i appreciate a sentiment i’ve seen here and there around the net, even if it’s not as fully explored as i would like, that on a larger scale music industry puppets influence their fans more than politicians or pundits do. and with the very obviously controlled scene of the 21st century, this seems to be the case in an even stronger sense than in decades past. of course this has always been a reality as long as record labels and their owners have been determining what the airwaves deliver so it’s not just a matter of old people complaining. in any case it’s perfectly logical that we should be able to make judgments about developments that signal shifts in societal understanding. to imagine that popularized music is just that with purely static meaning in relation to other phenomena and that simply changes as people do from generation to generation is an absurd position to take.
for instance, people who are old enough to have known Bob Dylan’s music in their and his younger years may claim him as someone more authentic. and i do not dispute that he had dissenting views from his days of playing in bars and other small venues as he moved into the music industry. to be sure his song writing appealed to the politics of those opposing war and imperialism, and the manipulation of how those movements developed particularly in the direction of controlled opposition as best as the alphabet soup agencies could muster was in the background regardless of individual motivations. as i’ve grown older even, having cut my teeth on my parents’ old vinyls of his, i’ve come to see much of it as a form of nostalgia for the “the times”, the slickly marketed party that we are to believe made up the 60s, as an end unto itself. his folksy tunes expressed angst, perhaps a glamorization of living life down and dirty for the petty bourg set a la Jack Kerouac projected in the right directions in spite of his more humble beginnings, and according to a certain critic and biographer close to Dylan, he felt manipulated by the movements he was part of after providing material that was useful to their overall momentum in the public purview.
after confronting censorship by Clive Davis and the producers of The Ed Sullivan Show for the song and performance of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” and general disillusionment following involvement with civil rights and protest movements, his fan base witnessed, by titular mandate, Another Side of Bob Dylan that marked a change in his career toward more pop culture friendly, lighter subject matter. how forced was this production of another side? i have not come across more evidentiary based research of such entourage arrangement, so that question remains speculative as far as i can tell. however i do not think this is purely far-fetched as such revolving doors that allowed in more sinister elements in Elvis Presley’s orbit and the planting of drugs on Jimi Hendrix followed by his suspicious death are just a couple of examples of the larger seedy workings of the music industry. surely the evidence that undeniably proves the careful work carried out by various agencies based on converging interests demonstrates their broad influence as this research has become more abundant in recent years.
at least when Dylan and Hendrix were coming up in the public spotlight, individual artists’ musical talent played a more prominent role. as Dave McGowan has noted, he may not be able to listen to many of his favorite artists in the same way after understanding who and what they may or may not have been connected to, but the musical talent and skill was there nonetheless and he is able to appreciate that. how could the industry craft a product, after all, if it wasn’t for the originals they commodified? and both of these artists along with many others came from a period in time when political positions were at least still acknowledged as such by the public, and the culture creators (when using this term i mean CIA and affiliated intel) knew this very well. so what we see now in 21st century entertainment complex theatre is the selling of choices in the guise of political positions. the underlying reality is however that westerners have been beaten down to a degree that they accept what their masters pound into their heads repeatedly, that political positions are not for them to have, and this is expressed in how people come to the defense of their consumption habits. Walter Benjamin sums this up here succinctly:
The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.
one of the ways in which culture creation is in overdrive is its exploitation of “identity politics”. it’s quite frustrating to watch in real time, as one can do on twitter. right now, literally only some days making a mere couple of weeks after Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement — the days are long now aren’t they? with so many operations working by the hour — a Rachel Dolezal, one Spokane NAACP leader who i’m sure most did not realize existed until just hours ago as i’m typing this, has been “outed” as white, a woman who has “passed for black” putting herself at the center of attention in black struggle throughout her adult life it seems. so great, we have more chaos now, more thinkpieces to churn out, more co-optation of transgender politics with “identity politics” itself to blame, apparently.
it’s hard to look away from something that you have invested a lot of time in understanding and politicizing to see it turned on yourself and those whose genuine politics it can serve. the maligning of what is known as identity politics has its biggest cheerleaders on the right side historically which should go without saying, but the liberals who’ve not based identitarian politics within materialist analysis play to the other side of this which has allowed for endless white marxboy wankfests over the threat of identity politics. it’s funny how those thinkpieces that spread like wildfire a couple of years ago first set out to attack their proponents — their under recognized, marginalized, and oppressed proponents of such conversations — before any real work went into structural or institutional critique and backwardly presumed that the people who have been merely expressing their views online, like anyone else should have a right to do not, actually, have a large amount of sway over.
these are literally the people who are forced to live with their parents and who should be paid attention to. there is nothing that the capitalist system has in store for them, and there is even less nothing that they see day by day. they understand their positions more clearly than all these spoiled white men with audiences, but somehow they are going to ruin radical politics themselves. they are going to usher in fascism, because of their hoity toity identity politics, thinking their lives have value and that they have a right to sovereignty, some mess like that! in reality, these marxist pretenders have played right into making the op-a-day, minute by minute divide and conquer strategies what they are in part, at least, helping the masters more than they could ever seem to know. but perhaps that is the point.
clearly the massive surveillance of everything done online and the nudging carried out by the culture creators to foment dissension has zeroed in on the identitarian dynamics within the leftish internet sphere. all of these different ops are meant to stymie anything more radical that could result of people speaking to the struggles of their lives. the lack of any institutional left ideology means that celebrities who are thought to represent minority populations in the west are given as a consumption choice, and the subsequent defenses to those supposedly knocking down their character or talent — which, don’t get me wrong, many of these “critiques” are nothing less than racist rant against black entertainers coming to prominence in social networking — are given political meaning. the avatars of the ruling classes through which they express their ambition for total domination of discourse are meant to serve as strategic icons. (nb: the quoted excerpt is from a post that was written a month prior to Jenner’s public coming out.)
The panoply of ideas that icon-worship brings has become our essential jargon: the “teachable moment,” the “national conversation,” the importance of “awareness.” These goods are the intangible benefits celebrities can give us, just as healing radiates from the icon’s frame. The politics are magical and royalist. The “awareness” is entirely about the celebrities themselves, not of material facts that lie beyond their lives. Jenner took pains to emphasize in his interview, “I am not a spokesman for the community.” And he went on to list a lot of issues the community confronts: discrimination, health care, murder. But what sticks in the memory are the “simple goals” the cameras coaxed out of him: “To have my nail polish on long enough that it actually chips off.”
this is worth emphasizing to understand the shallowness of the conversations around my main focus in this post, the product who is Nicki Minaj: “The ‘awareness’ is entirely about the celebrities themselves, not of material facts that lie beyond their lives.” indeed defenses of Minaj’s sexualization that is on full display in her videos focus on her as an individual without consideration given to the massive production behind them and how she even developed into the icon she is today.
liberals who claim intersectional politics were very adamant about declaring the “Anaconda” video as a feminist flashpoint, an event unto itself: among the many thinkpieces, Jezebel directed conversation toward black women’s sexualization in totality, as if the last 30 years of videos featuring black women in a similar way were just blips before this moment, and “Carmen” at Autostraddle (!!) discussed Minaj’s reversal of the male gaze in her “sex positive” romp as a refusal of respectability politics. both of these conversations at least do not stray from the dreamworld that has been created around the representative icon.
various spokespeople on twitter lauded Minaj for only including one male at the end, Drake, who was given a tease show by Minaj, after she prostrated herself to him, crawling on the floor, after having a slap and tickle fest with her female companions throughout most of the video. but the strength Minaj is imagined to have flexed was blowing him off, after she chopped up and tossed aside the ever so symbolic bananas. quite a mixed message we’re supposed to take in according to the funfem analyses considering one of the first shots of fruit, an oozing coconut, and Minaj spraying herself with whipped cream dressed as a cutesy maid in the kitchen. the gaze is not reversed so well when domination by women is still a male fantasy, contained to secreted away places in a world that privileges them over women — unless they are women in the core, and unless they are men “ripe” for extermination in the global south according to the masters — and a theme that comes up again in the second video release of “Only”, where Minaj plays the dominatrix part surrounded by bound and tortured subjects that surely plays a contextual role to its first video release, which will i will certainly give more attention to as this post progresses.
i do not think my brief examination of “Anaconda” is racist or a call for Minaj herself to fall in line with respectability politics, and i think most reasonable people not swayed by its liberal spectacle can see this very clearly. the jungle Minaj and the dancers are introduced in is racist suggestion over a reclamation that moreover reiterates what black women’s sexuality is thought to be under white supremacy — savage and uncontrollable, lending more to their un-rapeable status that still permeates popular culture. Minaj’s gaze meets the masturbatory gaze of the viewer that appears to be more geared toward men with the ejaculation imagery that has been a mainstay in the male-dominated pornography industry. not so surprisingly, the production team is led by a white male director over mostly other men, save for one white woman. Minaj is never in on the escapades on her own, and even if she has individually exerted some influence over the production, what the audience is supposed to extricate as liberating is insulting at the very least.
Minaj can be generous with attention to her fans. her twitter media feed features many pictures she has taken with fans during her tours. her politicization based purely on appearances is fiercely defended against anyone bringing up anything counter to supposedly feminist narratives, naming them as racist or not spending enough time critiquing white female artists. when asked about Eric Garner’s death, she gave an initial response one might expect of a narcissistic celebrity, but nothing that i would view as challenging from someone committed to some sort of feminist beliefs:
Speaking to Rolling Stone, the rapper, whose album The Pinkprint was leaked earlier this month, said that after figures such as Kanye West were criticised for speaking out about the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, hip-hop artists became more cautious when discussing issues of race publicly.
“He was the unofficial spokesman for hip-hop, and he got torn apart,” she said.
“And now you haven’t heard him speaking about these last couple things, and it’s sad. Because how many times can you be made to feel horrible for caring about your people before you say, ‘Fuck it, it’s not worth it, let me live my life because I’m rich, and why should I give a fuck?’”
to be fair, reading just a little past the lines here reveals that people put into these positions are not expected to have any political views that challenge the people who make money off them and speak through to the people they reap the most labor and resources from. and Minaj states as much regarding how things are much different from the political statements rap itself put out in the 80s and even 90s. could she walk away from it all and have her life intact if she chose to stake out radical positions as a public person? i would say that is entirely impossible for people owned by the music industry at the level she, West, and others are at. looking at these basic developments of how music artists have been shut down politically or assassinated (at times for even much less than radical viewpoints), i think that it is fair to assess that she does not have the capacity to speak to things as she might like and then act on with more passion. and that is if she wants to, which i do not know either, and really it is not important to prescribe when we look at how her masters are shaping her cult.
from a mere marketing perspective, pretending we are disentangling that for just a moment from the additional politicized form via Twitter and social networking chatter, Minaj as product is not going down anytime soon. an (identifying) print in smudged pink powder, a line of wine beverages, and a short film highlighting, again, different, personal sides of the artist not often expressed in her more popular videos. these things themselves keep fans enthralled and wanting to see more. but the real genius to my mind was how the online outrage/marketing operated with the lyric release of “Only” following the “Anaconda” manufactured controversy just months after. as previously stated, leftish social networking users were bombarded with how Minaj’s ass shaking in “Anaconda” was a feminist victory of her individual sexuality on her own terms — how long was there no man on screen guys, i mean come on that’s so huge. anyway.
there’s no doubt that the first “Only” release was inspired directly by Leni Riefenstahl’s work, however the conversations were pushed in less severe directions that attempted to keep them in line with the video as a piece unto itself and disconnected from the larger culture around heavily promoted black artists who are largely apolitical (by design, #BlackLivesMatter does not just mean some as much as the disruptors try to co-opt), not to mention the rest of Minaj’s body of work. Noah Berlatsky writing for The Atlantic at least acknowledged the heavy influence from The Triumph of the Will and connects it to societal superhero fascination throwing in a bit of Benjamin in discussing aesthetics toward the end, but speculates on Minaj’s sole intentions while confusing the conversation just enough about her supposedly feminist, “independent strong woman” image. without a more robust discussion, bloggers who pontificate for entertainment purposes played into director Jeff Osborne’s weak as shit non-apology for the production, thereby boosting its marketing as well:
First, I’m not apologizing for my work, nor will I dodge the immediate question. The flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazism. […]
As far as an explanation, I think it’s actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future. And the most effective way of connecting with people today is through social media and pop culture. So if my work is misinterpreted because it’s not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I’m not sorry. What else is trending?
this video in no way serves to remind younger people of atrocities that just occurred in the bad old times but to continue to soften them to the conditions that already exist and whose acceleration is due in part to such propaganda and secreted away Nazis who helped make a more brutal US regime going into the 21st century. Osborne’s claim to care about the importance of instilling this knowledge in younger people is laughable considering the portfolio he boasts online: even a brief sampling reveals repetition of very tired themes used to exploit the image of black male rappers and half naked black women serving as objects they own while serving their masters, bragging about all the cash they are rewarded with.
the videos featuring Rahim Samad fare better in this regard, but they don’t have the same impact which is unfortunate for “What’s Good”. viewers have a bunch of disjointed imagery thrown at them focusing on consumption and general bad and scary shit that opened up with a highly questionable quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt that suggests nativist, populist faith in the homeland rather than anything coming close to international solidarity with struggling nations that surely would be touched by such totalitarian regimes he claimed to have critiqued: “Patriotism means to stand by the country. Not to stand by the president or any other public official.” if there’s anything political that Osborne stands for, it’s sheer opportunism that makes him a good tool for the overseeing culture creators.
the static definitions of any ol totalitarian regime were more important to some tweeters:
why would tweeters with higher visibility discourage anyone from the very obvious heavier themes throughout? i’m not asking to suggest any more sinister reasons that they themselves individually might have had, i just truly do not get it. are there really so many regimes with similar aesthetics the video promoted?
young people are not so stupid to not understand what Minaj’s video emphasizes. to suggest that Nazi iconography is something that they need to be reminded of in a culture that has made the Nazi regime the stand alone as the pinnacle of all things bad with the allied myth firmly in place in the minds of so, so many is ridiculous. to soften the blow and entertain very vague notions of just accumulated bad stuff is not actually a critique — it’s sneakily accepting what this perpetuates in the guise of nuance. and it doesn’t even go as far as looking at the teams behind Minaj when it is often claimed that she is not the only one involved with the production process. it’s talking in circles that further boosts the brand and what this aesthetic given in the place of actual political paths relies on. that’s not even to mention helping to keep a director afloat who does not give a shit about the lives of the women not on Minaj’s level.
individualizing Minaj’s sexuality as icon for other black women ignores what she is actually portrayed to think of women who are not on her level. “Only” repeats that the crew is there for “boss bitches only / bad n****s only / independent bitches only” with a backdrop of a brutal, genocidal regime.
many of her fans seem to take these derogatory terms for women as Minaj speaking to her competition, particularly from “skinny white bitches” (i do not contest singling out more privileged women’s whiteness, rather noting what this is apparently supposed to stand in for in the minds of her throng). Minaj is cast as independent victor over the marginalization of black women’s sexuality while posed as embodying the Führerprinzip over a population of useless eaters — as i mentioned in my first post, exterminationist policies are being carried out presently. this video is not a depiction of things to come but work that makes it cool and hip, preaching a message that in effect reiterates what narrow value black lives should have for the ruling class in the form of a select few a la the Young Money crew.
the experiments keep on coming, especially in African countries, to thin out populations for better “manageability”. the ruling class is more visibly excising those they view as the useless eaters in one form or another, for those who care to see. “depopulation” is sold as an inevitability and not a reality, with the help of well-placed alt media personalities. because it is never an end game until police are openly shooting people in the streets where more whites live in western countries; because the slow starvation via food stamp rationing hasn’t impacted those who can still buy food with worthless dollars yet; and the enclosure of populations into more tightly controlled ghettos aren’t on TV unless they can be crafted into friendly messages of healing and harmony.
for all these reasons, this thing looks more and more horrific to me each time i go back to stills i’ve captured or watching the video to see if i’ve missed anything. it’s scary as shit how all these moving parts work to create something like this that is supposed to tepidly remind of us stock Orwellian ideals that have been crafted by the CIA itself. it’s a typical reinforcement of some amount of comfort we can rest in because everything, not yet at least, does not look like a black and white scorched landscape the movies tell us are the worst. sandwiched between the overt messages of the uselessness of people not able to obtain independence from a monstrous death machine are seeming nonsensical lyrics that play to shades of fascist, stupefying surrealism. frightful images of huge armies, surveillance, death, and destruction are overlaid with flashes of lyrics that inform the audience of their position rather than demonstrate what they should be wary of considering, well, all of reality:
if just asking you to look, look here! is not enough to disregard possible subversive, “radical” meaning any of the artists meant to portray, i invite you to sample a head-splitting video fans of Minaj were subjected to in 2012. i do feel it is appropriate to include a trigger warning here: the shots in the video move rapidly with many colors accompanied by disorientating sounds at times that some might be more sensitive to than others.
at first glance, stupid hoes do not robotically perform cacophonous sounds as if remotely controlled, pose in impossible, humiliating positions, crawl around in cages, and present themselves as helpless girls who just need candy to be happy. don’t you not want to be a stupid hoe? this stuff is cool and it garners lascivious male attention, plus it’s liberating. surely spacing out without a thought in your head while Minaj looks back at you with just as empty a look as her totally independent ass also flashes in and out is a step in the right direction. after all, fuck all the other stupid hoes who might compete with you for this very privileged position. or maybe, just maybe, you’re being told you’re the stupid hoe for buying into this since you deserve no better as the nobody you are.
to even accept that this is a fun romp is an exercise in splitting the minds of viewers along with the sharp and rapid progression of images. the only reason i found this video is because i was looking through a young woman’s media feed on Twitter, and she had posted this as a retort to another woman she saw as acting the stupid hoe. the culture creators tell us repeatedly that women cannot have disagreements with each other along the lines of theory and various other thought to find common ground; others are simply stupid hoes we can write off without a thought and that is that.
the literal splitting of the mind required to consider this as art and not a programming tool is not mere speculation but a component of Minaj as product. the robotic presentation falls in line with the marketing of her “most famous alter ego” (how many are there?), the not so thinly veiled “Roman Zolanski”. certainly this phenomenon is not new, and it’s pushed as something admirable despite fan weirdness about it. i first remember noticing it with Garth Brooks’ “Chris Gaines” alter under which he released an entire album, and Beyonce did the same with hers known as “Sasha Fierce”. why would people who are thought to have any amount of independence in their production need to perform under different personalities? why would they want to? in Minaj’s case, it’s clear to me that those who pay her careful attention and adore her are not meant to be control of their own minds and make truly independent decisions. even if that’s possible, it’s cool to lock anything more painful or difficult away and deal with it in damaged and shattered aspects of the psyche that hopefully conform to the destructive desires of the masters. Minaj as icon radiates this decree from above in her multifaceted glory.
as stated at the end of the first piece, i said i would explain why the knee-jerk anti-racist defenses are reactionary. and i think that i have done that through everything i have included here about who Minaj is thought to represent: black women being independent in their sexuality. reactionary responses do not take in the full scope of production. nor do they account for the material effects on viewers while setting up Minaj as someone who makes these decisions solely to maintain her fame. as illustrated, there is not much reversal when the reality is a simple marketing of presumed choice, carried out by a whole slew of characters conscious of their roles or not, in how her politicization as feminist icon is viewed using classically racist themes that stand in for radical strategy to change property relations, and the specific property at stake here is nothing less than consciousness itself. surely, the Minaj franchise does not encompass the breadth of this assault as these are always multipronged strategies of which she plays her part, and she does it well.
i also claimed that i would explain why this sort of aestheticization is necessary for the white supremacism behind the Badass White Chick. and that is a very simple matter: badass white women can be just that without anything cryptic about their characterization who have the capitalist culture machine behind them which they ultimately serve even if that aspect is more cryptic due to their status as privileged white women. with Minaj and other black female artists, we are asked by the liberal intersectionalists to dig deeper into all the same things we’ve seen before but apply a shallow gloss branded Freedom coming in brighter, shinier colors in the 21st century. in the most recent Mad Max, Charlize Theron’s face was painted black in an effort to portray her as the rebel, indigenous leader who leads oppressed young women, not the least of which included actors of color, to an edenic paradise. we’re asked to put this aside to cheer for our white badass feminist heroine who can drape herself in any racially-tinged characterization she pleases and then celebrate black women presumably controlling their own exploitation in ways that white female rarely perform unless they are “satirizing” some other white female artist who has used black women’s asses as props in their own productions.
none of this breaks the controlled programming paradigm. the culture creators require a lot of small changes to keep everything exactly the same as it has been since they wrested greater control of the scene, and it’s up to us to recall that all these cosmetic changes have a history that is meant to enslave above all else.