Clipse Studies 102: No Malice is good

It is worth noting the 2009 Clipse album “Til the casket Drops” as a marker of a few key moments in hip hop. 

–> excessive consumerism refined. 

–> objectifying sexism as inevitable hip hop video “wallpaper”. 

–> Pharrell’s production genius. 

–> the last time No Malice rhymed as Malice. 

Despite buying the CD in the store, I didn’t know there was a video for this song until today.  In retrospect No Malice seems to be showing his discomfort with the lifestyle embodied in the video.  “Mama lookin’ right, and I don’t even want her.” 

Entitled masculinity as means of riding the fence. 

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Filed under hip hop, music, representation, sexism

Americans are vampires: Ebola edition

I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment.  CNN describes the situation:

Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

1.   Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa.  More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying.  None of these people got a last-minute salvation.

2.  Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola.  It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about.  The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.

3.  I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

4.  The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation.  Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment.   So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment?  CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:

As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

5.  You might call these Americans vampires.  Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about.  But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.

I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.

Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.

Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

6.  Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?

I would respond that the harm is done.  Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.

Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works.  I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.

I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.

It is always worth thinking about how we do things.   Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions.   And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:

There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

7.  I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives.  Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.

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Filed under Animals, capitalism, colonialism, communication, disaster, drugs, health, media, race, representation, rhetoric, technology

Juxtaposition: Weird Al and strategic use of the interwebs

Robinson Meyer notes some of the interesting ways Weird Al uses the interwebs to promote his work.  Writing in The Atlantic, Meyer observes:

No wonder, then, that this week Al has mimicked the tactics of the preeminent Knowles. From last Monday to this upcoming one, he released a new music video every day, eight videos in total. There are few songs on his new album that will lack a video, meaning that, in medium and marketing, he’s pulling a sort of time-extended Yoncé.

But not all eight videos are going straight to YouTube. Weird Al is spreading that goodness around.

His parody of Pharrell’s “Happy” is hosted by Nerdist, a sprawling online entertainment empire that achieved fame through its eponymous podcast but which now encompasses a news website, a network of audio and video shows, and a television program on BBC America. Al’s Lorde spoof, meanwhile, went to competing digital content factory, CollegeHumor. It did go to YouTube, but is marked “Exclusive” and a “CollegeHumor ORIGINAL.” A “Blurred Lines” send-up sits on Yancovic’s Vevo page.

via The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

I also liked the reflection about Weird Al’s mockery driven art.  Since the idea of juxtaposition comes up so much on Life of Refinement, it seems worthwhile to think about Weird Al laying a mocking interpretation on top of something already widely marketed.  Adbusters-style mock advertisements do the same thing.  Borrowing the millions of dollars of advertising money that preceded to simultaneously undercut the original message and build a counter-brand.

The situationists would call this détournement — to turn something against itself.  A media concept articulated by Debord, but well understood by any Weird Al fan.  Here Meyer describes this process as “disruptive innovation:”

The phenomenon Weird Al describes here is actually well described by a genre of scholarly literature—by business scholarship, of all things. It’s disruptive innovation, the buzzword so buzzwordy that the New Yorker devoted a thinkpiece to it in print!. Disruptive innovation describes what happens when new products create a new market for that type of product, which winds up challenging the existing one.

via The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

I also appreciate the documentation of the Lady Gaga incident.  Yankovic created a parody of a Gaga song and when he checked in with her to get her blessing to release the tune on an upcoming album Gaga’s people refused.  Weird Al released the song on youtube with an explanation and Gaga quickly relented.

It’s worth noting something more about the substance of Weird Al’s mockery.

Not only is “Tacky” a review of a number of bad fashion moves, it is also a conservative morality rant.  This tune marks as “tacky” oversharing on instagram, forcing others to pay, reminding people you’ve done them favors, insulting people, dropping names, leaving bad yelp reviews, and having no shame.

At points Weird Al references particular low-points of recent toxic internet culture such as: “I’m a live-tweet a funeral and take selfies with the deceased.” This could be a Fox “news” commentary.

I happen to agree with Weird Al on most of these morality points.  But given that Pharrell’s “Happy” is a sort of liberation utopian expression of pop-oneness, the grounded grumpy juxtaposed retort is interesting.  [Let's note that the use of the Odd Future crew in "Happy" is a juxtaposition in itself.]

If you add in the English-teacher favorite “Word Crimes” you can start to map a particular perspective to Weird Al.

I get the sense that Al is frustrated with some of the changes in this new-fangled world.  His juxtaposition is intended to bring down and anchor some of the worst behaviors of the current era.

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Filed under academics, fashion, humor, juxtaposition, media, representation, rhetoric

Animals captive in zoos drugged

Grotesque and cruel.  To enslave an animal in a zoo for viewers to consume for pleasure.   To ensure that the captive animals represent the happy animal fiction they are drugged.

After their experiences at the zoo in Boston, Murphy and Mufson were curious about the use of psychopharmaceuticals in other captive gorillas, so they surveyed all U.S. and Canadian zoos with gorillas in their collections. Nearly half of the 31 institutions that responded had given psychopharmaceutical drugs to their gorillas. The most frequently prescribed were Haldol haloperidol and Valium diazepam, though Klonopin, Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax, Buspar, Prozac, Ativan, Versed, and Mellaril had all been tried.

via Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac | Opinion | WIRED.

Thanks to Dan Weiss’s daily coffee from the Rumpus for the link.

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Filed under Animals, drugs, nature, representation

RIP Paul Horn

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Filed under documentary, memorial, music

Birdman, consumption and representation

I launch the new video by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan and the first image is . . . Birdman?

A month a go, Birdman splashed out in an effort to sign Young Thug.  While you are being courted by Birdman and Young Money why not shoot a video with a few of the symbols of conspicuous consumption?

Birdman, Birdman Birdman.  It is astounding how much space he takes up in this video.  Father figure, founder of the feast, center of the party, exceptionally wealthy and entitled.  The symbols are all there.  Lighting up a cigar in the middle of a boutique sneaker store, bored yacht face, neck yoke of control over attractive women, mansion hallway vignette with Young Money/Cash Money plaques, comforting stacks of cash to sooth weary fingers . . .

(What would it cost to create this video out of rented artifice?  Not actually that much real money . . . rent a mansion, boat, cars, shoot the plane scene with a landed dummy plane . . . )

Birdman doesn’t rhyme in the video — he just stars in it.  (He does give the exiting dialogue — a shout out to his deceased mother Miss Gladys).  I guess Birdman is the price you pay for entry into Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s video.

I appreciate that this opening verse gives Thug a chance to rhyme what to him is a kind of normal accelerated pace.  His lyrics are distorted by his own voice and he plays with the sounds in a pretty creative way.  I don’t know why I like the natural caterwauling squawks that emit from Young Thug more than the digital ones, but I do.

Quan always has a quality flow, and I like his subtly shifting styles through this verse.  His deep voice growling does good riding the bass line. It seems like his references and similes could step up a notch . . . but he certainly sounds good.

What to make of the brief scene where Young Thug gives a stack of money to an old woman?   Young thug is arguing in the song that he does all this to bring money home to his family — a little consciousness break in a snowstorm of sexism and consumption.  Hold on, Quan suggests that his motivation is his mom and dad.  And Birdman concludes the video with a sponsored vodka shout out and tribute to his deceased mom.

One of the early critical arguments about hip hop was that the representations of hip hop quickly became images constituted by the artists in order to sell an image to an audience.  That hip hop involved performers going to work and creating something intended to meet an audiences expectations (usually male and privileged).  One way to read hip hop was to imagine what kind of audience might enjoy and buy this kind of performance.  (I’ll note the writings of Eric Watts, Tricia Rose and Robin D. G. Kelley have mostly influenced my perspective on this subject).

To a degree this crass consumerism vs. I’m-just-doing-this-to-feed-my-family debate is played out in the video.  I would say that the dominant visual narrative of consumption clashes with any other message.    In some ways the class consciousness (dropping off a couple of stacks for mom) is part of the representation of excessive wealth.  (Gza: “Who promised his mom a mansion with mad rooms /She died, he still put a hundred grand in her tomb” Gold).

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Filed under capitalism, class, communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric

Janelle Monae & 500th post

This is the 500th post on life of refinement.  I’m proud of the non-linear series of artifacts gathered here that point toward new understandings.  I use this web site to archive interesting things.  Meaningful things.  This is a curation of the rambling series of artifacts and patterns of representation I find significant enough to be marked and analyzed in a free open public space.  This is as close to learning as we’ll ever get.

Thanks to all who read the website.

***

 

I knew of Janelle Monae and appreciated her music but only had singles in my library.  Inspired by a Wax Poetics write up, I bought a copy of “The Electric Lady” last night.  With two full listens into the album (barely enough to comprehend what is going on) I’m sold.

This project is wonderful dance music and a really good concept album (or an extension of a concept album to multiple projects — Monae plays an alter ego pretty consistently).   The record is an extended riff on technology, cyborg/human interactions, civil rights and living life with dual identities.  Given that “The Electric Lady” could be a Phillip K. Dick novel, the smooth inviting production and musicianship is what carries the project.

This albums sounds VERY eighties to me.  From the sonic structure and choices of beats/samples to the rock opera lyricism of the concepts.  At points I was reminded of my nostalgic childhood filled with Styx, Heart, Bon Jovi and Run DMC.    The strings sound eighties.  The drums sound eighties.  Even the vocal harmonies remind me of eighties hits.   But the eighties were a point of technological jump off and the slight broadening of pop music.

I like the futuristic world that Monae is painting.  And the willingness to build futuristic pop music out of the sonic blocks of the past.  Astute Monae names tracks after inspiring pioneers: “Sally Ride” (astronaut) and “Dorothy Dandridge Eye’s” (first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award).

In the context of the blog, I’ll quote the end of the “Dance Apocalyptic” when Janelle Monae says: “I really really want to thank you for dancing to the end.”   Thanks for reading and dancing ’til the end.

 

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Filed under art, communication, funk & soul, hip hop, human rights, music, representation, resistance, rock and roll, technology