Response to "Immortal Technique"
First of all, the rapper is neither singing nor speaking but pounding his words at us with no distinction of emphasis or hierarchy of importance. As writing teachers often will say, all emphasis is no emphasis. Therefore, we can’t discern where we are intended to find significance, and we are left to conclude that the meaning lies in the medium itself, the pounding phrases, the angry tone, the bitterness. There is, of course, room for righteous anger in art. But to what end is it exhibited here?
Second, the images delivered in the words are piled on so thick and fast that we feel we are in the presence not of insight or illumination but of propaganda. It doesn’t even matter what opinions or attitudes the words are trying to sell us. What we feel is that we are being harangued, rhetorically beaten into submission. All our effort to comprehend and judge rightness or wrongness, agreement or disagreement, all our hope to be submerged in meaningfulness, is thwarted by the brutality of the delivery and the presumption that whatever the message may be, it is being forced down our throats whether we like it or not.
Third, no particular image in the driving list of complaints is either clear or illuminating. For example, to liken Condoleezza Rice to Sally Hemings is certainly suggestive, but of what? Is the artist saying that Dr. Rice is no more than a slave concubine to the President? Does he realize what a remarkable woman Sally Hemings was, how important she was to Thomas Jefferson and so to the early years of the nation, how complex are the meanings of her role in American History? What, precisely, has the artist got against Dr. Rice? Or perhaps the line is intended as a compliment. For what? Apparently we are supposed to know already, which implies that the song is really intended not to provide an experience of meaning but merely to reinforce already shared notions—i.e., propaganda.
Finally, the background rhythm and sound are visceral, repetitive, primitive, brutalizing.
If I think of a student of mine walking around the school or the mall or his home or the beach or sitting in his car listening to this kind of music hour after hour on an iPod, which effectively shuts out the rest of the world and give this music sole sovereignty over his consciousness for the time he or she is absorbed in it, I cannot help fearing the effects: a hardening of the feelings into unreflecting anger; a reinforcement of the sense of being forever wronged, forever a victim; an impoverishment of the imagination of what is possible in music and in poetry; and an increasingly grim Manichean belief in the eternal war of darkness (“them”) and light (“me”).
Not one of the four classical and three theological virtues that tradition holds up for our aspiration (justice, wisdom, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and love) seems to be promoted by this song. Neither of the two experiences that Aristotle identifies as the purposes of art, delight and instruction, are evoked by it. Instead, it treats us to an ongoing, hopeless, helpless, demoralizing brutalization of our senses meant to convey to the listener a vision of reality as ugly, vicious, dark, and unredeemable.
Now no artist who really believes that reality is only dark and unredeemable would bother to make a work of art. But this artist and his producers do believe in selling such a picture of reality, a picture whose sales will provide the real-world benefits they do believe in: fame, money, female groupies.
Only artists themselves in despair of meaning, who worship the idol of worldly pleasure, could be willing to benefit from this poisoning of their own future by the poisoning of the imaginations of the young. I cannot hear such music without seeing in it either willful or abysmally ignorant corruption of the youth, the trampling on their hope and aspiration, for the sake of worldly gain. Corruption is in the words, the music, the attitude, the purpose, the goal, and the effects.
Under “Additional Personnel” the album lists artists named Crayz Walz, Pumpkinhead, Loucipher, Tonedeff, Diabolic, and Poison Pen. The names say it all. Why don’t we take them at their word?
I would welcome a cogent refutation of this argument, anything that might offer a sliver of hope to counteract the despair in which such music soaks the listener.