Saturday, May 05, 2007

There is a thing I feel the need to share for the benefit of one of my readers (he'll know who he is). I can now look back at the behaviour of my hosts on that awful trip I had to New Zealand, and, well, just laugh at it. I drew the conclusion a little while ago that the attitudes and behaviour of some people just is not worth getting angry or upset about. All it does is empower them anyway. If people's behaviour is either very strange or very unpleasant in your view the best remedy can be to make light of it. Political Umpire told me that such a day would come and I did not believe it at the time. I do now, even if it is impossible to recall the trip with any fondness due to my personal experiences. I won't say any more about my hosts as they don't know I'm writing this, as far as I know don't care to read this blog so it's not really fair bitching about people online who aren't in a position where they can defend themselves.

What the trip did do was tell me that I could not live in New Zealand for any extended period. It is just way too remote and small population wise for my liking. Christchurch and possibly Auckland I could handle temporarily. But Wellies, or God forbid New Edinburgh? I think I'd rather curl up and, you know the rest. I cannot articulate for why I feel this way exactly. I don't believe that it was just my personal experiences on the trip, I believe there was something which I picked up about the actual places. Wellington with it's green belt of hills felt claustrophobic to me, although the locals felt that was part of the towns beauty. But I don't think it was just that really.

As for Dunedin I recall wondering where the Maori were, and I then heard most had been slaughtered there by the British settlers. I noticed it was a very white town. Who knows, perhaps the place had bad karma? The noticable protestantism and the prominent Queen Victoria statue was also telling. I also dislike the fact that it has been and still is an ongoing tradition in that country of pretending that it does not have a problem with racism.

New Zealanders tend to see themselves as South Pacific Canadian (being to Australia what Canada is to the United States. But I think they are still more English than they care to admit, as one very honest man on the West Coast of the South Island admitted to me. Funnily Dunedin seemed proud of it's Scottish background while the English settlements seemed to wish to shun theirs. It aint cool to be English these days, even in England itself one appears more attractive and exotic if they can claim foreign ancestry. I get told quite often that I appear Eastern European. I believe my grandmother had some Roma in her background so that may have something to do with it. At least I get looked at more often! It seems that the English have a bad reputation and a sense of guilt due to having been blood soaked imperialists.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be unfair on New Zealand. It is a lovely place for scenery, the pace of life is a lot slower and the people are for the most friendly. But I found the national insecurity that often expressed itself in an immature patriotism very grating (don't worry, I find Brit patriotism just as irritating, if not more so). I received a particularly nasty dose of it (combined with an anti English feel) from a girl who had two English parents. New Zealand as a country appeared to believe it had something to prove, probably because it is a young country which has not yet fully developed a full sense of it's own identity, like for instance Canada has, and Australia. This would account for a lot of the anti English sentiment there. There is also some anti American and anti Australian sentiment, but the anti English thing stands out more because it seems a little closer to self hatred. A prejudice seems to exist in that country that the English are lax in matters of personal hygiene. I think this might be due to the tradition of baths in England as opposed to the shower. However, I disliked being at a party when the person right next to me stated that 'English people don't wash' not knowing that I was British until I opened my mouth and said 'Don't they?' in the poshest voice I could speak in. I should have sniffed under my armpits. It also turned out that the person in question was a meat lover and seemed to have a slight distaste for vegetarians (I notice that this attitude is not uncommon among meat eaters of a certain class, i.e those who enjoy their fancy cuisine, I really haven't encountered much of that attitude among the proles, who seem pretty indifferent to the eating habits of others, whether or not they deem dietary preferences strange or not). That is a thing that probably does not matter wherever you go. However, when I left that night one of the guests nearby said it had been nice meeting me. I repeated the courtesy to my bette noir as well as to the person who gave the initial farewell. The result? I was not only ignored but given a dirty look. Perhaps being not only English but a vegetarian too was too much for that individual, who had should I say very Anglo features and if average demographics are anything to go by most likely had grandparents or great grandparents, if not an actual parent, who had grown up in England.

It is small things like that which made much of it seem incongruious, although on an intellectual level I can see the reasons. The country strikes me as being slightly akin to a surly adolescent child of what was the British Empire.
Here is a column from the death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal:


(Column written 4/14/07 by Mumia Abu–Jamal)

( With the ending of Don Imus’s radio and TV career has arisen a perverse (if utterly stupid) caterwaul from conservatives, who are (to hear them tell it) newly–born converts of free speech, and equally frenzied adherents of attacks on the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as if, but for their activism, their pal Imus would still be on the airwaves.

Some have added the oral antics of various rap artists, to somehow prove that Imus was treated unfairly for using equally ugly terms to refer to Black women.

This noise from the fascistic rightwing of American political life is a vital clue into how they see the world, and thus a reflection of how they sell this view to others.

It shows how deeply race dwells in white consciousness, and how it is like an inner searchlight that blinds as much as it illuminates.

These so–called conservatives see Imus as ‘one of us’, and as such they shared his pompous, good ole’ boy, spit–on–the–rabble racism that passes for the norm in the nation: it just so happens that he spat on the wrong group of girls this time.

And neither the Revs. Al nor Jesse starting the ball rolling against Imus, although it may’ve seemed so from TV.

The videotape of Imus went from an almost unseen perch on MSNBC to the net, where it spread like a virus. Nonetheless, bloggers picked it up and passed it on, and the more folks saw it, the more it spread. It became a living thing, nastier and nastier each time it was replayed.

The almost juvenile rant against rappers also fades upon a moment’s reflection; for, while it is undeniable that some of what is said is naked misogyny–a profound hatred of women–it’s obvious that rappers have no where near the social or political clout of Imus.

When’s the last time you’ve seen a rapper kick it with a candidate for U.S. Senator? When’s the last time you’ve heard of a rapper poppin’ some questions to a Mayor–or a Governor?

People who wanted to be president flocked to Imus, like supplicants kissing the ring of a bishop, because he had the daily ear of millions, and his blessings meant votes.

No rapper in America can say the same.

Ultimately, it’s not about power, and precious few rappers have any power. In fact, their ‘bling’ is an attempt to project a power (or wealth) that most of them do not possess.

Sociologist Zine Magubane, of Boston College, made that point in dramatic terms in his article, “Globalization and Gangster Rap: Hip Hop in the Post–Apartheid City” (citing the work of journalist Norman Kelley):

In an insightful article on the political economy of Black music, Norman Kelley describes how the relationship between the six major record firms (Warner, Polygram, MCA, BMG, Sony, and CEMA/UNI) and African–American artists as a ‘postmodern form of colonialism.’ He notes that rap music, although it ‘forms the very foundation of the $12 billion dollar music industry in the United States’, exhibits an history pattern typical of African–American aesthetic products like jazz and blues which, although created largely by Blacks, were under the corporate control of Whites. Black–owned production companies like Uptown Records, Def Jam, and Bad Boy, Kelley explains, ‘do not control a key component of the music–making nexus, namely, distribution.’ For example, the albums produced by Master P’s No Limit Records as well as those by Roc–A–Fella Records (owned by Damon Dash) are distributed by Priority Records. Those produced by Cash Money Records are distributed by Universal, while Sean Combs’ Bad Boy label is distributed by Arista. Thus, although young Black entrepreneurs have ‘been able to swing the balance of power somewhat in their direction, they are still far from having complete dominion (because) in the music business distribution is the final battle ground. Because African–American artists have virtually no control over the domestic distribution of their music, they likewise have no control over international distribution. Thus, white owned and controlled media conglomerates determine which African–American cultural products enter the global arena. (Fr.: Magubane, Z., in: Basu, Dipannita and Sydney J. Lemelle, eds., The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture. (London/Ann Arbor, MI.: Pluto Press, 2006), p. 211.)

Imus was a creature of white corporate and political power, who made millions playing to the smallmindedness of millions, who wanted to snicker at the lot of those worse off than them.

Unless I miss my guess, someone will hire him to do it again.

There’s always a market for that.


I to believe that while the cretin he writes of can say what he likes no radio station is obliged to have him on their airwaves.

A few words about music, though. I must confess that I quite like rap, in spite of (or maybe even partly because of) the violence in some of it's lyrics. Whether it's intention is satire is to me not the point - the point is that it reads as a satire of the excesses of American capitalism. So does the whole 'bling' or 'ghetto' culture, large cars, big gold chains etc. It hence works as an exposure of capitalism by taking it's excesses to the most extreme, with no subtlety whatsoever, and showing us that it is all ultimately fake. The fact that it is an act resulting from a lack of power rather than power gives it a subversive edge.

Now - I do not wish to be accused of being pro guns, violence, sexism and all the rest. I am not. But those who sing about such subjects seem to me to be simply tallking about what they have seen and the conditions they have grown up in, whether they do so critically or not isn't the point. Realism is not obliged to be critical. If people complain about the lyrics in such music I would tend to suggest that they take measures to allieviate poverty and crime. If they did so people would feel less of a need to sing about them and issues related to them. If the music sometimes seems to glorify crime it is only because people have ways of coping with their lives. One way of tolerating conditions that are, on the whole, negative, is learning to put a positive spin on them if not exactly enjoying them.

As for the misogyny of the lyrics - All those unsubtle men are doing is making explicit in a not very subtle way the way that most men, with their distrust of women, feel from time to time. It is no crime to expose what is already implicit in society. I'm not saying that distrust of the opposite sex is unique to men - women no doubt often distrust men as much as the other way round. However, although this is changing men have traditionally held more power in society. Black men who produce rap music perhaps feel this power (i.e over women) is the only power they have, although it is an illusory power. Black women, I have often noticed, can be extremely strong, not exactly downtrodden or oppressed. The women who tend to revel in victim status are those who are white, middle class, and very privileged in comparsion with many of their Black sisters.

As far as rap goes, though, sisters are quite capable of fighting back. Anyone heard Lil Kim, Missy Elliot? I'll end with a pic.....