Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TNR: 'The 21 Greatest Conservative Rap Songs'

Conservative pundits seem especially fond of a type of filler article: the list of works in some form of entertainment that argues for a Republican bedrock that is the foundation of our art. Forget a story of marginalized immigrants creating a mirror government to protect them when they're shut out of the real one, The Godfather is actually about family values. Look, they all eat dinner together! And it's always positive. Except with Turk!

None of this is necessary. In music, while country and southern rock are hardly homogenous, they teem with red-blooded red-state fare. In TV and film, while "issue" episodes/movies might trend toward the liberal, it takes little effort to find a procedural or thriller with police abuses of searches and good cops who just want to hug kids who sleep with an under-pillow holster, dreaming with exquisite trigger discipline. In traditional art, Thomas Kinkade is not just a painter but a painter of light. Conservative work abounds; if you have to go looking for it, you're probably reading your own beliefs into what you encountered.

Such is the case with the American Enterprise Institute—home of countless slam-dunks on the Iraq War—and Stan Veuger's list of the "21 Greatest Conservative Rap Songs." His piece is a weightless exercise, devoid of context, expropriating meaning to serve his cause when he's not simply making things up. While he surely wants to provide a short list of handy GOP talking points so that vampires in Brooks Brothers and blonde haircuts can seem "rap-positive," he also implies that he has the right to define a demographic in the absence of that demographic's will. It's disgusting.

Because I don't know half as much about rap as some of my friends, I enlisted my buddy Jay Friedman, a/k/a Satellite High, to help break down everything wrong with (at the time of writing) Veuger's first nine entries. (You may remember Jay from his awesome diss track on the Birther rap group "Wolverines.") Together, we worked up a good guide to how thoroughly wrong the list is.

Continue to The New Republic...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Let's Talk About Angelina Jolie's Breasts

Early this morning, the New York Times published an op-ed from actress Angelina Jolie in which she announced that she had undergone a double mastectomy, the surgical removal of both breasts. Those people who might joke that Jolie is best known to male moviegoers of the Internet generation for her breasts have a good point, and they get right to why her op-ed offers a welcome gesture.

Even as we mature as a society and try to de-stigmatize mastectomy, it is still often—at least tacitly—seen as the unwomaning of woman, a defacement of our vision of womanhood, somehow more unavoidably profound than hysterectomy. If we still, in some retrograde and shorthand way, define women by shape, then that "object" necessarily becomes something else when it is "misshapen." Mastectomy has always been the ontological death of women in a shallow culture. Seeing someone who has been a celebrity of that same shallow culture attempt to reject that objectionable definition is a step in the right direction.

People still won't get it. When it comes to woman and femininity, there is so much so many people want to not get. Even in the short 60 minutes following its publication, Twitter commentary found several things wanting with Jolie's op-ed, most of them misguided. Let's look at them.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Twitter Theft (And How HuffPo and BuzzFeed Steal)

For the vast majority of users, Twitter is not important. I understand that. In the same way that I find scrapbooking a life-draining expense of time and creative effort, I can understand someone looking at my Twitter feed as 30,000+ depressing examples of life pissed into a void.

But, just as scrapbooking gives a mode of expression to its fans, we have to acknowledge that Twitter provides a unique medium for creative discourse that people would otherwise not find. There are Twitter clichés, subcultures and superstars, and as absurd as it seems even within them, they all have value for people. Which is why, as in any other circumstance in which we establish value, theft is shitty.

Last week, someone created a Tumblr called Borrowing Sam, a clearinghouse of screenshots for plagiarized tweets made by a Twitter user named "@Prodigalsam" Sammy Rhodes, a campus minister at the University of South Carolina. Go. Read it. It's damning, and it's sad.

Prodigalsam defended himself in a Tumblr post in two ways. We'll get to the second later, but for now he wrote:
Part of what I think has happened in terms of the tweet theft accusations is that for years now I’ve been doing tweets that are pretty clearly inspired by the tweets of my twitter heros.
It would be a heartening explanation if it weren't thoroughly unacceptable. Inspiration is not editing or reframing. (It would be more heartening if this didn't happen instantly after the apology.) When one is inspired by an artist, one tries to create something new in his or her style. Simply rewriting what that artist already said is plagiarism with minimal effort.

Friday, May 3, 2013

TNR: A Gay Athlete In The World's Most Macho Sport

When I wrote my final "America's Screaming Conscience" column for Gawker, I remember sitting at the keyboard, panicked about how much my world would be upended by simply changing my name. I knew some readers would instantly hate me, while others would resent having assumptions about me so radically altered.

In a frankly very lucky, if not privileged, sense, it was like "coming out" on an extreme micro level. That term just became the shorthand metonym in work emails about what I was writing—"the coming-out piece," "your coming-out piece," etc.—and I wound up using it myself. All the same, it still made me itch. This was all voluntary. Nothing I'd done was hardwired or determined by any biological imperative. I chose to admit to choosing to doing stupid things, and my five years of obfuscating my identity inhibited a little behavior online and virtually none in real life.

Part of my circumspection came from, just months earlier, standing in a locker room with a short man who'd just told the world he was gay before agreeing to a physical confrontation where someone could legitimately beat him, if not do death, then at least to crippling brain damage. No amount of my social or career discomfort—especially from the ether—could compare to his not only living some place where people like him were still beaten to death by other citizens but also going to work at a job where his very selfness could be motivation for someone to legally cripple him. I felt instantly both in awe of and impotently protective of that man. His name is Orlando Cruz, and last October he became the first active, out, male boxer.

I thought about Cruz this week when reading Jason Collins' moving coming out piece in Sports Illustrated, and I thought other people might enjoy reading about him. I was lucky to be asked by The New Republic to go cover Cruz's first fight after he came out, and unfortunately I wasn't able to share it with readers at the time because I had not.

Click the pic above to go to the New Republic article.