Music Reviews Insult My Intelligence

I don’t have enough time right now to do a full post, but I need to vent.

Earlier today, I discovered an old review for a band whose music I received for Christmas.  The band is not Western and they incorporate aspects of their local music traditions into their work, including so-called “wild” rhythms.  (“Wild” is according to the reviewer.  I’d sooner say “unfamiliar.”  )  The results will astound you.

However…

The reviewer needs to learn a few things.  He claimed that the band sounded good when recasting traditional songs but not so much when they moved towards original Western-style works.  He even goes so far as to say they seem “desperate” to become a part of Western mainstream music.

We all know everyone’s goal is to be like us, right?

But then again, he describes the traditional singing methods as “strange” (in a different review) and “growling,” so I suppose he must have started out with a few prejudices already implanted.

Trust me, that singing ain’t growling…

And unfortunately, I’ll have to stop here.  (Sorry to leave you hanging.)  Once I’ve got my ducks in a row, I’ll post links to the articles and a youtube video if I can find one.  In the meantime, please accept my sincerest apologies and a really cool picture I found.

File:Igil oktober saya front view.gif

(Photo credit: Johanna Kovitz)

The Public Debate Insults My Intelligence

Lecturn view

(Photo credit: David Michael Morris)

On one of my recent posts, the blogger Rockettattoo commented on an acquaintance who goes overboard on the gun rhetoric.   I decided at the time that I wanted to follow up on a related topic and yesterday’s Trayvon Martin verdict added an extra layer to my thoughts.

If you’ve never read anything on my blog before, you need to know that I don’t like to blather on about controversial issues.  I’m not going to do so now, either.  Instead,  I’d like to rewind to the Giffords and Newtown shootings to find some useful lessons for today.

More specifically, I’d like to focus on the events’ aftermaths.  After the two shootings, we witnessed a popular sport in American politics on both sides of the aisle: using new events as evidence for preexisting beliefs without providing sufficient support for the asserted logical connection.  People who support gun control trotted out the former congresswoman and the murdered children’s parents as nothing more than images to sway our opinion.  Think “emotional blackmail.”  The message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must restrict legal gun use to make this stop.”  And on the NRA (and allies’) side, the message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must increase access and/or ownership of guns to make this stop.”  And sometimes, they trotted out the Constitution in a way that reeked of emotional blackmail directed at the patriotic.  (I didn’t smell much in-depth discussion of the Second Amendment’s original intent.)  Like Giffords and the grieving families, the Constitution became a convenient and powerful image that activists mobilized superficially.

Neither side was arguing for any compelling idea and neither side endorsed anything they wouldn’t have supported if these tragedies hadn’t happened.  If the debate were online, we’d probably claim that both sides were trolling.

And if politicians were comedians, we’d refer to these exhortations as tired one-liners.  Unfortunately, the intellectual and rhetorical laziness isn’t funny.  These sound bites devour the mental capacity of people who already demand lightweight political fare, further constricting their ability to exercise responsible citizenship.

With apologies (sort of) to Julien Benda, we are left with a politics of what is possible, not a politics of what will work.  Both sides of the gun control debate would be correct to argue that their solutions might prevent future tragedies.  Shooting everyone up with a large dose of Valium each day might do it too, and so might daily opera classes.  In theory, almost anything might solve the problem.

But there’s no longer any reason given to ask “why not?”  for any given proposal.  Each sides gives us something that might work and, in the absence of serious debate, no side has any reason to be converted to a different view.  And so we are left with gridlock and ineffective laws.

And back to Trayvon Martin.  By now, some people are arguing that the case proves the inability of Black men to get justice in the United States, or at least in Florida.  Others are taking the opportunity to complain about Stand Your Ground laws.  In most cases, the people making these claims already believed the social and legal diagnoses they proffer.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

Similarly, others saw a man being accused of racially motivated murder and listened to activists raising their voices against hate crimes.  Some will use yesterday’s verdict as evidence that the whole “hubbub” about race issues is an unwarranted stain on society.  Again, these people already held such a view before Trayvon Martin’s name entered the nation’s vocabulary.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

So both sides are speaking.  A lot.  Just not to each other…

Southern Fried Controversies Insult My Intelligence

Don’t worry.  I have no intention of wading into the social issues surrounding the Paula Deen and Chick-Fil-A controversies.  Besides my general inclination against rehashing commentary that has been overdone, I’m much more interested in chicken.

Therefore, I’d like to note a characteristic of some protests that these two controversies bring into focus.  I’ll start by reviewing each one individually before moving on to broader conclusions:

Southern Fried Chicken at Paula Deen's Lady & ...

(Photo credit: Muy Yum)

1- After revelations of Paula Deen’s racist words, her employers and sponsors raced to distance themselves from her as the bad press kept piling on.  But then, her forthcoming book jumped to the top sales rank at Amazon because people demonstrated their support for her by placing an order.  The publisher decided to cancel the book’s publication soon afterwards, probably fearing a backlash.  The underlying assumption, which probably resembles some people’s motivations for ordering, holds that at least some of these orders constituted intentional support for racism.  Along the way, though, people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton called for people to be more forgiving of Deen.

I don’t aim to prosecute or defend Deen; what happens to her strikes me as unimportant. She’s old and rich, so the loss of her business empire won’t affect her life too much.  And even if she had been let off the hook, I’m pretty sure most people would still have understood how offensive the N-word is.

Instead, I’d rather discuss how the whole episode influenced people’s thoughts.  The people who already abhorred racism still abhor it.  The people who support racism found a new and socially acceptable way to vent their feelings, namely by expressing their newly discovered support for Paula Deen.  Plenty of others were receiving the news as “woman crucified for racist comments she made 30 years ago,” which is not a lesson that increases racial harmony.  Whether or not she deserved the consequences that were handed down, the attacks on Deen can only be said to have increased the racial tensions they were presumably intended to keep at bay.  I suspect that Jackson and Sharpton recognized that when they chose to defend Deen.

Chick-Fil-A's signature chicken sandwich

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2- Some of you may remember the boycott and demonstrations against Chilk-Fil-A because of the owner’s Christian conservative views on homosexuality and extensive financial contributions in support of that belief.  I’m not here to argue whether the protests were justified or not, so let’s look at the protests’ long term effects.  Some people on the pro-gay-rights side have stopped frequenting the restaurant but others find that they can’t stay away.  However, people on the traditional morality side have learned to recognize the restaurant as representing their ideals and they seem to be eating there more often than before.  Others who were less invested in the issue turned on their televisions to find gay and lesbian protesters being served free drinks by the “homophobic” restaurant chain while they were conducting their gay rights protest.  If the protesters were trying to demonstrate that religious objections equal homophobia, they lost the media battle.  Badly.

I don’t know whether Chick-Fil-A gained or lost financially because of this.  Money was not the protesters’ foremost concern and it’s not the business owner’s either.  If the protesters were aiming to change minds on a social issue close to their hearts, they failed miserably.  If they were trying to raise awareness of some very tasty fried chicken, they succeeded.

NATIONAL METALS JUNKYARD - NARA - 545303

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, let’s review the problems with “raising awareness” as a technique of social change.  “Social change” as a motivation can be ascribed to both liberals and conservatives, to the protesters I mentioned and to clergy, to educators and to writers.  These groups share a tendency to believe that their message is understood and absorbed as intended, at least in some small part.  Problem is, these messages bump into news outlets that are slanted in one political direction or another, into people’s library cards and the opposing views people have encountered elsewhere, and into the way each individual evaluates how compelling a message is.

Few people will accept a claim of “I support this and so should you” unless it’s being expressed by an overrated celebrity.  “Because I said so” stops working by the time a child finishes kindergarten unless the speaker can make credible death threats.

It’s not enough to shout one’s view or take down people whose transgressions one perceives as unforgivable, even if those transgressions really are unforgivable.  Instead, one must outargue the other side if one wishes to change minds.  Even if the other side isn’t visible from one’s vantage point.

One should also learn the opposing viewpoint in full detail before demonizing someone else.  Outarguing a caricature doesn’t count as productive dialogue.  It doesn’t change minds either; one’s audience knows when its views are being misrepresented.

Unfortunately, well informed discourse remains rare and is encouraged by few.