Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bringing White Cultural TheftBack

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?

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7 comments:

Mr Steve said...

So I'm slow . . . or weird. Did your last post contain an obscure reference to a Culture Club song or am I really just far too connected to the 80's?

So slavery is the hot topic of the week I guess.

Is America on the threshold of forgetting about its history? or is it time to move past it and look toward the future? To me it always seems like a fine balancing act.I'm not a history guy, but I often am concerned that if we linger too long on the failures and flaws of the past we loose the opportunity to move beyond.

It's sort of like sin. We had a discussion in our church small group a few years ago abou how we often let sin hover over our lives and prevent us from moving forward in our relationship with God. When I ask for forgiveness - it's gone, wiped away, but my flawed human nature continues to brood on it. It cast a continual shadow over me. I keep bringing it up in prayer. "God, remember that time last year when I _______. I'm really sorry about that." Well, he'd forgiven me and moved on, and here I am bringing it up again. Creating a barrier between me and His grace. I let my brooding over past sin interfere with my embaarcing of His love. I'm on my knees saying "I'm not worthy!" but He's already repeatedly told me that I am, on a daily basis. I am not sayin we should forget our past transgressions. We need to be aware of the past so we can avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Learning to modify behavior is different from fixating on past behavior. My daughters have learned that the end of the driveway is a boundary. In the past they have both tested that boundary and been punished for breaking a rule. They have adjusted their behavior. They don't go ot in the street. The do not sit at the edge talking about the one time they walked out into the street and got punished for it. They don't constantly remind me that they feel bad about that one time they broke the rule.

The big questions are - "Has America learned it's lesson? Have we modified our behavior?" I think we're on the way. I look at my kids and have hope for their generation that globalization will level the playing field for everyone regardelss of race or gender. I'm optimistic, a dreamer, an Elvis fan, an aging Gen-Xer. According to my wife I may even occasionally be sexy. So don't tell me we need to bring sexy back. We need to bring vision and hope back. But I guess that doesn't have a good beat and you can't dance to it.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Mr. Steve, nice catch on the Culture Club reference.

Pete Juvinall said...

For me, I think there is a certain issue of relevance. Justin hits about that 13-17 demographic (the same that bought Britany Spears, NKOTB, Nsync, etc.). Different generation/different names/same music.

We have a failing society, but I still have firm belief in the market and common sense to bury stupidity like a song glorifying slavery.

I had a different response up and I wanted to think about it, so I'm approaching the question again. Is it responsible to write music like this for a teenage market? Not too terribly, IMO.

Hey - I totally summoned you this weekend Dave. Downstate Illinois IV had their fall training (now called 'Pause') and I ended up helping out. Your book was up on the booktable and someone picked it up :).

David A. Zimmerman said...

"Pause" is a good name for a training event.

Margaret Feinberg said...

excited to see you this week!

Macon said...

On the other hand, we also live in a culture that gives us brilliant nuggets of awesomeness like, "White and Nerdy!"

hooray!

locutus est said...

That was a creepy video. It reminds me of late-eighties-early-nineties Eurotrash. I could get worked up about the racial subtext, which is certainly worth discussing, but what disturbed me more was the conflation of bondage and "sexy".

The video has a 007-ish theme, with Timberlake as Bond, opposite a Bond-girl supervixen type. Needless to say, the two have sex toward the end of the video, but there is a real violent edge to the scene, including a hint at choking.

Yuk.

Domestic violence: it's bringing sexyback.