I'm finding Justin Timberlake a bit annoying. I know, I know: bagging on a boy-band survivor isn't all that edgy, and maybe I'm just being petty, seeing as how he brought sexy back and I didn't. But there is one nagging little thing about the song "Sexyback" that I can't seem to shake, and it's not the fact that he sings off key or that he's a pretty-boy pop star trying to sound like Nine Inch Nails. It's that for some unfathomable reason, Justin Timberlake has decided that slavery is appropriate imagery for a white pop singer to sexualize, and America has backed him up on it.
"Baby . . . put me in shackles baby--
I'm your slave . . . I'll let you whip me
When I misbehave . . ."
Ooh, dehumanizing, degrading, culturally offensive imagery is soooo sexy--especially when sung through a distortion patch. So why is this OK? And I don't mean, Why can't anyone sing or make jokes about slavery? I mean, why is it OK for anyone--particularly a white person, from the south no less--to take the darkest chapter of American history and sexualize it, and then dance around it?
Maybe I'm over-reacting, but I really don't think so. Justin is not the first white pretender to black culture; go to Paul Grant's blog to get a glimpse at the line of progression, which runs through Elvis Presley, Vanilla Ice and Eminem, to name a few. Eminem and Justin Timberlake have been among the more respectful white interlopers; Justin's first solo album was pretty good (what I heard of it; it's not like I'm in the fan club or anything--really) and showed due respect to his musical influences. But it's one thing to coopt musical styles, it's another thing to appropriate cultural heritage and repackage it indiscriminately. If you ask me, it's a little like soaking a cross in urine and calling it art.
So, am I over-reacting, or should my wife stop thinking Justin Timberlake is cute?
By the way, check out likewisebooks.com to see some of my new favorite authors in all their pristine glory.