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December 17, 2007 4:32 PM   Subscribe

The White Noise Supremacists: Lester Bangs on race, words, post-punk, and society.

from The Village Voice, 1979:

... around the same time I was actually rather proud of myself for writing things like (in an article on David Bowie's "soul" phase): "Now, as we all know, white hippies and beatniks before them would never have existed had there not been a whole generational subculture with a gnawing yearning to be nothing less than the downest baddest niggers. . . . Everybody has been walking around for the last year or so acting like faggots ruled the world, when in actuality it's the niggers who control and direct everything just as it always has been and properly should be."

I figured all this was in the Lenny Bruce spirit of let's-defuse-them-epithets-byslinging-'em -- out in Detroit I thought absolutely nothing of going to parties with people like David Ruffin and Bobby Womack where I'd get drunk, maul the women, and improvise blues songs along the lines of "Sho' wish ah wuz a nigger / Then mah dick'd be bigger," and of course they all laughed. It took years before I realized what an asshole I'd been, not to mention how lucky I was to get out of there with my white hide intact.

I'm sure a lot of those guys were very happy to see this white kid drunk on his ass making a complete fool if not a human TV set out of himself, but to this day I wonder how many of them hated my guts right then. Because Lenny Bruce was wrong -- maybe in a better world than this such parlor games would amount to cleansing jet offtakes, and between friends, where a certain bond of mutual trust has been firmly established, good natured racial tradeoffs can be part of the vocabulary of understood affections. But beyond that trouble begins -- when you fail to realize that no matter how harmless your intentions are, there is no reason to think that any shit that comes out of your mouth is going to be understood or happily received. Took me a long time to find it out, but those words are lethal, man, and you shouldn't just go slinging them around for effect. This seems almost too simple and obvious to say, but maybe it's good to have something simple and obvious stated once in a while, especially in this citadel of journalistic overthink: if you're black or Jewish or Latin or gay those little vernacular epithets are bullets that riddle your guts and then fester and burn there, like torture-flak hailing on you wherever you go. Ivan Julian told me that whenever he hears the word "nigger," no matter who says it, black or white, he wants to kill. Once when I was drunk I told Hell that the only reason hippies ever existed in the first place was because of niggers, and when I mentioned it to Ivan while doing this article I said, "You probably don't even remember --" "Oh yeah, I remember," he cut me off. And that was two years ago, one ostensibly harmless little slip. You take a lifetime of that, and you've got grounds for trying in any way possible, even if it's only by convincing one individual at a time, to remove those words from the face of the earth.
posted by koeselitz (57 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know Lester has been covered here before, but this essay surprised and impressed even me, a dyed-in-the-wool Lester Bangs fan. He was a great writer, but he was also a great human being, and I found this piece pretty stirring. It put me in mind of recent discussions we've had around here about sexism as well.
posted by koeselitz at 4:33 PM on December 17, 2007


I thought we'd done this before; I have a .pdf of it around somewhere from Metafilter. It might have just been in a comment though...
posted by klangklangston at 4:44 PM on December 17, 2007


Yeah, I searched around, thinking it had to be here, but didn't see it. Maybe I'm wrong. In fact, there were fewer Lester Bangs posts than I expected.
posted by koeselitz at 4:48 PM on December 17, 2007


This article is awesome - he's really not afraid to look at himself as part of the community, even when that means admitting to behavior that most people would do their best to forget about (if they even noticed at all).
posted by lunit at 4:58 PM on December 17, 2007


I think I got it through AskMe, actually, but it's not turning up now.
posted by klangklangston at 4:59 PM on December 17, 2007


I love me some Lester, but there's really nothing new to see here - this essay appeared in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. Still a great article, but MF has been Bang'd Up recently.
posted by porn in the woods at 5:07 PM on December 17, 2007


We had a single link Lester Bangs post 2 weeks ago which at the time I thought was pretty weak. On the plus side that single link post wasn't a PDF, which in retrospect makes it kind of a rousing success.
posted by oh pollo! at 5:08 PM on December 17, 2007


"Marijuana makes everything sound like Fad Gadget and The Fall."
- Lester Bangs, Bad Taste is Timeless
posted by porn in the woods at 5:16 PM on December 17, 2007


I don't care how much Bangs gets posted, it won't be too much, especially when it's as top-notch as this. Just that excerpt you put in the More Inside makes the post worthwhile. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on December 17, 2007


thank you, koeselitz.
posted by CitizenD at 6:11 PM on December 17, 2007


I don't care how much Bangs gets posted, it won't be too much, especially when it's as top-notch as this. Just that excerpt you put in the More Inside makes the post worthwhile. Thanks.

Yup, exactly.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2007


Yup, exactly.

MeTooFilter: Uh-huh.
posted by Kinbote at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2007


Just five minutes ago my teenage daughter was playing me a David Lane audio/video. She was amazed at the creepy racist/pedophiliac guy. So..nobody give these racists a pass, nowhere, nohow...it's corrosive and egregious and fucked--up wherever it appears.
posted by kozad at 6:29 PM on December 17, 2007


Almost 40 years later and we're still trying to figure this out. Liberal guilt and Yippie bullshit are still around. Noone listens huh...
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 6:41 PM on December 17, 2007


Think about how tiny and insignificant that little punk scene seems now. Imagine a time and place where anybody thought Teenage Jesus and the jerks were important. Of all the band Lester Bangs mentions in the articles, only the Ramones and the Foundations have left any mark on the world (and the Ramones aren't really as important as we think they are).

Now think about the most gigantic popular musical genre of our time: hip hop. Compared to hip-hop, punk rock and new wave are your teenage band playing at a block party. Punks pretended to be bad and nasty and as (as Bangs points out) were, in fact, gentle little self-destructive losers. Hip hop, on the other hand, has made powerful millionaires out of genuinely bad and nasty people, is a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and has sold hundreds of millions of CDs.

Hip hop -- and this is the point I'm trying to make -- is based entirely on the word "nigger." Hip hop markets the word, concept and acting-out of the word "nigger" the way Victoria's Secret sells underwear. The fact that a few pathetic, sensitive guys like Lester Bangs and some never-to-be-even-mildly famous new wave groups were once so bad as to have uttered racist sentiments, is entirely steamrollered by the worldwide success of hip hop, which has done more to portray young African Americans men as shallow, dangerous, sex-crazed criminals than a stadium full of Ku Klux Klansmen could ever have done, even if they combined their tiny brains into a single large brain working for a hundred years.

To wring your hands over some guy in a record store on the Lower East Side saying "nigger," and ignore the gigantic insult that is hip hop, is to wear blinders. (And yes, I get the "joke" of gangster rap. It's the same joke that white people have been laughing at since the first minstrel show and it is pretty funny if you hate black people.) Compared to hip hip, punk is really innocent.
posted by Faze at 6:55 PM on December 17, 2007 [5 favorites]


I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Bangs never thought this particular essay was very important or even very good. It was included in Psychotic Reactions at the insistence of Greil Marcus, which is how it's become one of his best-known pieces of writing.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:58 PM on December 17, 2007


Now think about the most gigantic popular musical genre of our time: hip hop.

nope
posted by pyramid termite at 7:08 PM on December 17, 2007


hip hip's use of the word is much more complex, Faze.

First of all, hip hip also has a tradition of rejecting the word and calling on people to reject it, way before the NAACP did this year, and some for the reasons outlined by Bangs here, and more. Chuck D still lectures today that rap cannot remake the word.

But trying to remake the word is also part of a longer tradition to make parts of black culture un-co-optable by the white money-making machine by doing things that white people can't repeat without being labeled as bigots. (i think i remember reading that soul musicians would do the same by naming their records "fried chicken and watermelon", etc. These songs could not then be redone by white musicians or sold to white audiences.) Maybe this has failed, and people within hip-hop argue that it has, but there is a reason behind it.

And no matter how small, that punk scene was and is influential as punks and indie rockers carry their traditions into the future. so any step in such a self-critical direction taken early bears examination.
posted by eustatic at 7:18 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Faze, did you know that Snoop Dogg never hesitates to put a nigga on his back?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:19 PM on December 17, 2007


"What makes you think the racism in punk has anything special about it that separates it from the rest of the society?" asked another.

"Because the rest of society doesn't go around acting like racism is real hip and
cool," I answered heatedly.


What lots of people said above. Chooly awesome writing.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:37 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


a postmortem amen to brother bangs. NOW WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE EMAIL THIS ESSAY TO SARAH F*CKING SILVERMAN!!! I am sick and tired of her making her meth money off of some truly derivative infantile racism. I swear, if I ever see her in a dark alley...
posted by CHRISBKLYN at 7:40 PM on December 17, 2007


But trying to remake the word is also part of a longer tradition to make parts of black culture un-co-optable by the white money-making machine by doing things that white people can't repeat without being labeled as bigots.

Or maybe hip hoppers use the word because white people no longer call them "niggers", and the hip hoppers figure that if they don't call each "nigger," people will forget that they're just "niggers" and expect them to take responsibiity for themselves. Don't forget that the criminal hip hop establishment is as wealthy and ignorant as the Bush administration and its cronies, and just like any establishment, they have their pet intellectuals. These intellectuals are paid to backfill the ugly truth of how hip hoppers made their fortunes, with idealistic justifications like "trying to remake the word," and rewriting history by claiming that " hip hip also has a tradition of rejecting the word and calling on people to reject it." We all know what hip hop's traditions are -- grinding negative racial stereotypes into the world's consciousness, until not a man, woman or child on the planet has not seen a hateful image of African Americans.
posted by Faze at 7:45 PM on December 17, 2007


The first time I read this, I decided Lester Bangs was a fool, and a self-indulgent asshole, because I thought he was condemning punk rock per se as prima facie racist, and it led me to tar (note the color associations, now, please try to keep up) the whole Creem (read white) school of rock critics as self-indulgent assholes (possibly justifiable but certainly not on the basis of my fifteen-year-old consumption of said article) suffering under some sort of racialist delusion that led them to cast racist aspersions upon others.

After all, how ccould one possibly listen to X, "The Minutemen, Flesheaters, DOA, Big Boys and Black Flag" and get a racist political stance out of the music that these bands were making? For that matter, what about Minor Threat, Angry Samoans (!), Bad Brains (for Jah's sake), the Misfits, the Germs, The Cramps, and whoever else helped make Hardcore Summer 1986 so vital?

Never mind the more-or-less pale complexion and short hair (pace Glenn, Eerie, Bryan, Lux, HR & Co.); but do let's bend and ear to the beats again, shall we? It seems clear to me that a whole lot of territory was being traversed here and that race had a place in the running as a clear subtext. But from the perspective of the back porches and vans and halls of that summer, it seemed more like the end of race in America: the kids, united, will never be divided, until they go to college or vo-tech or the army or jail. It was the sweet vision of youth, scribing unconscious truths in unconsidered action.

The second time I read the piece (in the book, FWIW) I still thought there was an awful lot of projection going on from Bangs. But a few years had passed, and from my personal perspective a really important part of hardcore was trying to shake off not just last year's music, but all the music you'd ever heard that had a conferred aura, the authority of quality: the Beatles, Elvis, Dylan, Ike Turner, Mowtown, Rick James.

Un-mysteriously, there is a plurality of music created by black musicians which obtains this aura of quality. The consensus among rock writers - still true today - is that American music's vitality stems from the confluence of Africa with European traditions. Much has been written in Bangs' wake about the post-punk marginalization of Black American influences. I'd say he started the conversation, and I appreciate it. I still don't think he was right on the money here, but he got me thinking about this stuff and I haven't ever really stopped. He cast doubt into my certainty, and there is no greater service that one citizen of a democracy can do for another.
posted by mwhybark at 8:00 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Faze, I find your perspective pretty repulsive because it presupposes an inability in blacks to distinguish between high and low culture, and to willfully and even joyfully revel in low culture the way whites do all the time without criticism. There's a lot of people here like you, who feel that a black person driving around bumping gangster rap in his ride is complicit some kind of cultural genocide and that black people shouldn't be allowed to have fun and listen to whatever the fuck they want for shits and giggles. You know, just like I do when I crank up any number of different bands that I know suck, are dumb, but that I love anyway.

This was totally crystallized for me one day when I was cutting across Penn's campus on my way home from work and saw a crowd of black undergrad girls in their Penn sweatshirts singing a Lil John song amongst themselves and doing the pop, lock and drop like the booty girls do in the videos. I thought to myself, holy shit, someone find a guilt-ridden white liberal to brow beat these girls, quick, they should know better than have fun and engage in knowingly low behavior when they're black Ivy Leaguers who should look like they're in excrutiating pain 24/7 because they're required to carry the weight of their entire race on their shoulders wherever they go.
posted by The Straightener at 8:19 PM on December 17, 2007 [16 favorites]


"Imagine a time and place where anybody thought Teenage Jesus and the jerks were important."
That's easy, Faze. just read the previous post on Mefi, the '79 Bleecker st. record store of the mind.

I agree, however, that in order to maintain the street credible image of a "Baad Nigger" (historian Eugene Genovese's term for a swaggering, Stagger-Lee-type, African American at once threatening to Southern whites and appealing to lower-class whites) post-N.W.A. ('88) Gangsta rappers behave like "Bad Niggers" (Genovese's term for recalcitrant African Americans who are bad for blacks).

I also see much, but not all, of hip-hop as exaggerations of what I don't like about American culture: money-grubbing, violence, objectification of women. One can reduce the history of hip-hop to Public Enemy vs. N.W.A. where N.W.A. won. But that's a reduction, and Chuck D.'s still rapping.
posted by doncoyote at 8:33 PM on December 17, 2007


"...when you fail to realize that no matter how harmless your intentions are, there is no reason to think that any shit that comes out of your mouth is going to be understood or happily received. Took me a long time to find it out, but those words are lethal, man, and you shouldn't just go slinging them around for effect. This seems almost too simple and obvious to say, but maybe it's good to have something simple and obvious stated once in a while, especially in this citadel of journalistic overthink. If you're black or Jewish or Latin or gay those little vernacular epithets are bullets that riddle your guts and then fester and burn there, like torture-flak hailing on you wherever you go. "

This is my favourite piece of writing. It's especially great where it is in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, watching him grow from what he'd written before. If what Rangeboy says is true, and he never thought it was important or good - it would be a shame. If he had changed his mind since he wrote that piece, and he no longer believed it... I'd be fucking disappointed like I have been with just about every hero I've ever had. But I hope that isn't the case. For he was right here. Mostly. And it is heartening and gives me a little bit of faith in humanity to read it.

I don't understand how so many people can say They are just words, when so many of these same people love books, love writing, believe in the power of words, live in cultures built on the power of words, to communicate, to pass on knowledge, to influence and educate. "Bullets that riddle your guts and then fester and burn there, like torture-flak hailing on you wherever you go", is just about right.

But I don't understand why he had to backtrack over the liberal guilt thing. Though I confess I don't really understand what liberal guilt is. I especially don't understand why it is seen as pathetic, if what it is is like the story he told - guilt after unintentionally causing hurt to other people, or as he put it, "adding a dollop more pain in the world". That wasn't "that". Guilt is part of what make us think, consider, learn, change and grow. It (hopefully) comes from empathy and consideration for other people. That's what gives us any hope as humanity, no?

In this age of the backlash against "political correctness" - or maybe it started earlier, under different names and guises - it became fashionable to offend. Somewhere along the line, not caring too much about what people think and being genuine and standing up for what you believe in became not giving a fuck how people feel, fuck them if they're offended, and you know what, if they're offended I'm gonna offend them some more. I don't know how or why being offensive for offensive's sake became cool. Except that it makes the world that bit shittier. And now anything that's about consideration and fairness can be and is labelled PC - and then people's brains shut down. PC is bad, PC is bad.

In between that and irony, which can be used to explain pretty much anything nowadays, it seems to me as if much of the social progress that was made before is being reversed. Yes it's not really about the words, and we really want to change people's attitudes - but until we do, and we have a long, long way to go - making the words socially unacceptable is one way of going about it. Like the Richard Pinkston quote in the Lester Bangs piece, "I don't mind liberal guilt if it gets me in the restaurant, even if I know the guy still hates me in his mind." It's a start, and it at least makes the world a little easier for some people to live in. And ultimately, it does influence culture. Positively.

Yes, inevitably people take it too far. Some people don't understand the reasoning behind why certain words and views are unacceptable, and take it too far in their reaction. It's always difficult to know where the line should be drawn, having to be careful in balancing it with freedom of speech. But just because it is difficult does not mean the line shouldn't be drawn. It just takes discussion, consideration, thinking - aka "hand-wringing".
posted by Ira.metafilter at 8:47 PM on December 17, 2007 [8 favorites]


Rereading this, I realize I've understated my age. I was fifteen in 1981 and twenty in 1986. I did read the essay in early high school, probably in a 'zine that had photocopied the original publication.
posted by mwhybark at 9:19 PM on December 17, 2007


Bangs mentions getting some flack from folks in the NY scene before the article even came out. Does anyone know what the reactions were after it was published?
posted by ericthegardener at 9:21 PM on December 17, 2007


Or maybe hip hoppers use the word because white people no longer call them "niggers", and the hip hoppers figure that if they don't call each "nigger," people will forget that they're just "niggers" and expect them to take responsibiity for themselves.

Faze, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:22 PM on December 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


I swear, if I ever see her in a dark alley...

Hey! Creepy!
posted by StopMakingSense at 9:39 PM on December 17, 2007


Faze: Compared to hip hip, punk is really innocent.

What is the point of that comparison? Compared to [worse thing], [less bad thing] is nothing. So we shouldn't even say anything about [less bad thing] until we solve the [worse thing]?

To wring your hands over some guy in a record store on the Lower East Side saying "nigger," and ignore the gigantic insult that is hip hop, is to wear blinders.

Why is it that when someone tries to address a problem that you don't care about so much, you have to call it hand-wringing and "pathetic"? I don't remember reading anywhere Lester Bangs saying the hip hop culture is fine as it is, or better than punk. I don't see anyone saying that here. So what's your point?

I take it that by hip hop, you mean mainstream hip hop culture? Isn't it just money- and image-obsessed mainstream culture, amplified by the hopelessness, nihilism and violence from the lives many of the people come from? (no, I'm not saying it's fine - I want it to change too.)

(and the Ramones aren't really as important as we think they are)

What, you think in a couple of decades we would think of, oh I dunno, 50 Cent or whoever it is you're thinking of, the way we think of the Ramones? And, "punks pretended to be bad and nasty and as (as Bangs points out) were, in fact, gentle little self-destructive losers." Really? All punks? Is that not just a tad looking through rose-tinted glasses?

As to the word "nigger" - like eustatic said, it also has a tradition of rejecting the word and calling on people to reject it. I once watched a documentary with So Solid Crew rapper Ashley Walters (link here, synopsis here, newspaper article here), which gave me hope like this Lester Bangs piece. I watched him adamant that he should be able to use the word nigger whenever he wants, goes out to listen to people's views, thinks/wrings hands, finds out about its history, listens to some more people, wrings his hands some more, changes his mind. That's how change happens, no?
posted by Ira.metafilter at 9:47 PM on December 17, 2007


Faze, now you're just being bitter. I stand by the argument that you are incorrectly and boringly constructing hip hop as monolithic. I'm posting this because your argument sucks; you have a point but you're fouling it up.
posted by eustatic at 9:57 PM on December 17, 2007


Oh and Faze: for the many problems that hip hop has - like how it often portrays young black men, as you say - have you not also seen the positive effects of hip hop? The way it crosses "racial" boundaries, brings people together? Have you not heard people talk about how their lives are saved by hip-hop - just like they have been and are saved by all other kinds of music?
posted by Ira.metafilter at 10:02 PM on December 17, 2007


Eustatic,

Dude I'm sure your a fellow hip hop head and all but that YouTube clip you posted starts with verses from Will Smith. This would be like telling people to go listen to punk and then playing Blink 182 for them. Either way I liked the point of your link, the ubiiquity and variety of cultures and attitudes in hip-hop, I guess I'm just being a snob.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 11:25 PM on December 17, 2007


Have you not heard people talk about how their lives are saved by hip-hop?

Tee hee.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:43 PM on December 17, 2007


I read the whole thing. Some of you who have made positive comments about this, I really respect, based on your earlier comments and your posts and your blogs.

Yet I can't appreciate this piece at all. To me the writing is terrible, and the sentiment commonplace, and I'm too remote in time and geography and sympathy to try and put myself in the place of the writer and forgive him all the things I find wrong with this. Is this one of those "you had to be there" things?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:48 PM on December 17, 2007


To me the writing is terrible.

So it wan't just me.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:17 AM on December 18, 2007


I love you, Lester.

.
posted by Wolof at 3:25 AM on December 18, 2007


Bangs mentions getting some flack from folks in the NY scene before the article even came out. Does anyone know what the reactions were after it was published?

In the Bangs biography 'Let It Blurt', written by Jim DeRogatis, the article was considered "one of the most controversial pieces the '(Village) Voice' ever put out." However, the article was largely rejected by the CBGB scene Bangs was a part of at the time. Andy Shernoff and Miriam Linna, who were both referred to in 'WNS', called Bangs up and told him off ("I knew I wasn't a racist; I was just making a tasteless joke," Shernoff said years later.) Others, like Ivan Julian (who is black), said that "...it was almost as if he was trying to cleanse himself of guilt. He was trying to make a point, and the point just wasn't there." As 'WNS' came about at the same time as other writings that were alienating his closest friends (a negative Patti Smith review, the Blondie bio book), it was largely seen as another assault on the scene as a whole.

On a side note, around the same time this article was printed, 'Rolling Stone's History Of Rock And Roll' was published in 1977 with an essay on Jimi Hendrix referring to him as sixties music's "nigger dandy". The n-word was both meant as an approving term and a comment on Jimi's tenuous status as a black man in a mostly white rock scene. Not surprisingly, the 1992 revised edition of the book has a re-edited version of the essay with the n-word expunged.
posted by spoobnooble at 4:14 AM on December 18, 2007


Thanks, this is great.
posted by OmieWise at 6:36 AM on December 18, 2007


"He thinks he's being part of something by doing that joining a club that'll welcome him with open arms, trying to get accepted. It's not real. Maybe I'm naive, but I think that's what all racism is not really directed at the target but designed to impress some other moron."

I think this is a pretty accurate assessment of a very large percentage of racism in this country, if not elsewhere. Hell, it explains a lot of the homophobia and sexism too.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2007


i_am_joe's_spleen: To me the writing is terrible, and the sentiment commonplace...

I can't speak to writing-- I'm no expert. But I am very glad to know that there's some place where the sentiment that words and phrases like nigger, faggot, bitch, 'I'd hit it,' 'MILF,' et al are just evil and should never be used even ironically is common.
posted by koeselitz at 6:59 AM on December 18, 2007


joe's_spleen, there are scenes today where the issues Lester's discussing are being played out again. Encyclopaedia Dramatica's entry for "niggers" is one (and no, I'm not linking to that piece of garbage) and the Church of the Subgenius is (to a lesser extent) another.
posted by waraw at 7:27 AM on December 18, 2007


A few things struck me, while reading this:

1. Lester Bangs writes like a motherfucker, I really miss him.
2. As usual, Bangs was a decade or so ahead of his time. Although I was about 5-10 years too young to make the CBGBs scene, I remember the casual racism in the 1970s that most of my peers thoughtlessly parroted from their parents. It was pretty common in those days to hear all kinds of hateful shit from erstwhile liberal and educated people that should have known better. This started to change in the early to mid 80s, and I'm very glad that it has become such a rarity to hear such filth.
3. Is Faze's point that because the indie/punk scene was so underground and small, that whatever racism that was endemic to it didn't matter? Screw that.
4. Jim DeRogatis was a pretty good writer as well in his day, but Lester Bangs gave Patti Smith a negative review because she put out a shitty record. Bangs reviews's weren't personal, though the artists often took them that way.
posted by psmealey at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2007


koeselitz writes "But I am very glad to know that there's some place where the sentiment that words and phrases like nigger, faggot, bitch, 'I'd hit it,' 'MILF,' et al are just evil and should never be used even ironically is common."

Words are not evil. Language is a tool. The intent behind words can be bad. People are capable of great and terrible things, and they still will be even if they don't use those exact words.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2007


Someone should forward this to Vice.

And was Dead_ thinking of Faze when he said that Metafilter doesn't do rap?
posted by klangklangston at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2007


krinklyfig: Words are not evil. Language is a tool. The intent behind words can be bad. People are capable of great and terrible things, and they still will be even if they don't use those exact words.

I agree that words can't be simply evil. I meant that there are some words which are unqualifiedly evil, insofar as, no matter what the intent behind them, they are invariably hurtful. Words are a powerful part of our experience, and while I have suspicions that we couldn't end sexism or racism by not using certain words, I think it would change a lot.
posted by koeselitz at 8:41 AM on December 18, 2007


Maybe recent hip-hop culture has bought into a negative image and there's a bit of legitimacy to that accusation. The thing is, it's not at all relevant to this. Faze, you basically said "Hey, maybe these kids were racist, but it's immaterial because they weren't influential. Meanwhile, look at the influential black people bringing themselves down!" Yeah, and I'm sure there are Jewish artists creating a poor image of Jews, and that modern reggae is a parody of the politicized music of the 60s and 70s. But that's not the issue here. Lester wasn't trying to make a point about a group's image of its own culture, or about one particular type of racism, but of small attitudes and easy attention-grabbing.

Bangs's article isn't about a particular scene, but a particular attitude. It's about the ability of people to attach a negative fetish to a culture, to use a taboo to shock without thinking of the repercussions of using such a lazy technique to get a rise out of your friends and audience. I've heard it come from the mouths of friends and acquaintances, and while it's easy to make a separation between jokes and reality most of the time, indulging in that sort of behavior is going to be detrimental. Eventually the joke will be said that yeah, you have a black guy in your group of friends, but he's not like those other guys. He's one of you. And suddenly, even if it's still a joke, it's us-versus-them.
posted by mikeh at 9:08 AM on December 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I was never quite able to wrap my head around the idea that Black Flag's song "White Minority" was actually anti-racist.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2007


I was never quite able to wrap my head around the idea that Black Flag's song "White Minority" was actually anti-racist.

I always saw that tune as poking fun at white supremacists, it basically calls them insecure cowards ... I think. YMMV. It's at least easier to see the anti-racist sentiment in that one, than in MT's "Guilty of Being White" which is an embarrassing blot on an otherwise brilliant career.
posted by psmealey at 9:39 AM on December 18, 2007


Yeah, "embarrassing blot" is about the nicest way to put it. What's even more cringe-worthy is watching Ian MacKaye try & defend it in that "American Hardcore" documentary. Ugh.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:04 AM on December 18, 2007


As much as I agree with absolutely everything that Faze said, I still think that we should do our utmost to fight the racism that is endemic in the 1970's downtown music scene. It is terrible. Why I remember just the other day I was standing outside CBGB's in 1979 and two twenty-five-year-olds named David Byrne and Joey Ramone were out there doing minstrel songs. It was terrible!

We guilty white people that post here on Metafilter need to wring our hands much more about this shameful racist plague from thirty years ago before we pass judgment on the shocking and pervasive racism, sexism, glorification of violence, tacky materialism and utter absence of talent that is hip hop today. Today meaning now, not back when Bangs was alive.
posted by alexwoods at 12:29 PM on December 18, 2007


Agreed alexwoods. Every time I read Moby Dick I feel like we should be really much more concerned with how it is RIGHT NOW to live on a 19th century whaling ship. What an astute reader you are!
posted by OmieWise at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2007


Omie - good point! Just last week I convinced some friends to stop protesting sweatshop labor in China because what is happening right now to ordinary 19th century seamen in the whaling industry is so much worse. You totally got my point!

Anyway. Insofar as this attitude, which mikeh rightly points out is the enemy of the posted article, exists today, it's in rap, not indie or whatever arose out of punk.
posted by alexwoods at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2007


I can't count the number of sexist indie kids I've met on both hands and feet. The problem isn't just in hip-hop.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 PM on December 18, 2007


Hip hop Capitalism, on the other hand, has made powerful millionaires out of genuinely bad and nasty people, is a worldwide cultural phenomenon, and has sold hundreds of millions of CDs.

Hey! Ho! Let's go!
posted by ersatz at 6:20 PM on December 18, 2007


I am thankful for this link, because now I have something with which so say to idiots: "Lester Bangs thinks you're an asshole."
posted by waraw at 9:47 AM on December 31, 2007


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