My favorite post that I wrote for Kottke.org might be “Digging in the crates (or Why my generation is into history),” which used a Ta-Nehisi Coates riff on hip-hop’s omnivorous hunger for obscure/great old music as a kind of vernacular historical barometer.
But of course, crate-digging isn’t just a hip-hop thing; it’s also always been a huge part of indie rock culture. This is why every time I hear M.I.A. growl The Modern Lovers’ “Road runner, road runner” over hip-hop & Bollywood beats at the start of “Bamboo Banga,” or James Murphy shout “Gil! Scott! Heron!” at the climax of “Losing My Edge,” I feel like Sasha Frere-Jones had his head up his ass.
Then I think about Bob Dylan stealing old Woody Guthrie records from his friend’s houses in Minneapolis, and I think maybe my generation just isn’t so different:
I realized today that the entire Andrew Breitbart/Shirley Sherrod/Obama administration scandal, and arguably the entire Tea Party/conservative/media pundit civil-liberties and “reverse racism grievance industry” can be explained in this sketch about the heavy metal band Wicked Sceptor from the Mr Show with Bob and David episode “Show Me Your Weenis!”:
“Guys, you gotta see this tape. It’s a black official being TOTALLY racist in front of the NAACP!” A guy gets a tape from some random college student the Underground Young Republican Tape Railroad, dubbed so often it’s practically worthless, that doesn’t really show what it’s supposed to. But the guy — and I don’t know if this recipient is Andrew Breitbart, or if Breitbart’s the guy from the Underground Tape Railroad and cable news is the recipient — says “No shit?”, watches it anyway, and decides to cynically pass it off as what it’s claimed to be.
After all — you’ve already paid for the tape, what are you going to do, not show it to your friends? Even if it isn’t what it says it is, you can get some entertainment out of debating whether or not the tape really shows what it says it does. The elephants [get it?] aren’t really fucking, but who cares? You can have a “conversation on race,” one that’s exactly as serious and informed as the conversation college kids have sitting on a couch watching a viral video together.
Meanwhile, the guys in charge watch a little bit of the tape and freak out. Every blogger in the country is downloading this! Tour’s cancelled, career’s over.
Okay, now the metaphor shifts. Now the band, Wicked Sceptor, are actually the Bush-era conservatives who have suddenly turned around to see racism, erosion of civil liberties, economic disaster, failing wars, a man-made ecological disaster on the gulf coast, a bottomless budget deficit, and the spectre (scepter) of a totalitarian regime everywhere they look.
They’re watching two videotapes, one of the years when conservatives were in power, and all of those things were happening, and another of the lunatic, demagogue fringe that’s gradually defining the institutional and ideological center of the Republican party, engaging in all manner of incompetence, parodic levels of racism, making jokes about eating ribs and witch doctors and anchor babies and the NAACP and Obama secretly wanting black people to stay poor and stupid and they’re saying, what’s the big deal? It’s just a party tape.
|The Colbert Report||Mon — Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Then we say to the conservatives, “guys, I’m gonna take your tape out, and I want you to do me a favor and watch this OTHER tape of the Democrats being racists and fascists and acting hateful.” Meanwhile, we’re actually taking the same tape, putting it behind our backs, and putting it in the VCR.
And when they see it, they’re horrified. Outraged. Disgusted. They can’t believe what they’re seeing.
And we scream, “That’s you!!” And they laugh and dance around and sing, “alll-rii-iight!”
Then someone tries to be reasonable. Tries to break it down and explain the complexities and the nuances of the situation, and how we’re all, all of us, implicated in the horrible history of our country, its racism and wars and intolerance and political dysfunction and neglect of the sick and the poor and its energy addictions and terrible media culture and general short-sighted willingness, even eagerness, to murder the future to pay the interest on the present.
And they say, “Racist!”
Meanwhile, Shirley Sherrod says, fuck it. I’ll go to Fire Island.
Ta-Nehisi sums it up:
It’s always a marvel to me to watch this guy [Colbert] go in on somebody. As much as I love Stewart, Colbert is act is for the ages. He is channeling all of our simmering left-wing anger and refracting it through the mask. From a black perspective, it is very familiar–but I need to re-read Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray to tell you specifically why.
A few years back, he sliced up D’Nesh Dsouza so bad, that I don’t think he knew he was bleeding until a week later. And now, here he is according Laura Ingraham all the respect that she so richly deserves. That this woman can satirize Michelle Obama for eating ribs all day, and when wonder why anyone would think she was racist is vexing. I actually regret that–the anger, I mean. Frustration with these people, so often, feels useless. And then you see it turned into something like this, and you understand that rage has its purposes.
We had a few years, post-9/11. where it seemed like this sort of language disappeared–at least as it related to black people. Now we’re back to situation where the most publicized political movement of our time believes, that charges of racism have destroyed “whole cities,” that the NAACP is as bad as the Klan and is perpetrating “racial terror,” that white people should have the right to say nigger, that the amendment that granted African-Americans citizenship should be repealed, and that “white America” needs to “see black people condemning the NAACP.”
It’s worth remembering that this is the Tea Party’s reply to charges of racist elements in their ranks. It feels like something out of 1986.
And then you have to read the final thought.