On Rap and Metamodernism
I have only listened to half of The Life of Pablo. I assumed it was awful. It is, awful. But it's also beautiful. It has bright spots and brilliant spots and blemishes where it gets disgusting and vile and real. One moment Kanye is eloquently talking about the hardships of fame and escaping the shackles of societal conformity—"Just want to be liberated", etc.—and the next moment he's disgustingly talking in gross detail a model's . . . something. Pitchfork gave it like a 9.0. I've been reading a lot of Pitchfork lately. Looking for music, etc. There was a moment at a coffee shop where I was overcome with a wave of zealous understanding: I was listening to Ultralight Beam.
Rap is generally viewed as having a cynical yet sobering view of society. A prime example of this is seen in the work of Kendrick Lamar, who poetically articulates issues such as the disproportionate incarceration rates of black people to white people. However, there are other rappers—such as the aspiring Chance the Rapper—that preach hope to our flawed society. Chance has become a symbol of this upright optimism we all contain that everything will turn out, justice will prevail. It's the kind of thing you hear in Martin Luther King Jr's speeches. It fills us with passion. Another contemporary artist is Noname: she raps the reality of it all. Where Chance delves into the more comical sometimes—which can be seen a little in Israel Sparring—Noname is a rock. She, like Kendrick, tells it how it is. She tells not of the mountain, but of the journey falling off of it and into the rush of the river, where she clings to the clay and earth. Then there's Kanye, representing the toxicity and obnoxiousness underlying celebrity culture through his often narcissistic and obnoxious tweets and actions.
Kanye is going crazy. He kind of melted down after the election in this barrage of racist and ignorant remarks. I can't talk about it much. I know nothing. The state of our country is surreal. We're moving into a metamodern nightmare-like situation without even feeling any reprecussions or bad-emotions. It's not a state of numbness, it's a state of ignorance. Like a baby who's never touched fire, our society doesn't know the pain of the future. Where previous generations have felt the pain of the fire through war, and genocide, and jim-crow, and revolution, and crime, and bombings, the baby knows nothing but comfort and optimism. I've also read a bit of psychology from Millicent Shinn, who claimed that babies can only comprehend two states: isolation/loneliness and warmth/security. At this stage, the baby only knows the breast of its mother, knowing it is safe through the chemicals in its brain, and unsafe without it, pouting and crying. It cannot sense the humanity of others, they are too distant from it and the baby is too immature in development to think of the world that way.
We are electing Trump as president, but I don't feel like I'll be affected, posing the scary notion that I'll stay blissful in ignorance pertaining to complicated societal, political, and worldly issues. Knowing how limited my worldview on these complex issues is scares me even further. I could tell about how women will be forced to have babies and put them up for adoption or struggle to raise the or whatever. I could tell about the growing anti-Semitic movement and how they're about to come out openly as Anti-Semetic and get away with it. I could tell of how Russia helped get Trump in office, and the genocide going on in Aleppo. How women are killing themselves to prevent being raped by the soldiers holding the siege. How the city was burned down and innocent people killed on the streets. How isolated I am from that, and how not numb, but ignorant I and many others like me, are. How can anyone begin to sympathize with issues so distant? The article mostly revolves around one assertion assumed to be true about present day society: the situations we face are so complex and sad that our society distracts itself with trivial nonsense, either rejecting the hyperrealistic tragedies of today or gliding over the issues whenever they happen to be trending.
Metamodernism is fascinating. I was, and probably am, going to write an article about it. I started researching it more and more after I couldn't answer a question I asked myself.
"Is my generation actually moving into uncharted historical territory—with all of the the haunting possibilities of nuclear war and total societal collapse—or are we similar to past American generations, who also thought that they were approaching the end of the world?"
I call myself a philosopher, but it's like a high-school science student calling themselves a scientist. I have no real experience, and I can only try my best to understand concepts as complex and intriguing as post-modernism, aestheticism, etc. In my own words, Metamodernism is a way of thinking about our generation's cultural and societal characteristics. There's been a shift from the characteristics of the post-modern into a new, mostly unexplored philosophical direction. Essentially what I've gained from studying metamodernism is that our generation is taking on a new, more cynical persona. While maintaining philosophical characteristics of post-modernism, such as nihilism and all that jazz, we've been kind of flipping everything upside-down and calling it "art". A metaphor would be taking a joke and turning it into an anti-joke. Here's the wikipedia entry for that
Anti-humor is a type of indirect humor that involves the joke-teller delivering something which is deliberately not funny, or lacking in intrinsic meaning. The audience is expecting something humorous, and when this does not happen, the irony itself is of comedic value.
We've taken the principles of post-modernism and deliberately beaten and broken it down until we're left with cultural inside-jokes paired with horrific events and serious scenarios. I'm trying desperately to avoid the term "memes", but since it's now a serious influential force in our society I guess it's an unavoidable sociological concept. It's like we're living in a joke of a world, like society has confronted nihilism and Albert Camus three principles and laughed into the void so hard it believed nothing was real and everything was surreal. Dark-humor has been around for forever, but what we're experiencing here isn't just dark, it's a brutally honest plea for help. A generation whose world is now so complex and intrinsically fucked up that it can't help but distract itself and exhibit signals of repression and projection in the forms of memes, thus furthering a surreal illusion of the reality it lives in.
But back to the music. I feel as though music is the only way our society is able to relate ourselves to the suffering of those so distant from us. The pathos delivered allows some part of us to access a sympathy so pure and human it knocks us out of our illusion if only for a second. Rap has such imagery, it's more than poetry. I felt that in Ultralight Beam. Pitchfork mentioned how the gospel-like parts are hollow. They come in briefly, making the song is NOT a gospel but it's kind of an empty song that's filled with brief moments of passion. And it's this spike in the song that really made me feel and sympathize with those in Aleppo. If you listen with headphones, the sound goes through you like a chill. It's a prayer, a call for help they call it. The song says "This is a god dream" I think that that's an accurate representation. I cannot imagine what Kanye is going through. He's going mentally off. He's always been strange, but now he's going through so much that I couldn't possibly be able to sympathize with him. I know not of the struggles of fame or disappointment. But in this brief moment in his song I am able to hear his voice. I found it interesting how he included Chance in the song, as Chance is pretty much THE symbol for optimism and we're living in an age that is both naively optimistic and cynical. We're ignorant.
It's obvious because we live in an age where we could make the world better, we have communication and internet and the power of democracy and yet, absurdly, there persists a large disconnect between people and communities and nations.
"We live in a god-dream"
Religion is used often to get out of the bad times. The song says "I'm trying to keep my faith" . . . "I'm in my holy war" . . . . Kanye mentioned the elections, mentioned how he's going to run in 2020 or I guess now 2024. I think he's feeling a lot of cynical-ness of the present day. I can't pray for him, but if I were religious I would. I believe hope is one of the most powerful things, and I hope he finds it within himself. I hope we all do. My fear will probably come true, we will continue to ignore the outside worlds, look only into our consumerist America and complain of trivial matters. At the end of Kendrick Lamar's Mortal Man from To Pimp a Butterfly, it talks about how the ground will swallow up something, and how the rich people would be eaten alive by the oppressed and poor. I'm betting that will happen. Or perhaps i'm like so many in previous generations, believing that their generation was the one that would inevitably collapse and cause the end of the world.
- Genius' interpretation of Ultralight Beam: http://genius.com/8673406
- Intro to Metamodernism: http://www.metamodernism.com/2010/07/15/introduction-to-metamodernism/
- Clarifications of Metamodernism: http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/03/misunderstandings-and-clarifications/
- Seth Abramson's interpretation of Metamodernism: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/metamodernism-the-basics_b_5973184.html
Edits and Revisions:
- I took out some of the "we's" and replaced them with "I's" to be more accurate and generalize less.
- Omitted "relate ourselves to the suffering of those so distant from us"; the point was that it's hard to relate to those suffering when there's a detachment between us and the issues i.e. When people aren't afflicted personally, they are not forced into educating themselves/helping allieviate the problem
I'm still trying to revise the parts where I'm assumptive about societal issues, so please reach out to me on Twitter or via the "Contact" page with feedback!