Category Archives: Blog

My Kanye “hot-take” – from four years ago…

I’m close to being done with most pop culture, but the reality is that it makes up a large part of culture these days, all over the world. So, anyone expecting to be heard in any way shape or form has a much better chance doing it using pop culture than almost any other subject. I’m also loathe to talk about DT for too many reasons to list. All of that being said, I remembered writing this comment about four years ago in response to this piece

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/outer-space-something/

and thought it could add to the discussion – or more likely, be just another cry in the wilderness…Anyway, for the one person who may be interested, here is the comment:

Good piece Ismail. It sparks a lot of questions and associations. Makes me think of Kanye. He has been a great case study in the representation of the subject game. One could easily write a book on the contradictions, confusions, and historical events that led to “Yeezus,” as well as his recent series of appearances in the media making a case for why he should be a mogul, i.e., a capitalist. Aside from his admirable passion and talent, some of his ideas can be attributed to his lack of a deep analysis (which I think could be said of most americans) and his fundamental acceptance of the capitalist system. It’s more troubling if he is simply cynical and calculating, but that automatically brings up questions of what success means under capitalism and what is required to achieve it, to say nothing of his personal struggle. I don’t want to get locked down in a binary construction here or even a judgment, but “New Slaves” certainly points up many a contradiction and confusion, and though it may just be Hip Hop swagger, he makes himself pretty clear here:

You see there’s leaders and there’s followers
But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower

That may be the shortest distillation of the capitalist ethos there is – other than the golden rule: “he who has the gold, rules.” In any case, Kanye made clear in his I-wanna-be-a-mogul media barrage that his major frustration was with the gatekeepers of capital blocking his access to it; thereby, keeping him from being another steve jobs. He constantly couches his desire in terms that distract from the ugliness of capitalism roiling just below the surface. He speaks in corporate phrases about product and being a “creator,” and constantly of his love of design. Not coincidentally, in the past decade or so, design has been elevated and commodified in popular culture like never before. He presents his desire in his own particular bombastic, self-promoting brand of Hip Hop, boasting that usually ends in platitudes, but it cannot disguise the fact that he wants something more than simply to create and design, because he has more than enough money to start a little boutique any time he wants. And though he may just want to bring good affordable fashion to the masses, it cannot disguise the fact that the fashion world he wants to be a part of is a nexus of capitalism. It is based on the exploitation of “cheap” labor out of the consumer’s sight and the creation of both desire and self-hate in “the consumer,” otherwise known as “a person.” Capitalists he sees as role models like steven jobs also made their fortunes from little brown hands working in prison-like conditions, and that is more than germane here.

Along with saying we are all new slaves to consumerism and materialism, and rightly pointing out the New Jim Crow of the prison industrial complex, Kanye says he is just a rich slave now (I know…) because they (the big fashion houses) “let” him produce for them, but he is continually blocked by the big players in fashion (capitalists) from becoming one of them. The hegemony of the fashion industry (and tech, and spirits, and perfume, etc…) in popular culture is now intricately intertwined in Hip Hop (there were early associations as well, like “My adidas” but that looks quaint now). Not only does it present the problems sketched above, but it directly involves creating a need in black and brown kids that makes them feel like shopping (and owning) will accomplish something. Of course, billions of people of all colors are enmeshed and in the thrall of the fashion industry and consumerism, but the irony is especially strong when black and brown kids are constantly extolling the virtues and buying the products of modern day slave masters. And it is compounded many times over when someone like Kanye starts talking about new slaves and then starts a media campaign to be “let in” by vicious capitalists, so he can become an actual modern day slaver himself. In all of his appearances, he has never come close to acknowledging the logical end of winning his campaign to be “let in,” or the evils of the fashion industry, or the capitalists who fund and, needless to say, profit from it.

To broaden the critique, liberals and self-identified progressives who claim to champion equal rights and justice buy (literally and figuratively) into this system as well. Seemingly, without a second thought. No one ever calls martha stewart and ralph lauren and steve jobs and phil knight modern day slave masters, but I think it needs to be done and I think we all need to be involved in stopping it. Most americans now accept that most of what they buy is made by slave labor. In fact, it has been joked about by stewart, colbert, and every late night talk show host and comedian I can think of. It is a disgusting failure on every level that we can’t even respond with a boycott when de facto slaves are throwing themselves out of foxcon’s windows and buildings are collapsing on Bangladeshis. We are all implicated in capitalism and its crimes, and there is certainly no dyad – especially when there is no “outside” commodification.

Well, just a few quick thoughts. Thanks for the piece.

nb: capitalizations and lack thereof are intentional.

Advertisements

Looking for a stellar political podcast and news site? Check out Black Agenda Report

BlackAgendaRadio_AlbumArt

Click image above to go to site.

 

BAReport
Click above to go to site

In the fall of 2006, Glen Ford, Bruce Dixon, Margaret Kimberley and Leutisha Stills of CBC Monitor left Black Commentator, which Ford had co-founded and edited since 2002, and launched Black Agenda Report.
Check it out. Well worth your while…

 


The wisdom of MLK jr. (Re-post from 2014)

We are living in the middle of massive changes that will profoundly affect us all. One could look back through history and say, it was ever thus, but the world has never known concentrated power and control on this level and its consolidation continues every day. We now live in a world, as Oxfam recently described, where “[w]ealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

More often than not, those 85 people use the corporation as an entity to embody their wealth and power – and to make it grow. Growth has become the thing to strive for, it is the mantra of governments, the logic of capitalism, and by extension, the corporations who control the capital. Of course, we are not talking only about those 85 people. We are talking about the system of corporate capitalism we all live in. Increasingly, corporations are using the ideology of neoliberalism to operate in the world, to reshape it in their own image, to claim all rights and property for the corporation. Making private (for profit) everything belonging to the public (things we supposedly own in common) and taking all information we think should be private and putting it in the hands of corporations and the governments they control – in order to increase control and profit.

One could point to the enclosure movement and police states of the past and continue to say, plus ca change, but differences of degree will eventually lead to a difference in kind. After all, we started as single-celled bits in the ocean. In other words, we are dealing with a whole new beast. And that beast is killing many of us. If it doesn’t kill us, it is shaping every aspect of our lives.

Many americans are still in denial about the forces at play and how to engage them. Many are too ignorant to be in denial, but there are also people who understand what the struggle means and that, if we do not fight, we will eventually lose our humanity, in every sense. There are a relative few who understand the stakes of this moment in history. Some are tempted to look to leaders of struggles in the past and have a kind of nostalgia. There is no time for nostalgia. In fact nostalgia is a dangerous feeling. It distorts the past and discounts the future. If we’re going to look backward, we have to do so with clear, un-obscured eyes.

When we see without the veil of nostalgia – or more importantly, propaganda – it becomes easier to see the true struggles many of our leaders were involved in. For example, MLK and Malcolm both made their share of mistakes, but by the end of their all too short lives, they had amassed a great deal of wisdom. It’s instructive to look at where they were in their development as intellectuals and activists when they were assassinated because they had both moved straight to the core of the struggle. Of course, it’s difficult to take such a wealth of experience and distill it into a sentence or two, but if you focus on the root of the struggle, it looks something like this:

Well-organized people of all colors, classes and religions, working together in love, world-wide, for vulnerable people, and against capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Those ideas are guiding principles. They aren’t a road map, but they definitely point the way. The thing is, we actually have to understand the way forward involves all of us working together in that direction. Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, and on and on. It seems such a simple point, but everyday realities and the power of the dominant corporate culture seem to obscure it and divide us and atomize us more and more. The dominant culture has had such a corrosive effect that saying we all need to work together sounds like a platitude or cliche, but that is what every great leader ends up saying – and more importantly struggled to do.

If we study the past and work together now, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes our leaders made when they were trying to find their way and we can learn from the wisdom they finally attained. They earned that wisdom through struggle – blood, sweat, and tears. Those guiding principles are their legacy. The struggle we face is bigger than any that has gone before. We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom they handed to us.


Story style links [#1]

Click on any sentence below to be taken to the story:

If the median household’s income is heading upward, the economy is in good shape. If it’s heading downward, as it’s been for this entire recovery, we’re all in deep trouble. Advocacy groups who sought a moratorium on shutoffs testified last week that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s policies of mass shutoffs — 19,000 in recent months — are leaving low-income households with seniors and children without water service. INTERVIEWER: Do you think of yourself as a feminist? SONTAG: That’s one of the few labels I’m content with. But even so…is it a noun? I doubt it. In the current recovery, at least through 2012, the bottom 90 percent actually lost ground, with all of the income gains being grabbed by the wealthiest 10 percent of American households.


Last Day to Speak Your Mind on Net Neutrality

netneutrality

Click here or on picture above to get all the info you need to advocate for a democratic internet.

I got through to Wheeler’s office right away – which means not enough people are calling. This is the definition of the very least you can do people…


Democracy loses if the Internet’s sold to the highest bidder — & that may be what’s about to happen.

Don’t Let Net Neutrality Become Another Broken Promise


The wisdom of MLK jr.

We are living in the middle of massive changes that will profoundly affect us all. One could look back through history and say, it was ever thus, but the world has never known concentrated power and control on this level and its consolidation continues every day. We now live in a world, as Oxfam recently described, where “[w]ealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

More often than not, those 85 people use the corporation as an entity to embody their wealth and power – and to make it grow. Growth has become the thing to strive for, it is the mantra of governments, the logic of capitalism, and by extension, the corporations who control the capital. Of course, we are not talking only about those 85 people. We are talking about the system of corporate capitalism we all live in. Increasingly, corporations are using the ideology of neoliberalism to operate in the world, to reshape it in their own image, to claim all rights and property for the corporation. Making private (for profit) everything belonging to the public (things we supposedly own in common) and taking all information we think should be private and putting it in the hands of corporations and the governments they control – in order to increase control and profit.

One could point to the enclosure movement and police states of the past and continue to say, plus ca change, but differences of degree will eventually lead to a difference in kind. After all, we started as single-celled bits in the ocean. In other words, we are dealing with a whole new beast. And that beast is killing many of us. If it doesn’t kill us, it is shaping every aspect of our lives.

Many americans are still in denial about the forces at play and how to engage them. Many are too ignorant to be in denial, but there are also people who understand what the struggle means and that, if we do not fight, we will eventually lose our humanity, in every sense. There are a relative few who understand the stakes of this moment in history. Some are tempted to look to leaders of struggles in the past and have a kind of nostalgia. There is no time for nostalgia. In fact nostalgia is a dangerous feeling. It distorts the past and discounts the future. If we’re going to look backward, we have to do so with clear, unobscured eyes.

When we see without the veil of nostalgia – or more importantly, propaganda – it becomes easier to see the true struggles many of our leaders were involved in. For example, MLK and Malcolm both made their share of mistakes, but by the end of their all too short lives, they had amassed a great deal of wisdom. It’s instructive to look at where they were in their development as intellectuals and activists when they were assassinated because they had both moved straight to the core of the struggle. Of course, it’s difficult to take such a wealth of experience and distill it into a sentence or two, but if you focus on the root of the struggle, it looks something like this:

Well-organized people of all colors, classes and religions, working together in love, for vulnerable people, and against capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Those ideas are guiding principles. They aren’t a road map, but they definitely point the way. The thing is, we actually have to understand the way forward involves all of us working together in that direction. Black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, and on and on. It seems such a simple point, but everyday realities and the power of the dominant corporate culture seem to obscure it and divide us and atomize us more and more. The dominant culture has had such a corrosive effect that saying we all need to work together sounds like a platitude or cliche, but that is what every great leader ends up saying – and more importantly struggled to do.

If we study the past and work together now, we don’t have to repeat the mistakes our leaders made when they were trying to find their way and we can learn from the wisdom they finally attained. They earned that wisdom through struggle – blood, sweat, and tears. Those guiding principles are their legacy. The struggle we face is bigger than any that has gone before. We would be foolish to ignore the wisdom they handed to us.


%d bloggers like this: