Grunge, Kurt Cobain, and Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam – Alive

  1. Grunge is a unique hybrid between punk rock and rock and roll, in the sense that its sound is hard and aggressive while incorporating an artistic, intimate flow in either the sound or the lyrics that make it very personal and emotional rather than straight adrenaline-pumping. The music is not really a catharsis of some sort, but a personal take on positions of grotesqueness–especially in the music video that I chose, the meaning of being alive is used ironically and as a story. Pearl Jam provides a raw narrative regarding anger and frustration, saying that “being alive” meant that he would be continuously, consciously suffering what he had lost (in this case, his biological father who had been dying and hidden from him for all of his life). The audience twisted the meaning of his song, which shows the difference in the cannibalistic cycle of “commodified categories/ traditional devices of pop culture” (Zeiner) (happy and pleases everyone) and the subversive personal style of grunge music. (Lyrics – https://genius.com/1457135 )
  2. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana had a style in which Dr. Zeiner would describe as adhering to the female grotesque; as a feminist figure, he frequently dressed as though he were to mix the style of both genders and blur the lines between femininity and male masculinity. He identified more with his female side rather than his male side due to his distrust in the idea of American masculinity (Zeiner). His radical style, on a surface level, was very progressive and chaotic, mixed with the harder styles of punk rock, grunge, and aggressiveness. His embrace of the more female aspects of his character inadvertently pushed for the support of significant female images in grunge music and in the music industry. If one were to go deeper into the musician who Kurt Cobain was, the obvious expression of the female grotesque and emotional instability/depression would be found. Cobain’s music expressed much sadness, intimacy, and misery, which is a recurring theme among most, if not, all grunge music. This particular self-loathing proved to be an attractive aspect of this genre, as it was more emotionally relateable than that of pop music. Grunge music, especially by that of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, did not necessarily lead to the formula creation of a rock star, nor did it focus on selling ideas or making celebrities.
  3. MTV’S show Unplugged provided a perfect medium for an actual expression of performance. Granted, Nirvana’s performance on this show was slightly less extravagant, the bands and artists who played were able to share their music in a raw, acoustic fashion. This is important to note, as it both exposes the changes made to music that fulfill the mainstream necessity of specific, commodified details as well as display the actual artwork made by each artist. This show is culturally significant in the sense that it provides a distinction between the pop music industry products and the music and lyrics themselves. Unplugged simply created a world in which artists could share their biggest hits in a smaller, contained environment.

pearl jam

Advertisements

Youthful Angst and Music

In the seven-part documentary posted on Youtube, Nine Inch Nails and the Industrial Uprising (2009) explains the conditions that shaped the style and aesthetic of Industrial-type bands like Nine Inch Nails, expressing angst and dissatisfaction with the economic, social, and pop culture trends of the 80’s and 90’s.

The pure crux of the aggressive-style by which Nine Inch Nails performed (and others under this genre of music) was through frustration; the recession at the time provided the near-future of a financial downturn for future generations, meaning that the standard of living would decrease for younger generations who had little to no control over what older generations were doing to the economy. In addition to this frustration, young people were equally as “fed-up” with mainstream rock and popular music brought to the public by bands like New Kids on the Block because the music reflected no part of reality but rather typical or ridiculous situations of puppy love. Reznor’s frustration and dissatisfaction, for instance, was felt through his music, as his struggles with his band and record company were verbalized in “Broken” and “Add Violence.” These albums were more of a representation of the collective attitude of the 80’s and 90’s youth, as Reznor made aggressive music that reflected on his own poor economic situation following his immediate success, mixed with hard core punk and heavy metal. They drew strong emotions of anger, hopelessness, and frustration with lyrics like: “Shut up, silence / Add a little violence /And offend and pretend and defend and demand my compliance” (Less Than in the album Add Violence). The heavily aggressive and frustrating nature of Nine Inch Nails was attractive for its relate-ability, and it quickly gained them popularity and success in a time of major angst.

Less Than by Trent Reznor

mud

Ballroom Subculture: An Enhancement of the Individual

The subculture of Voguing is arguably the best form of appropriation that I’ve seen, if it could even be counted as such. The creation of this subculture is inspired by various poses found in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Vogue models in magazines, Bruce Lee’s cutting-movements in his movies, and in theater; voguing is different from appropriation in the sense that it utilizes its multiple inspirations to form something completely new, different, and positively challenging to the social climate. It celebrates a new and truly inspired type of culture rather than attempting to enhance the components of it (ex. Mardi Gras Indians, Mardi Gras, and Native American-inspired clothing; the traditions never really changed or showed any real evolution in culture, just more of a separation from another form of holiday celebration). Each inspiration of voguing lead to new movements, techniques, and attitudes that created a distinct “style” that creates a more realistic niche for individuals in society, an outlet of expression that is truly unique and celebrates the aesthetic ferocity of the dancer and individual rather than the history and traditions of other cultures.

Willi Ninja is a specific individual whose house effectively displays inspiration in use. For Ninja, it’s obvious that his techniques were inspired by the specific and precise movements of hieroglyphics, martial arts, and modelling. However, he combines each component into dance moves that are precise, fierce, AND fast–with further enhancement from Michael Jackson’s suave attitude and fluid flexibility of Olympic gymnasts–making his voguing hard to emulate and actually incomparable and interesting. The House of Ninja was also more focused on the development of the dance for expression, which I found particularly interesting, because it maximized the evolution of the dance movements themselves and the raw emotion/attitudes that came with each pose without the help of any other stylistic device.

As for elements of Ball Culture today, Yanis Marshall, Brian Friedman, and Tricia Miranda are my favorite dancers who practice voguing while mixing that type of dance with hip hop and pop-music. Other performers like Beyonce (Formation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDZJPJV__bQ @1:25; Coutndown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XY3AvVgDns @all) showcase voguing in their live performances and music videos, mixing pop music and hip hop/R&B with voguing. Their dance moves are not entirely different or evolved from the original dancers of vogue, but they mimic that of performers who mainly performed in the House of Xtravaganza or even moves of Octavia St. Laurent (upon close inspection). Today, voguing has become somewhat appropriated and inserted into the pop-culture mainstream, which takes away from the raw-ness of attitude that would be presented in Ballroom culture, and even the originality of each routine. Willi Ninja’s style of vogue was so particularly interesting for the fact that even martial arts had a influential role in displaying the grace and precision of vogue dancers. In the end, voguing is a unique celebration of the expression of attitude and style that the individual exudes as a result of using its different components of inspiration rather than appropriating the movements of different cultures and performance/fashion styles.

 

The following are a list of Youtube Videos I’ve come to like in the past but never really drew the connection to voguing as a style of dance (Source – Youtube):

The Attractiveness of NWA’s Music

Today, listening to gangsta rap is done by almost anyone, especially by those who may not live in the ghetto and experience life in South Central LA. The allure of still listening to this type of music is brought on by two things: wanting to emulate an image that is glorified and seems cool, and for pure entertainment by having the privilege to indulge in a lifestyle perspective one does not have to live in. This is largely a socio-economic association that can be drawn among most, if not, all races today.

For instance, NWA’s music has a style that hyperbolizes and promotes sexuality, criminality, and masculinity (McCann), particularly against police and law enforcement in political statements. The pop-music rap culture of today does it’s best to mimic the hard-core lyrics that represent the fantasized life of those who live in the ghetto, or at least the style in which those rapper’s bragged about their lifestyles under the lenses of hyper-masculinity, drug usage, sexuality, etc. (ex. 21 Savage “Bank Account,” Bobby Shmurda “Hot Nigga,” Lil Pump “Gucci Gang,” or even Cardi B “Bartier Cardi”). Rather than making statements about the ghetto, like Eazy E’s metaphorical “killing” of suburban judgement in the beginning of “Gangsta, Gangsta” (McCann), rappers who try to repeat this formula of self-promotion create music about life in the ghetto and perpetuate the fantasies of danger and immorality in inner-city areas–this does not bring any progressive ideas to the topic of the ghetto. Instead of the meaning and overall picture of NWA’s music, this relatively niche music becomes attractive through its direct connection to monetary success and fame through the way the lyrics are formed and how they sound.

In further discussion of the image of the ghetto lifestyle, people of all types are attracted to the raw and uncensored lyrics that litter gangsta rap music, indulging in a language connected to a life that the listener may or may not have to experience. In Bryan John McCann’s dissertation Contesting the Mark of Criminality: Resistance and Ideology in Gangsta Rap (1988-1997),  Tricia Rose notes that “Americans seem far more interested in being entertained by the compelling portraits of horrible conditions than they are in altering them.” Instead, particularly for middle-class and upper-class listeners, audiences are able to hear and imagine a hardcore life of struggle in LA without actually going through it–this is a privilege which plays a role in the reason why many people, namely youthful audiences, listen to gangsta rap. Even if they do not try to copy the lifestyle and verbiage of these songs, listeners can be entertained by the rebellious nature of the songs, the constant description of struggle and fighting adversity with less-than wholesome means, the ability to blatantly commit crimes and sexual acts with no repercussions or guilt.

HOWEVER aside from the superficial and shallow ways of looking at music in the entertainment industry, NWA’s music spoke to people across the world due to its brave emergence of controversial topics, and the glorification of values that contrasted the political wave of conservatism at the time. Even today, certain taboos in society are shut down and not dealt with, but rather mentioned and pushed aside as if that political topic was just made for money, votes, or entertainment of social “progress.” NWA’s music purely presents what mainstream media would generally try to sugarcoat or omit, just to retain what seems like a balanced and well-off society to the rest of the world (retaining a perfect image of America to everyone else). Its widespread audience today are attracted to the powerful messages and pure attitudes contained in this group’s music; the bravado that is carried in the way each rap artist says what they need to say, and are direct with who they are referring to, gives listeners the adrenaline of telling the world “how it is,” as if they are the ones doing it themselves. The music promotes the perspective of the underdog, and expresses the frustrations and anger people in similar situations may be too scared to outright say. The songs are not only creative, but artistically integrate the appropriate levels of frustration and language to convey life in the ghetto against adversities of all sorts.

“Express Yourself” NWA

Sources:

McCann, Bryan John. Contesting the Mark of Criminality: Resistance and Ideology in Gangsta Rap. 

Hack #5: Ghetto Bird by Ice-Cube

ice sube

[VERSE 1] Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin
Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause every time that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher
“So fly like an eagle.”
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

“Ghetto Bird” (1993) – Ice Cube

The song Ghetto Bird (1993) by Ice Cube is about racial tension and discrimination between the police and ghetto neighborhoods. Ice Cube makes it apparent that cops play on black stereotypes, and how these ideas affect the treatment of minorities or how these minorities view police under these circumstances. More importantly, Ice Cube offers the perspective of someone who is discriminated by the police while narrating a police chase, illustrating the aggression that both sides—law enforcement and constituents of LA ghettos—have toward each other, building awareness for the roots of anger that occur from constant surveillance due to race.

la's most annoying icon

To begin, Dr. Gwendolyn mentions author Arthur J. Gladley’s connection of Hip-Hop to the youth culture, acknowledging that the content early rappers offered were “artistic and designed to cope with urban frustrations and conditions” (Gwendolyn). Often times, various Black Panther parties set the precedence for this type of expression against law enforcement, creating bold and passionate lyrics that would eventually inspire groups like NWA to create songs like Fuck the Police (1988) (Gwendolyn). The beauty of Hip Hop and inspirations like the actions of Black Panther parties with rap created the foundation by which rap groups found it acceptable to begin voicing out against established institutions. In this case, the aggressions begin with ghetto stereotypes, and are quickly followed by discriminatory actions by the police; Ice Cube begins with blatantly calling out the police for thinking that there is nothing in the hood except for crime and sexual delinquents.

“Why, oh why must you swoop through the hood
Like everybody from the hood is up to no good
You think all the girls around here are trickin”

In response to a fault that Cube acknowledges for its existence in the hood—partially denouncing the fact that this is not a good representation as to what good the hood has to offer—he accuses the police for their foolish arrogance.

Up there lookin like Superchicken
At night I see your light through my bedroom window
But I ain’t got shit but the pad and pencil

He essentially tells the police, directly, that entering a ghetto neighborhood does not give police the right to think that they are above-all, since they look equally as ridiculous in the sky, searching for trouble that may or may not exist (searching for/expecting trouble instead of responding accordingly to it). The police, through these unnecessary actions, are discriminating against entire communities of people, creating the racial tensions and aggressions that the Black Power Movement began to express.

Tupac Shakur’s cultural-political activism causes this song by Ice-Cube to be a direct reflection of the reality of police relations in the ghetto; at the same time as showing the discriminatory actions of the police, Ice-Cube presents the perspective of urban youth and explains where the aggression comes from. Tupac utilized Hip Hop music as both a rallying source as well as a nuanced way of calling attention to the way old social interactions are affecting the urban youth of America (Stanford).

I can’t wait till I hear you say
“I’m going down, mayday, mayday.” I’m gonna clown

Cause everytime that the pigs have got me
Y’all rub it in with the flying Nazi
Military force, but we don’t want ya
Standin’ on my roof with the rocket launcher”

Cube’s song is not meant to be a rallying source but answers the complaint that white-America tends to have in dealing with the growing attitude of urban youth. The Black Power Era was notorious for using terms like “pigs” toward law enforcement and incurred militant actions from people who already stood above them from a racial standpoint; as a result, groups like the one that involved Tupac Shakur’s mom found the bravery to act militantly as well (Stanford). Ice-Cube uses the word “Nazi” to emphasize the depth of police brutality—police seemed to target only a certain race of people (African Americans) and white-privilege kept them concentrated in areas in which they were to be constantly monitored and harassed (in ghettos). He says “flying Nazi” to explain the watchful discrimination that the police impose upon ghetto communities from a noisy helicopter.

Like Tupac, Ice-Cube brazenly states:

“‘So fly like an eagle.’
But don’t follow us wherever we go
The shit that I’m saying, make sure it’s heard
Motherfuck you and your punk-ass ghetto bird

Ice-Cube expresses the request of the ghetto youth toward the police: Stop following (us) like we’re always doing something wrong. Coupled with a later set of lyrics, Ice Cube further emphasizes the frustration he has with police monitoring him as if he’s a criminal due to the color of his skin and his location.

“Now, my homey’s here to lick on a trick for a Rolex
And let me try the fo’ next
Now the fo’ I was driving was hotter than July
Looked up and didn’t see a ribbon in the sky
Saw a chopper with numbers on the bottom
‘Calling all cars, I think we’ve got em.’”

Here, Ice-Cube shows the scenario in which his friend in a richer neighborhood allowed him to borrow his car for fun, in which police saw him and attempt to arrest him for driving something so nice. With such heavy prejudice and discrimination, it is obvious that Ice-Cube was aiming to provide realistic scenarios in ghetto communities that illustrated the reasons for African-American irritation/attitude toward police. Unlike NWA, he does not just create an “us versus them” argument, but rather an explanation for the rage and anger that minorities have in similar situations.

Lastly, what I found the most interesting about Ice-Cube’s choice to illustrate the life of urban communities, is that this specific song almost mimics that of Tupac’s incident with shooting cops in Atlanta, GA. The helicopter that constantly ruins people’s nights in Ice-Cube’s neighborhood exists because the cops are expecting trouble and are outright searching for it to happen. The drunk cops created that type of trouble, and they chose to take it out on a ghetto neighborhood and on a minority, most likely due to the premonition that the person and location were quite insignificant in comparison to the power they held. Ghetto Bird provides a concise explanation for the anger and annoyance that minority groups have in regard to police activity; it artfully and effectively shows the way police abuse their rank and power, using it to outright oppress and harass ghetto communities and play on the stereotypes of the people who live there.

tupac yuh

Sources:

Pough D. Gwendolyn, “Seeds and Legacies: Tapping the Potential of Hip-Hop”

Stanford, Karin L. “Keepin’ It Real in Hip Hop Politics: A Political Perspective of Tupac Shakur.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–22., doi:10.1177/0021934709355122.

Bullies and Bystanders

rape

Of course, without the deepest discussion, what is put on social media is always questionable; reality TV is no exception, despite the name. The “realness” of it is debatable, and after reading Constructions of reality on MTV’s “The Real World”: An Analysis of the Restrictive Coding of Black Masculinity (1998) by Dr. Mark P. Orbe, my suspicions about the way television portrays certain types of people regardless of integrity is confirmed.

To begin, reality TV has a negative portrayal of American culture, and is true in the sense that it is an obvious display of the racial and gender biases that occur in society regardless of any progressive movement or denial of outright oppression. Orbe’s discussion of rape in particular was interesting, as he states in the dialogue how after David confronts Beth about the rape accusation, that she “[took] it back” (Orbe).  The privileges that Beth was able to have over David in this instance had much to do with her race and gender, as the female portrayal of weakness allowed her to have the power to accuse David of a very serious matter whether or not it was true. With her being European-American, she would have an almost automatic crowd of fellow female and caucasian supporters to back her up in her case, which is unfair to David, being an African-American male. It is generally assumed that the women are the victims in any discussion of race, generally due to the higher statistic of women being the ones getting hurt in aggressive sexual advances. The show perpetuated this attitude and accusation by refusing the replay of the prank footage for Real World viewers to decide for themselves as to whether David made aggressive sexual advances or performed an annoying joke for fun (Orbe). David wanted the audience to see that his intent was pure and nonsexual, but the lack of evidence by not playing the footage shows how the producers wanted to retain that household drama and push the audience to only believe Beth’s words and her integrity. When Beth said that she merely “[took] it back,” she was exercising an obvious display of privilege, which reflects the power that people like her have in society that we tend to deny.

From personal experience, I have a friend whose case was similar; a large, dark-skinned Indian male versus a slightly smaller Chinese girl. Even if it was not black versus white, it was contingent upon the gender-stereotype circumstances; nobody wanted to believe that the case was faked, knowing that it was, because she was the woman. I even heard multiple people say that my friend was in the wrong because “he should have known better, he was the man in this whole ordeal” and, even if there was a premonition of the girl lying, that “nobody would believe him anyways because we was so big and intimidating.” In the end, authorities were able to figure out that she was lying, but a little too late, as he was banned from experiencing his own graduation and senior-night trip due to her false accusation. Much like David still being kicked off of the show despite Beth’s weak accusation, my friend was not able to socially defend himself from external accusations because nobody wanted to believe that the large, dark-skinned male would not be the one at fault.
The Real World is not a very good representation of American society as a whole, but it is a perfect display of hegemonic interactions that are definitely on the negative side of American culture. Reality TV is not necessarily real in the sense that the people on that show are not representative of the American public, but it is a realistic illustration of racial and gender biases, among others that exist under the shadow of optimism that is present at all times. Not many people overtly admit to being racist or sexist or etc., but those who remain as loyal bystanders perpetuate these relationships by tacitly agreeing with the oppressive behaviors before them, and failing to recognize the turmoil caused by this drama crafted by the producers.

Real World LA

Perspectives, Punks, and Punches

punk beat up

Throughout her thesis Gendered Underground, Kvaran makes note of the difference in attitude and generation between Baby Boomers of the 1960’s and those involved in the punk-rock counterculture of the slightly younger generation of the 1970’s and onward. Out of these differences in attitudes and generation, the mere presence or appearance of the punk scene on someone lead to the physical conflicts and verbal assaults that would occur from the older generation to the younger one, respectively.

Especially in New York–where the concentration of generational anger and frustration with the dissatisfaction toward the future and cynicism toward the aimless amount of work that peace, love, and happiness (which was not achieved in the hippie culture) wanted to achieve. The raw feelings of rage or the need to outwardly or artistically express these concerns came in the form of punk rock. These attitudes then influenced the music, politics, gender roles, and fashion of the punk scene, creating individuals who wore aggressive, leather clothes with dyed hair or intimidating wear or did what they could to emulate rock ‘n roll singers. Kvaran even notes that “Even if the gender dynamic of the New York City punk scene did not deviate dramatically from that of mainstream America or traditional rock and roll, it allowed for more flexible interpretations of traditional portrays of both masculinity and femininity” (71). The punk scene allowed the younger generation to explore different areas of society and living in ways that past generations have tried to ignore or subvert in order to retain an established order among people (like gender roles). Like Patti Smith, even the idea of femininity and power was being enhanced to encompass more than ideas of female political power, but rather pure autonomy and the lack of a need to depend on or secure a man. More than anything, the punk scene and attitude was giving way to more progressive actions, straying away from traditional social constructs out of dissatisfaction and frustration.

However, this was not what older generations believed as onlookers to this movement; Baby Boomer’s grew up in an era of tradition and optimism, while postwar attitudes contributed to the creation of a punk-rock generation. By attitude alone, friction can be seen between both groups. The Baby Boomers also grew up in an era of rock ‘n roll and disco, which the generation that came after them disliked. Especially in the question of masculinity and femininity, Baby Boomers had a relatively more misogynistic viewpoint by which the punk scene challenged through slightly transgender-type wear. As mentioned in the movie, cars would pull up next to those who dressed according to the punk-rock scene and beat them up regardless of actual offense–merely looking like a “punk” would spur attitudes of aggression from those who considered themselves purely rock and possibly more masculine. This would be due to the way that pure rock ‘n roll during the Baby Boomer’s generation created a need to be “edgy,” which translated to masculinity. Any man who would then challenge that would be straying from a cultural norm that THAT generation was used to, and felt the need to fix. The need to retain ideas of masculinity and tradition versus that of trying to find more out of life clashed between older generations and “punks,” leading to physical and verbal assaults that carried no actual cause rather than mere association.

As for the rest of society, punk was definitely unorthodox. It was a much-needed outlet for those who were not satisfied with the way government and hippies handled wartime and postwar attitudes, and a way to deny the “sugar-coated” illusion of everything being okay. Punk was a display of rage and cynicism, and arguably well-placed attitude in the right era. To society, punk was different due to the need of its constituents to express things that were not necessarily masculine, feminine, happy, or peaceful. Especially for adolescents, punk was a medium for much angst and was compelling for addressing current events or information in very informal ways (i.e. Punk magazine publishing drunken interviews so that the conversations were more real, entertaining, and exciting). By being so different, punk managed to bring a generation forward by confronting emotions and ideas/action that were less than perfect or ideal, creating tension both intentionally and unintentionally.