Granted, that is to demand from the Eminem controversy a clarity it rarely achieves. Obtuse and uninformed though his critics may be, they’re aware that his songs aren’t pure acts of advocacy. With Marshall Mathers’s fraught relationship with his real-life wife adding clear-and-present piquancy to the hand-wringing, there’s generally reference to the rapper’s violent “fantasies,” his homophobic “epithets.” The feeling seems to be, however, that Eminem’s audience of unformed minds isn’t up to such fine distinctions, and that his juvenile/sociopathic/exploitative/yucky self isn’t either. Surely that’s why “Janie Runaway” has gone unremarked in the current Grammy brouhaha.
You’ll find “Janie Runaway” on another nominee, Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature. It’s sung in the voice of an aging pedophile trying to set up a threesome with his jailbait houseguest and a friend of hers. This being Steely Dan, the tone is complex, but that just means the pedophile isn’t presented as a beast. I ask you, are aging males attracted to underage females less likely to kid themselves about their own morality than young men enraged at their female sexual partners? Will “Janie Runaway” help? As a critic who’s the father of a 15-year-old daughter, I’d say there’s more chance it will titillate. And as critic and father I nevertheless insist that “Janie Runaway” is a brilliant song.
Here, as with Don’s false identity and (literally) meretricious mother, Mad Men keeps telling you what to think instead of letting you think for yourself. As I watched the first season, the characters and their milieu were so unrelentingly repellent that I kept wondering whether the writers had been trying, unsuccessfully, for a kind of camp—for a tartly tongue-in-cheek send-up of Sixties attitudes. (I found myself wishing that the creators of Glee had gotten a stab at this material.) But the creators of Mad Men are in deadly earnest. It’s as if these forty- and thirty-somethings can’t quite believe how bad people were back then, and can’t resist the impulse to keep showing you.
This impulse might be worth indulging (briefly), but the problem with Mad Men is that it suffers from a hypocrisy of its own. As the camera glides over Joan’s gigantic bust and hourglass hips, as it languorously follows the swirls of cigarette smoke toward the ceiling, as the clinking of ice in the glass of someone’s midday Canadian Club is lovingly enhanced, you can’t help thinking that the creators of this show are indulging in a kind of dramatic having your cake and eating it, too: even as it invites us to be shocked by what it’s showing us (a scene people love to talk about is one in which a hugely pregnant Betty lights up a cigarette in a car), it keeps eroticizing what it’s showing us, too. For a drama (or book, or whatever) to invite an audience to feel superior to a less enlightened era even as it teases the regressive urges behind the behaviors associated with that era strikes me as the worst possible offense that can be committed in a creative work set in the past: it’s simultaneously contemptuous and pandering. Here, it cripples the show’s ability to tell us anything of real substance about the world it depicts.
First: he does make some good points. Now comes the part where I rant:
Christ. They’re fine. They’re talented, they’re clever, and yes, syncretism is good. They aren’t my cup of tea, precisely: a little insubstantial and maybe a little [too] pleased with themselves. But then, happiness is not really my area of expertise, artistically speaking. I’d like to hear more from them and listen with an open-mind, but it’s difficult when there’s all this tedious intra-privileged-class-struggle bullshit flying around. Because really, playing the “the haters are just jealous” card? Really? We all fucking graduated fucking high school.
“You’re just jealous ‘cause I’m smarter,” is not an argument. It just makes the writer look like a smugly superior elitist who can’t be secure in their own happiness without belittling others. By all accounts, the members of Vampire Weekend are decent guys, whose great strength is an ability to be un-self-consciously happy and intelligent. I just wish reviewers could follow their lead, because I’m tired of hearing successful, privileged people complain about how other people’s opinions are oppressing them. That goes for the Tea Party, and it goes for Bob Christgau. It’s all the same fucking disease.
Well, I think this could be modeled akin to visual contrast. A similar population that is close enough to serve as a magnet for insecurities. This will create artificial contrast. Certainly interesting, but not really new ground. It probably fits established in/out group frameworks well. The experiment I have in mind would be one where New York subjects shock others in a Milgram style fashion. I predict that they would maximally punish those we tell them to hail from New Jersey, as they ultimately see them as prawn-like non-human creatures of sorts. Any social psychologists reading here? ;) The economic implications are very real. I wonder what the rent in Hoboken would be, if it was acceptable for New Yorkers to live there. I bet I couldn’t afford it…
Veckatimest [Warp, 2009]
Nomenclature niggle: not “chamber pop.” Serving up two kinds of genteel escape, pastoral and aesthetic, this is chamber folk-rock—or, less kindly, folk-prog. From the Beach Boys on down, chamber pop is about tune and hook embellishment. These guys are in it for the atmosphere. There are vaguer lyrics out there, but the reason the band’s claque is gaga for the line “We’ll swim around like two dories” isn’t how evocative the image is (it isn’t, which should count for something), but the extra squeeze of choirboy tight-ass Daniel Rossen pretties it up with. Applied to the straightforward “Deep Blue Sea” on Dark Was the Night, their skilled playing remains modest enough, but on this subtler and more pretentious material, the skills predominate, and just in case they don’t, let’s add a string quartet here and real choirboys there. Plus, they still hum. Less than last time, but a lot. C+