product: music

After reading my recent post on how Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt survived World War II (hint: rank-and-file Nazis loved jazz!), Dmitriy T.M. sent me a link to a fascinating account of a German jazz band, called Charlie and His Orchestra, that was put together by Joseph Goebbels, a Nazi propaganda guy.

To recap, jazz music was labeled “Neggernmusik.”  Attributed (rightly) to blacks and Jews, it was considered pollution to German sensibilities.  Jazz lovers, jazz musicians, and swing dancers were all sent to concentration camps.

Nevertheless, Undercover Black Man describes how Goebbels saw potential in the music and, so, “weaponized” it to “screw with British and American minds.”

Charlie and His Orchestra recorded jazz standards, but changed the lyrics to “anti-British, anti-American, anti-Communist or antisemitic messages.”

The songs were broadcast via medium-wave and short-wave radio to Great Britain and North America. It was all about taunting and demoralizing the Allies… and trash-talking Winston Churchill and F.D.R. by name.

In this clip, the Orchestra, covering Goody Goody, is accompanied by WWII photographs. The propaganda starts at 1:04:

For more, check out the Charlie and His Orchestra versions of You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming, You’re Driving Me Crazy, and Makin’ Whoopee.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Orion submitted this gorgeous music video for the song, Tightrope, by Janelle Monae, featuring Big Boi. It’s a great example of how dancing doesn’t have to be sexualized or gendered by movement or attire. It’s just creative and interesting and mesmerizing!

On a completely different note: Any dance historians out there? To me this looks to be inspired by the adaptations of Charleston in Black America (Trankey Doo, Shim Sham, etc), like in this clip featuring Al Minns and Leon James (it’s filmed in 1961, but these dances emerged in the ’30s and ’40s):

I’d love to hear more about the evolution of this kind of movement.

UPDATE!  Thank you so much to our Reader, Anna, who is also a dance scholar and was able to give us some history in the comments thread:

Dance scholar here! I really enjoyed the dancing in the Janelle video. It should be read as an homage to rhythm dancing of African-descent from the 1920s through new Jack Swing (kidding, not sure there is a cut off date). The historical footage is in fact cited in Janelle’s video and as one poster pointed out, the dancing in her video is stylized as if it were being done on a tight rope… In my opinion (cause other scholars might see different things based on their training) her dance has some Camel Walkin’ mixed in with some dancehall hip articulation and a big dose of James brown, to be sure.

As for the claim that you cannot get from Al Minns and Leon James to 2010, that is shortsighted, very short! We get James and poppin and lockin and jazz itself from a peculiar mix of Bambara ethnic dances (modern-day Senegal, The Gambia, & Mali) and dance cultures of the people of the Kongo region (Angola, DRC, Congo among others) that intersected in New Orleans during the slaving period. You can also add in there “shipping music,” hybridized forms of music that emerged on slave ships with their transnational crews drawn from Europe, Africa, and the Mediterranean.

The hips and 6/8 syncopated shenanigans come to us from Kongo culture (but the Irish had some there, too). The Charleston, jitterbug and other high kicking dances come from the Senegal region and still reflected patterns from mandjiani in particular. Origins are always tricky, I try to avoid staking big claims based on them, but this conversation string was peculiar in that discussions of ethnic origin were not possible because race and gender were eliding the historical work done in Jenelle’s video. Yes I know the question was about gendered movement. And like a lot of the other folks, I am wondering while a male normative is held as neutral.

That said, from a dance perspective, the moves in Janelle’s video are without gender assignment, but there is an expectation that one’s gendered identity will be, must be expressed through the execution of the moves. That is the evolution of these forms which still have strong gender-based repertoire in Senegal. The Congo, people tend to do the same moves. The men MOVE their hips. It is de rigeur in pop as well as “traditional” dance music.

The last bit of the two guys dancing together was a comedy routine, a send up of a very famous dance riff from a couple in Harlem. I think that original “duet” appears in “Stormy Weather,” but I am not sure.

Thank you for putting up the two videos!

Thank YOU for your insight Anna!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Liz C. sent in the video for the song “A Kiss with a Fist (Is Better Than None)” by Florence and the Machine. She analyzes it nicely:

The lyrics seem to condone domestic violence, and the video seems to trivialize it, in the sense that the lead singer prances and jumps around while singing about getting punched in the face, having her leg broken, and having plates broken over her head by her partner, while she, in turn, hits and slaps him, breaks his jaw, and refers to “The Burning Bed” by setting fire to their bed.

The lyrics:

You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed

You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed

My black eye casts no shadow
Your red eye sees nothing
Your slap don’t stick
Your kicks don’t hit
So we remain the same
Love sticks
Sweat drips
Break the lock if it don’t fit

A kick to the teeth is good for some
A kiss with a fist is better then none

A kiss with a fist is better then none

I broke your jaw once before
I spilled your blood upon the floor
You broke my leg in return
So sit back and watch the bed burn
Love sticks
Sweat drips
Break the lock if it don’t fit

A kick to the teeth is good for some
A kiss with a fist is better then none

A kiss with a fist is better then none

You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed

You hit me once
I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap
You smashed a plate over my head
Then I set fire to our bed

UPDATE: Reader Kyle pointed out another example, Chester French’s video for the song “She Loves Everybody.” He asks whether we can imagine seeing this video if the gender roles were reversed:

And commenter Dave gave us a link to a recent discussion of this topic at Jezebel.
Also see our post on sexualized violence in Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” video.

Welcome Guest Poster Brady Potts, who just put together this post about online communities and collective mourning of Alex Chilton’s death. Brady is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Southern California who studies discourse in the public sphere. He is also the co-editor of The Civic Life of American Religion, and an inveterate music junkie.

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Flags are at half-mast today mourning the death of Alex Chilton, former Box Top, Big Star, producer of The Cramps and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, and truly eclectic solo artist. It got me thinking about the way people use the internet to collectively mourn the passing of public figures, and how online spaces have developed cultures of their own.

In the comments to a New York Times story about Chilton’s death, you’ll find a variety of comments ranging from brief RIPs to lengthy statements about what Chilton’s music has meant to them. Over at the Onion AV Club, which has a robust-yet-often-snarky commenting culture, you find lengthier, more thoughtful comments that are more like a dialogue between members of the site, as members trade stories, recommend songs to each other, and post links to Chilton’s work.  The comments also reveal a shared knowledge of “what kind of place this is and what kind of discussions we tend to have here,” as is the case with “PB,” who writes:

“Seriously, folks……the first person to make a snarky “Who?” comment gets a punch in the mouth.
Not just because this guy was a legend and your ignorance of him should be viewed with pity and disgust. But also because it’s obnoxious and ghoulish.Remember, just because you’re on the internet doesn’t meet you have to say something.”

“PB” acknowledges the speech norms of the site (“Who?” is a frequent, if contentious, comment regarding cult artists on the site) and, given the occasion, suggests that the usual sarcasm would be inappropriate.

On the other hand, if you click over to this Chilton tribute song by the Replacements and poke around the comments, you find mostly one or two lines of “RIP” and “You’ll be missed”. This is about par for the course with YouTube, whose commenters seem to favor mostly brief remarks (and, it should be said, often veer into speech that many would find wholly objectionable).

So are the differences in these patterns of commenting evidence of a shared collective identity (“AV Clubber”), as opposed to the more anonymous “anything goes” posting style of YouTube? I think that many observers would agree that it is, but looking at the different sites, there also appears to be a “group style,” what Nina Eliasoph and Paul Lichterman describe as “recurrent patterns of interaction that arise from a group’s shared assumptions about what constitutes good or adequate participation in the group setting.”* Some online spaces we implicitly understand as places for anonymous commentary (with all that entails) while others we recognize as places where one should comment in a certain way, regardless of the identity we may or may not share as visitors to the site. This would suggest that visitors to web sites draw on collective understandings of what it means to be a good commenter in certain kinds of online spaces and post accordingly.

In any case, discussions like these are a starting point for all manner of interesting conversations about how we negotiate interaction online, and for that matter, how we use spaces like these to collectively mourn the passing of public figures whose life’s work is deeply meaningful to many people. And to that end, here are a few of my favorite of Chilton’s tunes, so feel free to use the comments to commemorate his work, wonder what the big deal is, lament the fact that they’ve been missing from your life thus far, or otherwise muse on the uses of the internet.

* Nina Eliasoph & Paul Lichterman, 2003, “Culture in Interaction,” American Journal of Sociology 108(4):737.

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So there’s your late-night Alex Chilton memorial post and rumination on the creation and maintenance of online communal identities. For a somewhat different example, see Jay Smooth’s discussion of people mourning Michael Jackson’s death.

Judy Z. H. sent in Kanye’s video for Love Lockdown for analysis.  My first thought was: they should have just went with Qwest Crew. But I digress.

The video contrasts Kanye, singing in a nearly empty apartment, with tribal imagery.

Here’s my thoughts:  The song is about a man who loves a woman but knows intellectually that the relationship is wrong.  So he has to leave her, even as his heart breaks to do it.  So the song is about a conflict between his heart and his mind or, alternatively, passion and rationality.

The passion/rationality binary is often layered onto a primitive/modern binary.  Primitives, we presume, are superstitious, driven by passions, more instinctual than intellectual, more closely connected to animals and nature more generally.  Moderns, by contrast, are assumed to be rational, in control of our emotions; modernity has brought us science and technology and taken us farther away from nature.

Accordingly, the primitives in the video express strong emotions and are dressed in skins and feathers, decorated with the earth, while Kanye calmly sings about a heart-wrenching decision, surrounded by a clean, white, even sterile, apartment, and lounging in the kitchen (the most technological room in the house); the only item other than furniture that we see is a telescope.  A telescope!  How very modern.

The video works because Kanye’s audience recognizes the modern/primitive binary and all that it implies.  But, of course, it’s false.   Psychological research (and, as far as I can tell, all of the research on voting behavior) demonstrates again and again that rationality is not our strong point as a species.  If anything, what is modern is the inferring of rationality (hello rational choice theorists!), something that we see clearly in this video.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Rihanna’s first new single since getting beaten by boyfriend Chris Brown is titled “Russian Roulette.”  On the cover, she is wrapped in barbed wire with an eye patch that looks like a black eye:

russian_roulette

The lyrics include:

And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest
And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving
Know that I must pass this test
So just pull the trigger

And:

So many won’t get the chance to say goodbye
But it’s too late too pick up the value of my life

Given the many, many young girls that blamed Rihanna for her beating, releasing a song that posits that love is simply dangerous is really… disappointing.”

You can read a more thoughtful discussion about this by Anna North at Jezebel.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Jessica G. drew our attention to the promotional material of Panty Raid.  Panty Raid is two guys, Josh Mayer and Marty Folb, who produce dance music.  As you might guess from their name, their materials include a dismissal of women as fans and an endorsement of men’s entitlement to sexual access to women.  Their slogan for their album, Marine Parade, is: “Audio fondling your girlfriend.”

Capture

So, “you” are a straight guy.  And, like it or not, these guys are such hegemons that they are makin’ it with your girl, whether she likes it or not.

There is more of this typical misogyny at their website (you can google it), but it was the promo shot below that Jessica felt compelled to send in.

Picture1

This is a great illustration of what it looks like to embrace both white and male privilege.  We see the bottom half of a black woman sitting with her legs apart and her underwear at her ankles.  Were it not dark between her legs,  you could see her vulva.  Mayer and Folb, both white men, sit in front of her and look at the camera.  Their expression and posture suggest utter disinterest.

This is where I think the privilege is revealed, and embraced, loud and clear.  She is not a human being, she is a vagina and, even as a vagina, she is uninteresting.  She is nothing, really.  Like their sneakers, their trucker hats, and their hoodies, she is only a prop.  What does a sexually available black woman signify?  Urban cred?  Masculine domination of women?  High status in a hierarchy of men?  All of the above?  Congratulations dudes: racist and sexist message sent and received.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Our intern, Velanie, forwarded us a link to a clip from an Australian variety show called Hey Hey It’s Saturday.  In the clip a group called the Jackson Jive perform in blackface.  Steel yourself; maybe skip it if you’re not up to being reminded, again, of white racism against blacks.

Sometimes people wonder why black people are not more open or trusting of whites.  This is why.  Harry Connick Jr., bless his heart, did what he could to try to make it clear that the performance was not acceptable.   And, to be fair, the producers (?) gave him an opportunity to object more articulately.  Here is a part of what he said at the end of the clip:

I just wanted to say on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously but we have spent so much time trying to not make Black people look like buffoons that when we see something like that we take it really to heart… if I knew it was gonna be a part of the show I definitely wouldn’t have done it. So I thank you for the opportunity. I give it up cause Daryl said on the break you need to speak as an American. Not as a Black American or a White American but as an American I need to say that, so thank you for the opportunity.

I’m sure that many people appreciated that Connick stood up against blackface.  But he is the exception.  The host of the show didn’t apologize, he just pleaded ignorance and felt bad that Connick was offended.  The rest of the people, including the unrepetant performers, the judges, and (it appears) the majority of the audience, had absolutely no problem with the performance.  Further, the majority of Australians are defending the minstrelsy.  Mary Elizabeth Williams, at Salon, summarizes:

In a poll on PerthNow.com.au, 81 percent of respondents said the sketch was not racist, with other newspapers clocking in with similar percentages. Punch deputy editor Tory Maguire glumly asserted that “The 2.5 million Australians who were watching were looking for nostalgia, so a returning act like the Jackson Jive was always going to appeal to them.” It’s a sentiment echoed by the show’s host, Daryl Somers, who told reporters that Australian audiences “see the lightness of it.”

Dr. Anand Deva, who appeared as Michael in the sketch, told an Australian radio station this week, “This was really not intended … [to be] anything to do with racism at all…

Couriermail decides it’s a great opportunity for a cheeky pun:

sss

Williams continues:

What should be obvious to anyone who isn’t a complete moron is that a little something called the entire history of Western civilization — what with the slavery and the colonization and the genocide — disqualifies us from mocking people for their color as grounds for entertainment. It’s just that simple.

It is just that simple.  But so many white people still defend it.

This is why black people don’t trust white people.  Because they never know what kind of white person they’re dealing with and it’s not worth the risk because, a good portion of the time, they’re dealing with the host who is “sorry that you were offended” (as if the offense is your own personal defect) or the lady in the audience who is just really excited to be on TV.

Capture11

Via Shakesville and Womanist Musings.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.