Group 1: What is Grunge? Sonic Youth and the Artists Cindy Sherman and Sue Williams

Everyone: What is grunge? Select one video from the search-terms on the syllabus and reflect on what is being performed. Are there any similarities to Kurt Cobain (if you selected someone other than Nirvana)? Additionally, tell us why you think this type of musical performance was popular? 

Group 1: After reading about Cindy Sherman and Sue William’s work do you see any similarities to the work of Kurt Cobain? Refer to both the video and the work of Sherman and Williams. Additionally, how would you categorize this art? Reflect on our semester investigating different cultures…are there any correlations to other artistic expressions?

Grunge fuses elements of punk rock and with heavy metal usually with various vocals that are harsh or appear lazy.  Grunge musicians often demonstrated a look representative with apathy and disdain for a lot of what the world had to offer.  I searched the band Sonic Youth which was a popular grunge band in the 80s/90s which had various similarities to Kurt Cobain.  Specifically the song “Bull in the Heather” had similar sounds to various Kurt Cobain songs.  The droning on of the vocals and the rough guitar in the background showcase a different style of music from the main stream pop.

After reading about Cindy Sherman and Sue William’s work I do see several similarities to Kurt Cobain and how their work criticizes various aspects of society.  It was interesting to hear about Sherman’s Bus Riders photography which showed the individuals waiting in line for the bus, but the black riders were all given blackface to appear the same color.  She was attempting to use visual irony by contrasting these passengers with that of the white individuals to show how even in today’s age companies still mistreat people based off race.  Just as Kurt Cobain used his lyrics to talk about his dissatisfaction with parts of society so did she in her visual art.

Also, Sue William’s pieces showcase this various out side of the main stream often using feminist ideals in her art.  She completed a piece titled “Are you pro porn or anti-porn?” demonstrated how women in pornographic films are being treated as objects for the desire of violent men.  She relates this to young men viewing this film internalizing this issue and deciding that it is okay to treat women this way, even if it is acting.  Kurt Cobain also used his music platform to point out other issues in society such as drug abuse and suicide.

I would categorize this art as a type of performance/social activism art as it is using various mediums to explore negative aspects of society.  I think this is very similar to the punk music and culture that went against the mainstream societal norms, because it was causing pain by out-casting individuals.  These punk rockers shunned mainstream culture and created their own outlet for expression by including all the “rejects” of mainstream society to create their own culture.



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Kurt Cobain and Nirvana’s Unplugged


If I were to describe Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to someone who hadn’t heard of them, I’d start with terms like “grunge, rock, hard, and agressive,” but they were much more than that.  I agree with the assertion made in the video “kurt cobain and the female grotesque” by Linnea Zeiner.  Kurt Cobain was an active feminist, but not in the normal sense of the world.  He was radical and chaotic, but with good intentions.  He purposefully dressed in ways that confused the two accepted genders and embraced his feminine side, which he identified more with.  He tried to show that as time is progressing and humanity is evolving women should be given a better share of the world and should be able to protect and provide for themselves without relying on Men.

I do also believe that “Unplugged,” a show on MTV, was culturally significant because it brought many popular artists into a more wholesome and contained world to play their music, usually their hit songs.  This gave a new layer to each band that appeared on the show, and focused more on their connection with the small audience.  Unlike Nirvana’s performance on “Unplugged,” most artists simply played their biggest hits on acoustic.  Even with this simple formula, “Unplugged” was able to show that while some bands change their sound to appeal to the mainstream, they can still put on a personal show at a small location.


Zeiner, Linnea. “kurt cobain and the female grotesque.”

Kraftwerk’s Elements


Kraftwerk’s music is more electronic than industrial because of their focus on synthesizers, and lack of focus on anti-music.  Bret Woods, in his article “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an Underground Genre” defines four “core fundamentals of what makes industrial music a standalone genre,” two of which are “the use of synthesizers and anti-music” (41).  Kraftwerk is however more electronic than industrial because it does not feature many elements of anti-music.  For example, there aren’t many random and non-electronic or non-vocal sounds in the music of kraftwerk.  They do constantly have a stream of music coming from synthesizers to keep the beat of the song, making the music electronic.  The group Kraftwerk did display shock tactics as seen in the above image and in their public dress.  While they weren’t as abominable or shocking as some other bands and artists, their actions were noticed and purposeful.  They were decidedly independent from popular music and made sure to be seen that way.  One element of anti-music is completely absent from Kraftwerk music that I listened to– industrial sounds and purposeful silence.  There are some strange synthesizer sounds in kraftwerk music, but they don’t seem to go against the trend of popular music to the extend that those sounds do.


Woods, Bret. “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an         Underground Genre.” 2007. Florida State University.

Challenging the Social Order Through Industrial Music

2. “The members of Throbbing Gristle were dedicated performance artists who vigorously challenged social order through deviant acts not only on stage, but in their imagery as well” (Woods 39). What kind of social order was prevailing at the time of Throbbing Gristle’s beginnings, and what were they hoping to change or bring to the public’s attention with their performances?

At the time of Throbbing Gristle’s beginnings during the 1970’s, Americans were still critical of the government and searching for new means of expression. As Bret Woods describes in his thesis Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an Underground Genre, “The Futurist movement began to challenge the conventional notions of music, sound, and noise” (38). Here, the “Futurist movement” is defined as the pre-cursor to industrial and electronic movement. The main goal of futurism and industrial music was to experiment with unusual, often mechanical sounds to create a new understanding of music. Artists such as Throbbing Gristle wanted to change the traditional idea of music from soft, beautiful instruments to incorporate harder, every-day sounds, while still being enjoyable to listen to. One of the early influencers of modern electronic musicians, Luigi Rossolo, wrote a letter that mentions “humans’ collaboration with machines is most likely among the first acknowledgements of technology with expressive art” (38). The innovative music, coupled with the bizarre performance art of many artists, attracted the public’s attention. “The logo for [Throbbing Gristle’s] record label itself is said to depict a chimney stack at an Auschwitz death camp–a clear provocation of social order” (39). The experimentalist nature of industrial artists were meant to call attention to a dystopian reality that many people experienced, but few were openly discussing.  Additionally, “[industrial] acts were rooted in synthesizer and electronic music traditions, not rock,” which made it even more difficult to fully integrate industrial music into a mainstream culture that was so accustomed to rock-based music and idealized realities. (40) Essentially, industrial musicians were attempting to de-stigmatize “ugly” sounds and images, as well as assert their individuality as a genre.

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Group 1: NIN and the Industrial Music Scene

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Group 1: Woods described electronic music and experimentation as the two elemental influencing aspects which comprised the identity of industrial music (38). By comparing Nine Inch Nails’ earlier work with their later albums, how do you see these influences manifest throughout their musical career? Do you think that NIN can be categorized as industrial, considering their use of catchy hooks and the mainstream fame they achieved over time?

Industrial music has a very unique following from fans outside of the mainstream as most artists and those who listen to this genre form a subculture outside the popular hits of the day.  it is not in the popular mainstream and according to Woods, “Industrial music exists in a nebulous realm to those who concern themselves with thinking about it. As a genre of music that has never pervaded the charts of popular music, industrial is often overlooked by scholars and casual listeners alike” (Woods, 1).  Nine Inch Nails started in this niche realm and became respected as industrial artists within the industrial scene.

In their earlier albums, listeners can expect to see certain techniques and styles can be found throughout Nine Inch Nails’ catalog.  The Nine Inch Nails songs such as “Wish”, and “The Day the World Went Away” exhibit terraced dynamics, which is a characteristic of electronic industrial music (Woods, 39).  The lead singer, Trent Reznor’s singing follows a similar pattern, frequently moving from whispers to screams.  He also has used software to alter his voice in several songs which is common in the industrial music scene.   Therefore, when experiencing their albums, listeners can see this change from older to more recent songs by noticing the use of more traditional instruments to electronic/synthesizer sounds common in various aspects of industrial music experimentation.

Although Nine Inch Nails grew in mainstream popular culture, I believe they should still be considered industrial music due to their roots and influences as a band, despite evolving/changing their sound.  Woods discusses how electronic music and experimentalism are major aspects of industrial music which Nine Inch Nails still continue to do despite their use of catchy hooks and mainstream framing (Woods, 24).  This shows that even through the evolution of their music, they still have various major aspects of industrial music stemming from their work, which I believe qualifies them to still be in the scene, even with their growing popularity throughout the 2000s.


Article: Woods, Bret, Industrial Music for Industrial People. The History and Development of an Underground Genre. (Florida State University Library, 2007).

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Black-on-Black Violence and Sexism in “Straight Outta Compton”

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After watching “Straight Outta Compton,” I can see how NWA addressed black-on-black violence and female discrimination. The movie spends a lot of time on the Rodney King trial and how closely the members of the group are following it. When the trial is over and the officers are not convicted, many members of the group are very upset and we begin to see further commentary on the issue in the coming scenes. For instance, when the Death Row Records manager beats the man who accidently parked his car in the wrong spot, I think the film producers were trying to show a parallel between the manager’s behavior and the behavior of the violent officers. It was a similar situation in that the victim did nothing wrong, yet he was brutally attacked by an aggressor who was both on a power trip and acting generally hateful. Similar behavior was displayed by the same character when he brutalized a supposedly “east coast gangster” for nothing more than where he was from and the way he talked, similar to the way police officers in the movie brutalized people because of the where they lived and the color of their skin. It was clear that Dr. Dre recognized and opposed the parallel between the manager and the police as he chose to cut ties with Death Row Records shortly after the incident.

Clearly displayed throughout the film is also the group members’ treatment of women and how it changed over time. In the first nights on tour and at the pool party, the members of NWA can be seen speaking disrespectfully to women, harassing them, and objectifying them. This can be seen especially in the hotel scene when a man comes by looking for a girl and the members are running around, grabbing at girls, and after the confrontation with the man, shove the woman out of the room without a shirt on. Not much commentary is made directly on this, but I noticed that the characters began treating women very differently towards the end of the film, many of them staying with a single woman and saying positive things such as “I love you.” While they still use objectifying language towards and about women, their actions have markedly changed by the end of the film.

Image Credit:

Gray, et al. Straight Outta Compton. 2016.

NWA & The Representation of Black Youth

In this argument I want to assess wether or not the movie Straight Out of Compton (SOC) helped the representation of black youth in America. When discussing gangsta rap’s commentary on racial politics there are two main arguments. The first being that the violence and demeaning of societal morals in the lyrics furthers the monstorization of African American men. On the other hand, it is a very effective and popular way of broadcasting the message of discrimination that is felt. In my opinion the movie was able to support the second argument.

While the album SOC undeniably perpetuates the stereotype of the dangerous black male I believe that the movie was able to humanize the stereotype. As you watch the story of these young men whom you know are violent criminals the viewer becomes connected to them. While they are a perfect representation of what America is supposed to hate you can’t help but love these young men, even Easy E a known drug dealer. You get to experience the discrimination first hand in this movie and it allows the audiences who have never seen this before to understand the issue of police brutality. For viewers  who had little contact with this type of brutality it is eye opening. Viewers sympathize with these violent young men in a way the media has never allowed before and this is how the SOC was able to positively comment on black youths.

The movies highlights the political and racial facets of crime. Law is not necessarily moral clear but it is black and white. Here I want to use McCann’s explanation,

“crime is political. By this, I do not mean simply that politics inform public policies related to crime and punishment… I am arguing that crime is in itself an act of political agency. As historian Peter Linebaugh states plainly in his study of political economy and crime in eighteenth century England, “In short, people became so poor that they stole to live, and their misappropriating led to manifold innovations in civil society.” If political struggle is at its very core about survival (and I believe it to be), then crime is no doubt political. Although the practices of a criminal will not be as politically conscious or beneficial as those of a street protestoror community organizer, they nonetheless partake in the social antagonisms that giveform and shape to political and rhetorical subjectivity. While crime from a punitive standpoint enables myriad discourses of racial, gender, and class scapegoating, it similarly enables alternative discourses of criminal behavior from the perspective of, or on behalf of, the incarcerated and their communities.” (McCann 14-15).

In essence, crime is subjective and determined by the politics of our country. SOC shows that the subject of our nation is to constantly mark black men as criminals.

This movie also released at a critical political moment with the popularity of movement like Black Lives Matter and was able to show the younger generations the parallel issues from previous generations. If kids today weren’t versed in the lyrics of NWA before they are now and NWA is a huge icon in pop culture right now. (Just look at all the “straight out of____” T-shirt’s ). This recycling of political music and pop culture fueled activism today.

Some important scenes from the movie I want to include,

The first scene included is one of the many examples in SOC of police brutality and profiling but I believe this one makes this most powerful statement because of the powerful dialogue of the black police officer. The scene ends with him saying “listen to your master” which is a stunning slave comment coming from a black man. The scene embodies the Fuck the Police lyric “black police showin out for the white cop”. The second scene I have included shows a perfect encapsulation of the two arguments for rap as a representation of black youth I previously spoke about.

On the subject of the music I think that NWA sells authenticity. McCann speaks a lot about this idea that in order for rap musicians to be successful they have to be gangster and this means their music gets progressively more violent as validation. While their music is full of political commentary because crime is political I believe the majority of NWA’s songs center around violence and degradation of society, women, and homosexuals.

The political music from decades ago is much mellower in comparison to NWA. This is due to many reasons. Rap music didn’t have the traction in the 60’s and 70’s,  and by the 80’s the civil rights movement was so long ago I think music became more frustrated. Musical artists grew impatient with the lack of change where as artist in the 60’s had just seen some success and sang with less anger.

The power of this music is due to its popularity. People far and wide listen to these albums with little personal connection to the issues. I think this is due to the clean and unique musical style of Dr. Dre and the taboo subject of the music. By now we know that people in American society love to watch a good societal deviation.

Finally, this may be outside the lenses of race and politics in this weeks discussion but I want to bring up HIV. When Eric is diagnosed with HIV his response is, “but I ain’t no faggot.” I think showing the death and diagnosis of Eric gave viewers another disdained group to sympathize. By this time you’re invested in they character and rather than feel that media perpetuated distaste for and HIV patient, you just feel bad for Eric. I appreciated the tone of this subplot and thought it was a positive contribution to the dialogue on HIV today. This commentary in the 80’s brought attention to a strongly misunderstood issue.