Entry from December 30, 2010

Lucy Jones, blogging for the Telegraph of London, writes, more in sorrow than in anger, that Kanye West has crossed a line. Actually, she is quoting from Kanye himself in the peroration, as it were, of “Monster,” where he presents Bon Iver saying:

I-I crossed the line-line
And I’ll-I’ll let God decide-cide.

Big of him. But in the Telegraph, it’s Lucy who decides about the line crossed in the just-released music video accompanying “Monster” when she insists that “Without wanting to sound like Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells, the barrage of sexually violent images is hard to stomach.” In fact, Lucy is about as likely as the barrage of sexually violent images she has inserted in her place in that sentence to sound like Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells. That is a journalistic cliché in Britain (still, apparently) for the nom de plume of retired majors in Kent who, a generation or two ago, made it their mission in life to express in Letters to the Editors of the more respectable newspapers (like the Telegraph) their sense of offense at the loose morals, long hair and risqué music of young people today. For one thing, we are talking about a whole different order of offensiveness in the case of Kanye West:

The video starts with dead girls in sex-worker heels and underwear hanging from the ceiling with metal chains around their necks. They sway gently, presided over by Rick Ross in an armchair. Next, we see Kanye in bed with two negligee and suspender-clad beauties (also dead), rearranging their floppy limbs as they stare blankly. Didn’t you know? Necrophilia is so 2011. Then, Jay-Z raps in front of a dead, naked model (with sexy heels) flung strangely across a sofa. It’s not over: Kanye holds the garroted head of a woman by the hair, her severed hand bleeding nearby. And, in the next room, Rick Ross tucks into the stomach of a girl splayed across a counter. Erotic corpses. Nice.

Back in the days of Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells pop musical offensiveness — even if, as it so often was, calculated — could still be regarded as a by-product of sexual or social or political purposes. Now the offensiveness is the only point, which renders both Disgusted and Lucy, as such, pointless. Their disgust is not a response to but a necessary working part of the artistic experience, if such it be, of the video of “Monster.”

In the current number of The New York Review of Books, a review by Dan Chiasson of The Anthology of Rap, edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois (from Yale University Press, no less) explains the dynamic:

The spectacle of “thug life,” with its cast of pimps, ho’s, and hustlers, attracted white audiences, who enjoy it when black people call one another names. At the height of hip-hop’s popularity, something like 70 percent of its audience was white. And so the prophecy fulfilled itself, and rappers, catering to white audiences’ expectations that they embody the most prurient fantasies of blackness, started to play past each other, to the bored white teenagers looking on.

It would seem that what Lucy Jones is complaining about is the fact that those bored white teenagers — the ones who continue to listen in spite of their boredom — simply require more and more in the way of stimulation to get their kicks. This process has now reached the point where the attempted offensiveness has assumed such a level of grotesquerie that it can no longer be really offensive but only ridiculous. Mr Chiasson seems to acknowledge this in quoting from Eminem:

Now who’s the king of these rude ludicrous lucrative lyrics?
Who could inherit the title, put the youth in hysterics?

But he doesn’t seem to notice that the answer to the question is nobody. If “the youth” are taking necrophilia and cannibalism in their stride, we can safely say that hysterics went out with Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Kanye is doubtless as cut up about this as his corpse-lovers, so presumably he will welcome the evidence provided by Miss Jones that someone can still be offended by him.

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