Un-Common White Angst

Fox News’ latest jihad against the rapper Common is a creation of such spectacular idiocy that it really deserves a monument of some kind. Jon Stewart’s takedown of the whole thing — which Bill O’Reilly basically concedes, but then strives to cover up with a smug tone and some handwaving — is probably as good a one as any, but truly, when again will we witness such an obvious confluence of so many of the worst parts of the culture wars? Probably not in this generation. It’s like the Halley’s Comet of inane social cleavages. You’ve got new art/music vs. old art/music (I mean, kids these days!), young vs. old, cities vs. heartland, and probably some I’m missing, all against a background of black vs. white, and rolled up to drive home this central point:

Middle America: The Obamas Are Not Like You!

Who else but Fox News could carry this “story”? It was practically written to fit their business strategy of alternately scaring and soothing anyone threatened by the pace of cultural change. Listen to any anchor carrying the story, and you can practically hear Fox’s go-to rhetorical baseline:  “get off my lawn!” Remarkable.

One point feels worth addressing: is Common specifically, and rap music generally, “poetry,” worthy of joining the White House’s poetry night? I don’t feel particularly equipped to answer the question. I actually don’t like rap a whole lot — ask my little sister about our epic battles over the radio — but maybe that makes me an even better judge. So, one response.

Most to ask this question don’t actually answer it. Instead, they respond to the question of whether rap is good poetry. But to steal from my chosen profession, doesn’t that go to weight, rather than admissibility? Art can be really quite bad while still remaining art; and it strikes me that, if rap speaks to a certain individual, no matter how slapdash the rhyme scheme, I don’t know who anyone else is to deny that power. Imagine for a moment the wide breadth of creative experiences that have moved you: for me that would involve the basics of paintings, sculptures, literature, music you would expect, but also music you would not expect, and things farther afield, like video games. No, not like MarioKart. Like the original Knights of the Old Republic — one of the best examples, I think, of a game’s ability to tell a compelling story — or more recently, Fallout 3. That’s a new thing for my generation, but it’s no less valid.

Patrons of art, like heads of state, are within their rights to use the position to endorse a particular type of art, and if the opposition doesn’t like it, well, maybe they should win more elections. More, I expect heads of state are free to endorse art without endorsing the underlying message, too. Unless we’re to presume President Nixon’s hearty endorsement of parties in the county jail.



  1. Oh, Fox News? I don’t know what’s going on there. I’ve never watched their news. After reading your post, though, I think I;ll check this out. Must be pretty interesting watching them foam in their mouths. By the way, I don’;t like rap as a form of music. I mean, it’s not music, IMO.

  2. “…and if the opposition doesn’t like it, well, maybe they should win more elections.”

    I like this policy. Is it universal?

  3. Oh my yes — but it applies with particular force to such trivialities.

    Anyways, good luck with that!! If Daniels doesn’t run, I’m calling this election right now.

    1. What happened to ‘do what’s best for the country, protect minorities, blah, blah, blah’? Now it’s winner take all? That certainly doesn’t sound like the equivocations you made last November.

      That would be unwise. There’s also Huntsman (probably) and as much as I don’t really like him I think counting Pawlenty out is a bad idea. He says the right things to the base and on key issues he is well-positioned. I mean, the Left can go after him on Intelligent Design and not taking a firmer stance on Birther claims, but the election isn’t going to be decided by peripheral stuff like that.

      I also kind of like the idea of seeing how far Paul can push things. He says some crazy stuff but I am amazed how many of my conservative friends like what he is saying this time around. I don’t think he can win but I would literally pay money to see him and Obama debate for an hour.

      And of course if Daniels does run and does make it to the nomination…the Obamas might want to go ahead and start collecting moving boxes from the local grocery store.

    2. We should… protect minorities by… banning rap music? I think you’re trying really hard to generalize this isolated, pithy statement into something that it is not. God bless you for it, but, well, I don’t think there’s oil in that well.

      The Daniels issue is moot since he won’t ever make it to the nomination. Not in a trillion years. Ditto Huntsman. You guys whipped your party into an extremist frenzy for midterms, which was lovely, and good luck reining them in before the primary!

      1. What I am saying is that in the past you have been very vocal about how GOP wins don’t equal them getting to do whatever they want. Now you are saying that wins mean tough luck for the other guys. I am willing to accept that premise but I think you will only support when your side is in power.

        I think this is where your political analysis fails you a bit. The GOP hasn’t nominated anyone from the ‘fringe’ since Goldwater. Look at 2000. We had whipped the base into quite a frenzy during the impeachment hearings and ended up with Bush Jr. who was the establishment candidate. So if Daniels doesn’t run we will probably get Pawlenty or Romney (the latter being DOA). If Daniels DOES run he can easily swing to the Right during the primaries and swing back for the General.

  4. Sure, I mean, I knew where you were going. Maybe that principle doesn’t work elsewhere, fine. But it’s pretty fair for head-of-state duties like inviting rappers to parties. Right?

    Bush wasn’t the establishment candidate — he was the extremist candidate against McCain, who was the anointed guy, but got hammered by Rove. Similarly, there’s a good article about how Reagan was the extremist choice to GHW Bush’s establishment.

    Granted, Reagan won — and Bush, well, I guess got the office. But you’re in the unenviable position of having unelectable extremists, a base who loves them, and milquetoast establishment figures whom you properly label as DoA.

    1. Obama can invite anyone he wants to the WH. I could care less. But we also agree that your winner takes all policy suggestion was ill-advised?

      You’re completely wrong about Bush in 2000. From the Washington Times, 02/29/00:

      “The GOP establishment – now consisting of a diverse but united group of Republican officeholders, donors, K Street lobbyists, policy experts and activists – settled early on Texas Gov. George W. Bush as their preferred standard-bearer for 2000.”

      McCain was always the outsider.

      And to be perfectly honest winning the WH in 2012 isn’t hugely important. The President has shown himself to be fairly uninvolved when it comes to policy so he doesn’t present a big threat. To the contrary, having him in will probably help us pick up seats in 2014 and possibly take the Senate. Add to that some incumbent party fatigue and a more diverse GOP field in 2016 and we’re in good shape. With that scenario I’ll take the marathon over the sprint.

      But I won’t lie that sending the President out Carter-style would be cool.

    2. The Washington Times, huh? Taking it from the extremists that extremists are establishment?

      1. That was the first hit Ames. I could post dozens and dozens. You simply don’t have your facts straight about that election.

      2. I wasn’t disagreeing with how McCain was taken out in SC. I was disagrreing with the contention that he was the establishment candidate which is simply not even a little accurate.

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