Who’s Appropriating Whom?

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AS DISCUSSED in our previous News blog post, Current Affairs magazine and other “hard left” periodicals are staffed by well-educated cultural aristocrats appropriating the voice and stance of leftist radicals.

Yet we find to our surprise that Current Affairs published an article by Briahna Joy Gray about the very subject of cultural appropriation! It’s here.

NOT surprising is that the essay presents the Harvard tops-down viewpoint, and is filled with distortions.

New Pop Lit‘s editor (me) is writing a series of posts at his personal blog addressing the Current Affairs essay’s viewpoint. The pieces are being written in reverse order. The second one is “All About Chuck Berry.” The third and concluding part of the series is “All About ‘Hound Dog.'” The opening salvo is upcoming.
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ABOUT APPROPRIATION

The charge of so-called cultural appropriation, applied to rock n roll history– coming from of all places Harvard University; home of the Elite of the Elite– seems to this commentator designed to shut down (and wipe history books clean) of small-scale business run by street hustlers. IF the culture of the 1950’s had worried about matters of appropriation, that would’ve been the result– and rock and roll would never have happened. Including England’s Beatles, who did their share of appropriation, of artists black and white, and of every possible style, including Broadway show tunes and 1920’s English music hall ditties.

(My series is showing that during the rise of rock music, everybody was freely appropriating everybody– with one of Ms. Gray’s chief victims, Chuck Berry, as one of the appropriators.)

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THE PROBLEM with the tops-down Harvard Viewpoint is that it eliminates artistic diversity, integration, mutation, choice, and change under the guise of doing the opposite. Without such appropriations by low-rent wannabe-capitalist scramblers trying to make a buck, the music industry would’ve remained as static and uninteresting as the literary scene is today; dominated by unknowing conglomerate machines and Ivy League-dominated foundations understanding only one way of viewing the art; one safe way of thinking, writing, promoting and publishing.

-Karl Wenclas

 

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Contradictions of the Left

OR, ABSENCE OF THE AUTHENTIC

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WE’VE ALREADY examined some of those contradictions, in our analysis of n+1 magazine and of The Baffler. Today we look at another “hard left” publication, Current Affairs, founded and edited by Nathan J. Robinson.

WHAT readers of his magazine and Robinson himself don’t seem to realize is that any revolution which springs from Harvard University– where Robinson is a Phd candidate– is co-opted from birth. Sold out at the start. It wouldn’t matter what label they put on themselves or their system: “Marxist.” “Communist.” “Democratic Socialist.” It’d be packaging. Labels like the kind slapped on soup cans. At the core of things nothing will have changed. The same people will be in charge. The same careerist technocrat mindset would dominate.

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Why else does someone attend Harvard or Yale (Nathan Robinson has been enrolled in both places) other than to be at the top of the pyramid? After the revolution it’d be the same hierarchy, with a twist in messaging. (Robinson is said to be good at messaging.) Nathan J. Robinson and his Ivy League editorial colleagues carry that stratified hierarchy within them. It’s embedded in them.

Doubt this? Who runs the civilization now? Two of the richest men on the planet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, both attended Harvard. The founders of Google went to Stanford University, which is almost as elite. Jeff Bezos of Amazon went to Princeton.

Politics? Every President of the United States from 1988 on before the present one was a graduate of Harvard or Yale. Or in George W. Bush’s case, both. Donald Trump went to the Wharton School, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League university.

Do we see a pattern?

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Oh, but Nathan J. Robinson, like his peers at other leftist magazines, is different. His ideas are different. He’s a socialist. Probably, a Marxist. He cares. He really does.

I suspect that in their New Socialist World they’d be part of Shigalov’s Ten Percent– still at the top of the pyramid, controlling the people– for their own good of course.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Just as in every person there’s a conscious and subconscious, so also there’s the role the person plays– the face shown to the world– and the authentic individual sitting behind the John Keegan “Mask.” They’re not always the same. If ever the same.

Who’s the real Nathan J. Robinson?

Is it leftist radical at the forefront of a neo-Marxist intellectual movement? Or the son of a man who worked in international corporate training? (And no doubt taught young Nathan J. many corporate world tricks.) Scion of money and achievement– is that Nathan’s core reality? At crunch time, would Robinson throw his advantages away? Really?

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THE FLIP SIDE is the person from hardship and poverty passing as an exemplar of class and refinement. This was not only a plotline of many plays (see Pygmalion) and Hollywood movies– it was much of Hollywood reality. Witness the careers of Cary Grant and Clark Gable, who transformed their very beings– their voices, gestures, dress, speech, teeth– to fit the role they wanted to play.

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A BETTER EXAMPLE is the career of Elvis Presley. Dirt poor. Born in a shack. The embodiment of “white trash.” When he became massively successful he suddenly found himself playing doctors or suave playboys in Hollywood movies. In “Blue Hawaii,” the slumming son of big money.

Did he fool anybody?

That Elvis was out of place was part of the appeal. It was fantasy. He was living the dream. His audiences knew it and loved it.

Elite intellectuals of the Harvard/Stanford variety (except for a few rock n roll fanboy writers) never accepted Elvis as legitimate and to this day haven’t accepted him. Rock music itself was not taken seriously as an art form until middle-class pseudo-intellectual troubadour Bob Dylan began playing it. That’s reality.

-K.W.

Revolutionary Wannabe #2

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(Chris Lehmann getting serious.)

Chris “I’m Not an Aristocrat” Lehmann is by all accounts a very serious person. He wants the world to know he’s serious, serious. SERIOUS.

Lehmann blew up at me on twitter earlier this week when I referred to him as an aristocrat. It was a throwaway line– after all, he IS a New York media Insider. I didn’t realize I was messing with his self-image. Lehmann quickly jumped into the discussion to set me straight:

(This is called Too Much Information.)

Chris Lehmann wants to be radical. NO more swanky parties with Ana Marie Cox!

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One half of him might be attracted to Manhattan glitz and flash– where The Baffler office sits– the other half is as aghast as a New England Puritan minister at the devilish debauched allure of the capitalist world. No! Temptation! Save me! Save yourself! Save everybody! We must march in the Revolution because that upper-crust world I have one foot out of and one foot in is EVIL!!

“I wanna, wanna wanna, wanna wanna wanna, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe, wannabe a Revolutionary! Yes, indeed.”

Lehmann wants to go marching down the street holding signs like Sunsara Taylor, but instead he’s in his office typing away– keys clicking, clicking– conflicted as always.

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(Madcap Sunsara Taylor.)
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Chris Lehmann is a collection of contradictions. In a recent Baffler essay Lehmann, who has worked at or written for New York Observer, Newsday, New York, Congressional QuarterlyWashington Post, Bookforum, NPR, Washington Monthly, Yahoo News, In These Times, Mother Jones, Tikkun, Reason, The Nation— criticizes the new class of “knowledge professionals”; as if he’s not among such class himself. (Remember, not an aristocrat.) He criticizes the existence of a “permanent political class.” But given the media’s power, isn’t it as bad to have a permanent media class? A clubby world where everyone knows everyone else and once you’re through the door, you’re in— as long as your ideas remain properly p.c. and predictable, that is.

That Chris Lehmann, of all people, is editor of The Baffler shows how far the publication has fallen from its days of Do-It-Yourself zinehood, when the upstart journal was part of a scene which believed that, in a democratic society, everyone should be a writer and publisher– the field not restricted to resume’d professional media elites (“aristocrats”) working for magazines whose reason for existence is to serve as glorified tax shelters for billionaires, or for scions of billionaires as a matter of “class inheritance.”

-K.W.

To Be Continued. . . .

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(Painting by Thomas Gainsborough.)

 

Who Controls Universities?

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During times of upheaval, the students do. The programmed mob. Raging Id. An unleashed beast.

Dictators from Hitler to Castro to Pol Pot have known that students are the shock troops of totalitarianism.

Professors, those institutional markers of mediocrity, either stand aside, or rush to get in front of the parade. Administrators are as squeamish.

During times of protest, students feel their raging youth, their numbers and their idealism.

Attend one of those “Nutcracker” ballet matinees during the holidays and watch what happens when the children in attendance outnumber the adults– and they realize it. They take over the hall– shouting; screaming; running up and down the aisles.

We knew something was up in colleges when we had a table at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit two summers ago. I had sat at a table with a small press guy at the AMC in 2008. Back then it was a standard DIY zine-style event. Activists were there, sure. (Including myself.) But everyone was happy. The atmosphere, whatever your cause– if you had one– was harmonious. By 2015 the vibe had changed. No harmony. Instead: fragmentation. Each table with their own particular identity politics, from race to gender to abundant bodies– and everyone was angry.

Trump’s election didn’t create the anger. It set it off.

We sensed the irrational force hovering over the proceedings. Without question the self-righteous force is more dominant on college campuses now than in 2015. News events show this.

Mob power by its nature is intolerant. The question of “free speech” in the fight against injustice, to the youthful crowd on the side of right, is beyond irrelevant. Distasteful speech becomes an object of hate which must be steamrolled; cleansed away. Most people aren’t aware that Nazism itself was a youth movement which took over universities. Mob rule is always irrational, always fascistic, always totalitarian, no matter the flag of the moment it flies under.

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But who creates the mob–?