regular Denny’s menu. And there’s a reproduction juke box playing some oldies-rock CDs, along with many “hot country” and easy-listening stars.

The chain’s officially doing this because its research found younger eaters don’t identify with its established suburban-bland image, and thinks this way it can become perceived as slightly hipper without turning off the older crowd. Of course, Denny’s has had a bigger image problem than that in recent years. Amid allegations of racial discrimination in both employment and customer service, the company’s had to pull out all the PR-spin stops to proclaim it now welcomes everybody, and has put managers and franchisees thru sensitivity classes. So why, one might ask, is the chain re-imaging itself around nostalgia for those bad-old-days white-lower-middle-class hash houses where African Americans felt particularly unwelcome back in the day? (Remember, the first major sit-in of the civil rights movement occurred at a Woolworth lunch counter.) Elsewhere in bobbysoxer-land…

THE SOUND OF SILENCE: The Velvet Elvis Arts Lounge (which has hosted all-ages music shows these past six years in the former home of the punk-parody musical Angry Housewives) and the Colourbox (the rock venue that stuck with local bands after bigger bars turned their emphasis to touring acts) are closing in June, due (indirectly in the former case, directly in the latter) to Pioneer Square gentrification. RKCNDY will be demolished for a hotel sometime later this year. Nothing much could’ve been done to save the Colourbox (and, anyway, the nearby Rupert’s has been serving much the same function). But the VE’s another story. Its pretty-much-all-volunteer staff has every right to feel burned out and to move on, now that its recent sold-out Annie Sprinkle performances have paid off its debts. But there should’ve been some way they could’ve passed the torch onto a fresher crew, to keep the space going as long as it still had the lease. If someone can get such a crew together to assume the space, they’d better do so soon.

(Both the Colourbox and the Velvet Elvis got front-page pictures in the P-I‘s Saturday item about the city’s tuff new anti-noise law and schemes by some city councilmembers to relax those limits in designated “entertainment zones,” a little too late to save either club.)

BESIDES A DECENT ALL-AGES SPACE and zoned relief from anti-nightlife legal putsches, what does Seattle need? That’s your next question at the luscious Misc. Talk discussion boards. And we’re still seeking your nominations about which 1995-99 Seattle bands oughta be mentioned in the forthcoming update of Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story. Elsewhere in new-addition-land…

WATCH D.T.S., GET THE D.T.s: The Casbah Cinema, that beuatifully-designed but poorly-marketed boutique theater in Belltown, has been revamped by new owners as the Big Picture. It’s now a beer-and-wine bar with a fancy-schmancy digital video projection system in the old Casbah auditorium room. The owners believe, as I wrote here some time back, that theaters shouldn’t just be for feature films and tavern TVs shouldn’t just be for sports. They plan to have a whole schedule of fun programming events, ranging from cult movies and sports to X-Files episode screenings and music-video nights. It’s also available for private parties, software-company demonstrations, anime fan-club meetings, movie-studio sneak previews, etc.

I probably will continue seeing most of my movies-on-projection-video-with-beer at 2nd Avenue Pizza, but the Big Picture’s HDTV setup is truly awesome. It’s much sharper than the analog HDTV system I saw a couple years back at the old UA Cinemas; even a basketball game (live sports are the ultimate test of digital video) looked clean and crisp. Elsewhere in visual-entertainment-land…

CONJUNCTION JUNCTION: After years of the sleaze-sex mags getting closer and closer to The Act, Penthouse has finally started running apparent actual hardcore pix as of its June issue (in a sword-and-sorcery fantasy pictorial), and (along with its almost-as-explicit competitors) has faced the expected legal challenges in the expected southern and midwestern states. Either the publishers seem to think they can win the court cases and vend images of actual coitus thru mainstream magazine outlets, or the competition for wankers’ bucks has gotten so intense the publishers believe they have to do this to compete with hardcore videos, websites, CD-ROMS, etc.

The demand for explicitness in sex-entertainment has increased steadily in the three decades since hardcore films and images first went above-ground. Today, hardcore tapes can be rented in almost every non-chain video store (and can be purchased in non-chain convenience stores); while softcore tapes (other than those depressing , anti-intimacy “erotic thrillers”) are in far fewer outlets and often for sale only. Of all the new girlie mags in recent years, only Perfect 10 (and retro-zines like Kutie) appeal to a classic pin-up aesthetic instead of simply piling on as much raunch as the distribution channel will bear.

Some observers claim this trend signifies a failure of imagination, of good taste, or even of respect for women. I think it means something else–that smut consumers are, on the average, moving away from passive “pedastel” female ideals and instead prefer to fantasize about women who are active, enthusiastic participants in The Act.

Then, of course, there’s the little matter of what makes hardcore hardcore. It’s not how much you see of the women, but how much you see of the men. The triumph of hardcore means more and more straight-identifying men want to look at other men’s sex parts in action, photographed as sharply and clearly as possible. One recently-notorious subgenre, the “gangbang” video, shows its straight-male audiences dozens of male bodies surrounding just one woman.

But gangbang videos are ugly, as is hardcore in general. As I’ve previously mentioned, the hardcore anti-aesthetic literalizes the phrase “ugly as sin.” While the action scenes in Penthouse are at least competently lit and photographed, they still adhere to a formula of garish colors, contorted expressions, and grotesquely obvious implants. Historically, the formula leads out from the old days of underground smut, all dangerous and anti-propriety. Today, it leads from the porn-video industry’s ruthless combination of tiny budgets and strict requirements. But it’s also a look its target audience seems to prefer. Perhaps these men have such poor self body-images, they can only comfortably look at other men’s bodies when they’re depicted among ugly surroundings.

Will this ugliness change as coitus imagery goes further beyond porn-specialty stores and into your local beer-and-cigarette shop? Many cultures around the world have found beautiful ways to depict coitus via the arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture. Contemporary erotic photography has produced many beautiful works, but almost all of them (even Robert Mapplethorpe’s) are predicated on The Pose, not The Act. Posing involves a person or persons openly displaying their personas out toward the viewer; actual sex (if it’s any good) constitutes two people becoming all caught up in one another and themselves, ignoring the rest of the world. I’ll still prefer softcore images, even if hardcore becomes less icky-looking, for this reason. I don’t want to vicariously imagine myself in some other man’s body, feeling what that other man gets to feel; I want to imagine my (real) self in the woman’s body.

‘TIL NEXT TIME, when we hope to have topics less prone to too-obvious puns, embrace the warmth, question the war, and consider this by Jane Austen: “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa
© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).