Monday, May 6, 2013

Neoliberalism and the Lyrical Fascism of Lil Wayne

Henry Giroux Jr. is one of the most consistent and incisive scholars in the country. While we many bemoan how the rise of "public intellectuals" has in many ways served to advance and legitimate elite interests and the "approved script," there remains a small number of folks who can leverage impressive philosophical and interpretive techniques in order to talk about issues of pressing public concern.

Ultimately, critical theory should take on the twin tasks of truth-telling and forcing its practitioners to be engaged scholars. Giroux's range of work in formal academic settings and also in online venues is a model of that ideal.

As such, I was not surprised by his April 2013 essay on the connections between the rapper Lil Wayne, civil rights martyr Emmit Till, neoliberalism (what should actually be called "hyper-conservatism") and commercial hip hop. It was a great piece that deserved a much bigger audience. Alas, Giroux is not someone the general public is routinely exposed to either on NPR or the cable news networks.

Henry Giroux observes in "Lil Wayne's Lyrical Fascism" how:
Lil Wayne’s allusion to Emmitt Till in his lyrics represents more than stupidity. It represents how normalized the culture of cruelty has become and how it wraps itself in a popular culture that is increasingly racist, misogynistic, and historically illiterate. This is neoliberalism’s revenge on young people in that it elevates profits over justice and the practice of moral witnessing and in doing so creates artists and other young people who mimic a racist and authoritarian politics and are completely clueless about it. Celebrity culture is the underside of the new illiteracy in America, the soft edge of fascism with its unbridled celebration of wealth, narcissism, and glamor... 
It is worth repeating as a counter narrative to Lil Wayne’s complicity with the modes of lyrical fascism that now circulate in the media like a poisonous toxin.
In my own work, I develop a framework which suggests that commercial hip hop is an imaginary which ironically is both a product of deindustrialization and the rise of the neoliberal order, while now in its most recent iterations, celebrates and mirrors the logic of hyper-consumerism and spectacular consumption. In all, commercial hip hop is the bastard child of system changes in political economy during the late 1960s and early 1970s while also reinforcing (and advocating for) a retreat from a healthy, inclusive, engaged type of citizenship and biopolitics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Commercial hip hop draws from a founding mythos and narrative of political "resistance" and "opposition" at the site of popular culture and its intersection with the public sphere. The riddle then becomes how does commercial hip hop's understanding of politics actually work to legitimize some very regressive--if not actually "anti-political" ways--understandings of the State, and the potential of public policy to serve the Common Good.

I am in good company as I grapple with these questions. Giroux offers needed insight and clarity here as he connects Lil Wayne with an empty celebrity culture that misrepresents excess, waste, and hyper-consumerism as civic values:
We live at a time when heroes of the civil rights generation such Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Angela Davis are now replaced by business tycoons such as Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and Henry Paulson. The older pioneers sacrificed in order to alleviate the suffering of others, while the new “celebrity heroes” of the media drawn from corporate culture live off the suffering of others. Celebrity culture is a cesspool of greed, over paid financial looters, and spineless media pundits who reproduce the market-driven and politically paralysing sexist and racist grammars of suffering, state violence, and disposability. 
Maybe Lil Wayne should read about the history of the civil rights movement before he fashions lyrics that sound as if they were written by the racists that killed this young man. Maybe the American public should go further and ask what kind of country creates people like Lil Wayne and what can be done to create a formative culture that would stop this kind of racism and sexism in its tracks, rather than reward it.
The artist should be the conscience of a People. We have come a long way from Robeson, Ellison, and Wright. While the neoliberal hyper consumerist ethos of commercial hip hop may not be laudable, they remain agents of political socialization for young people, and mirrors of a broader society in a deep moral, existential, and ontological crisis.


skilletblonde said...

Lil Wayne and his ilk are very much what the late, Pan African psychologist, Dr. Amos Wilson, was speaking about when he used the term, "False Conscientiousness." In order for black people to be constantly victimized by racism, you must convince them to think backwards. Therefore, your great heroes will be deemed worthless. Eddie Griffin exhibited this during one of his routines, when he called Martin Luther King a "Ni**er." Cedric the Entertainer disrespected Rosa Parks in the movie Barber Shop. L L Cool J recently compares wearing gold chains to slave chains.

It is this backward, concrete block stupidity, being shoved down our throats as art. Basically it is very right-wing conservative thinking dressed up as something hip. Rappers, unaware of their internalized racism, bellow the very same thing that most right-wing racists tout. Their so called art is the same as the white, chauvinistic, racist, homophobic male. This is what Dr. Wilson was talking about.

Hipster racism is very popular now. It's not just ignorant black people in on it. Artist like Seth Mac Farlane, Howard Stern, Tosh.0, Aaron McGruder, Tyler the Creator, etc., etc. Racism is a lucrative business.

Please check out Dr. Wilson's lecture: The Falsification of Afrikan Conscientiousness Part1.

chauncey devega said...

Dr. Wilson was no joke. Hipster racism is THE day-to-day racism of post racial Age of Obama among young, white, and brown.

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Bruto Alto said...

"The riddle then becomes how does commercial hip hop's understanding of politics...".
is a good question but why is this thinking only needed in Hip Hop? Also was the early years of hip hop more aware? Was it the Fat Boys "all you can eat", was it Kurtis Blow's Basketball, maybe Biz Markie? Also why do rockers get a pass Kiss, Ozzy, Meatloaf, Tool, or Megadeath are only seen as stage shows and art. Rappers are held to a higher standard. Kanye West and Jay-Z pin Murder to Excellence but are remembered for N... in Paris. Kendrick Lamar makes an almost perfect story album in Maad City. What would this same group say about Little Richard, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Rick James, or Luther Vandros today? The "ilk of late" came from years of social behavior not just out of the blue.
This is just a smarter verison of Crabs in a Bucket.
P.S. LL isn't the only rapper to question hip hops need for unrealist jewels.

Wavenstein said...

Completely agree, there's a reason why coons and buffoons like 2 Chainz, Trinidad James, Lil Wayne, and Soulja Boy populate(pollute) our airwaves while i basically have to search the internet far and wide if I want to hear some new KRS-One. Public Enemy, or Brand Nubian. Clowns like Wayne represent the type black imagery that are comfortable to the white gaze. Which why he and everything he represents is plastered all over our TV screens no matter how awful his latest music sounds. White folks eat that shit up because he and those of his ilk validate damn near every single negative stereotype of young black males out there. He's as close to a modern day Stephan Fetchit as one could ask for. This shit is contemporary blackface.

Wavenstein said...

Link doesn't work. Interested in this leture

bruto alto said...

Soulija Boy? When was the last time you looked at today's hip hop music? Really, I got call you out on that one. Your not listening to Brand Hubian, or Public Enemy and in most case KRS-one. (not one has made music in ten years) They have counter parts in todays music, young artist that have the same numbers and message.
Now look at other types of music. Twisted Sister no problem, Kiss no problem, Marilyn Manson no problem, yet Lil Wayne needs to be the focused moral center of rap. If todays kids can make it through thug life in the 00's horrorcore in the 90's and Rick James in the 80's then why do you think they are too stupid now. They know music will change and artist will grow with age. Wayne just turned 30 what was Prine or Rick James message at 30. Hell, what was bill cosby dressed like? Truck Turner... Superfly...The Mack....Juice....

Wavenstein said...

I was talking about Soulja boy as it relates to imagery and representation. Please don't tell me what I do and don't listen to, Public Enemy consistently drops new music as well as KRS-One if you're willing to look for it. You're changing the subject of my post, I'm not challenging Wayne to be the moral center of anything. I'm simply stating that the powers that be love to use Wayne and those of his ilk as a "comfortable" representation of blackness as long as that blackness as it at a certain arm's length.

skilletblonde said...

You can simply go to YouTube and google Dr. Amos Wilson, a bevy of his lectures are listed.