Teleprompter Tunes, Accidental Racists

by Timothy R. Sunday
File under: Fake Culture08 Apr 2013 17:28 EDT

We may have come to expect canned statements of multicultural solidarity from our 21st century politicians, but in the past popular music was a relatively unregulated arena in which cultural styles could organically blend toward something essentially human, race notwithstanding. Think of all the ways in which black musical traditions, for instance, have challenged and disrupted the starched Calvinist ethic of the white mainstream. And all without any multicultural engineering! Men like Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and James Brown did it all on their own, without any affirmative action, because their music was genuinely provocative and meaningful to all audiences.

Today, that deeply felt black tradition that brought America some of its richest musical traditions has been reduced to something akin to a corporate PowerPoint presentation, stripped of any feeling and listed in a series of programmatic statements all aimed at achieving some fake sense of community and understanding. Recently, the major media moguls have taken to promoting awful patchwork songs that read like they were written by a PR specialist and not a poet. Check out this recent 'collaboration' by country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J called "Accidental Racist":

Clearly, this isn't a song in a real sense of the word, especially not any kind of creative synthesis of different cultural genres. There is no mixing of the rap and country traditions in any new or provocative way, just a gray melting away into something we may call 'pop'. The lyrics are, of course, similarly artificial. Here are a few of the major duds:

To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south

What? If not for the obvious labeling, how are we even supposed to know that it's a black man that works at the Starbucks? Is this some kind of novel stereotype that whoever ghost-wrote this is just making up? And are black southerners actually offended by the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia? No, not really. It's an image spectacle that's easy for the media to hype, but recently a black student even fought for the right to hang up the flag in his dorm room. 

Our generation didn't start this nation
And we're still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Is this a musical performance or a press release? Is this supposed to be the Gone with the Wind for the 21st century? There is very much to feel and say on this subject, but this like a SparkNotes summary of the politically correct position on the southern experience, not any feeling derived from actual experience. Next it's LL Cool J's turn to read the teleprompter:

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood

So let's see here. There isn't any sense of true communication between the races. LL Cool J laments that he's just seen as a stereotype, and he's really misunderstood. How does he choose to express this? By stereotyping black culture as gangsta culture, of course. We're working toward greater depth here, supposedly, but only insofar as we can both rigidify ourselves further into our stereotypes. This all works up to our grand finale, where Paisley and LL Cool J engage in some really challenging conversation:

Oh, Dixieland
(The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin')
I hope you understand what this is all about
(Quite frankly I'm a black Yankee but I've been thinkin' about this lately)
I'm a son of the new south
(The past is the past, you feel me)
And I just want to make things right
(Let bygones be bygones)
Where all that's left is southern pride
(RIP Robert E. Lee but I've gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)
It's real, it's real
It's truth

Appropriately, the music throughout this final stanza and lyric at "Oh Dixieland" is totally copied from Paisley's earlier work "Southern Comfort Zone", showing you just how ground-breaking this work really is. At the end of this extremely stilted exchange, we get the desperate reminder that this is supposed to be real, an obvious sign of the most contrived feeling. Just forget the fact that there was nothing emotionally challenging in the toothless multicultural feel-good narrative that preceded. We're saying it was real, so that's that. This is truly the artist as failed public relations propagandist. 

Prior to the neurotic need to socially engineer multiculturalism, different ethnic traditions organically mixed and produced lasting real art in genres like rock 'n' roll. This song, by contrast, is the like the total ghettoization of music — whites have their neo-country pop genre, blacks have rap, and we'll try to mash them together to pretend we're getting along as a unified culture. But the music doesn't lie. This is not a unified work, just a kind of failed photo-op in song. 

And, of course, everything that is supposed to be ground-breaking in Fakenation has already been done before, and far better. Check out Sly & The Family Stone's song addressing prospects for racial harmony, unspeakably offensive by contemporary standards, but undeniably better music:

Yes, controversial music might actually offend people! This is totally lost on the people producing music like "Accidental Racist". Now the Fakenation wants to have its controversy in pre-packaged little feel good sound bites, not authentically radial music. We'd do much better to follow this advice from the legend Sly Stone himself: "Don't hate the black; don't hate the white. If you get bitten, just hate the bite."

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Anonymous says:08 Apr 2013 20:28 EDT
But I don't know. Even if they're cynically trying to promote further integration, they're still trying to promote further integration. Can't blame them for that.
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