(BtVS, Veronica Mars, Supernatural) by anonymous
So my basic take on this vid is that the vidder was so caught up in their own interpretation of the lyrics and the clips they were using that they didn't realize either part was capable of multiple interpretations independently and even more interpretations in conjunction. There are times when being able to argue equally for mutually exclusive interpretations of a work of art is good, but this is not one of them.
Eminem's "White America" is a complicated, compelling, and frustrating response to public, mass media, and even government complaints about violence, homophobia, and misogyny in rap music -- there were even Congressional hearings on it. And this is still an ongoing issue -- Eminem is responding to events from the 1990s, but there was another round of hearings in 2007 or 2008. Eminem argues that the outcry is racist and hypocritical: white America was perfectly happy to ignore rap music when it considered it "black music" and only targeted it for repression once it spread to white middle-class kids ("See the problem is, I speak to suburban kids who otherwise would've never knew these words exist, whose moms probably woulda never gave two squirts of piss, till I created so much motherfuckin' turbulence.... hip hop was never a problem in Harlem, only in Boston.") And I agree with this entirely.
It's when he gets into the white entitlement whine that I have issues: he argues his race wasn't a benefit in hip hop ("When I was underground, no one gave a fuck I was white, no labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up") and that it marks him out for extra critical attention ("so now I'm catchin' the flack from these activists when they raggin', actin' like I'm the first rapper to smack a bitch, or say faggot/shit, just look at me like I'm your closest pal, the posterchild, the mother fuckin' spokesman now for/White America"). He doesn't have white privilege, in other words. He gets it way worse than the black rappers. Which is, you know, total bullshit. [eta: giandujakiss points out
that this isn't entirely fair, because at times Eminem *does* explicitly acknowledge white privilege: "let's do the math, if I was black, I would've sold half, I Ain't have to graduate from Lincoln high school to know that."] Eminem got targeted for a lot of reasons, including his race, and also including his popularity and brilliance (he is brilliant, you know, Greg Tate in Everything But the Burden: What White People Take from Black Culture
has a frustrated paragraph on Eminem in which he says, basically, Eminem's appropriating black culture but the results are fucking brilliant, goddamnit), but none of this meant he got it worse than black rappers like Public Enemy or Dr. Dre, and the racist structure of US society and the music industry both ensured that he reaped more benefits from it. And his own damn song argues against him: when black kids get into rap, they're treated like dangerous thugs who must be put down; when white kids get into rap, they're treated like precious children who must be saved. In both cases, rap--associated with blackness--is treated like a disease, a danger, an infection; but the white kids are treated like kids with a bad illness and the black kids are treated like the illness the white kids have. (I'm sorry to simplify American race relations into just two races, but I think that's actually the entire simplified stereotype that's at work here.)
So the song itself has this crucial ambiguity in which it's protesting hypocrisy and racism but it's also attempting to deny the benefits of racism that accrue to its writer. As an additional problem, at least if you're planning to use this song to protest racism, sexism, and classism, people who accuse Eminem of being misogynist and homophobic are demonstrably right. There's a level of racism, classism, and power display in the way rap is held accountable for these things and other forms of music aren't, and in the way that the worst offenders and not the best defenders are held up as representative of rap; but, basically, saying, "Lots of other people are sexist and homophobic, too" doesn't actually eliminate Eminem's responsibility for being sexist and homophobic, because personal responsibility does not work that way. (And a lot of this should probably be in the past tense. I get the impression Eminem's actually re-thought the sexism, misogyny, and homophobia in recent years--possibly because he's just tired of fighting, but I personally like to hope that's he's actually thought better of it
. Like, you know, maybe as his baby girl grows up he realizes that, hey! it's not really great for her to sing vocals on a song where he's fantasizing about murdering her mother and maybe it really is not that awesome for her to exist in a world where boys call her a bitch and a ho and a piece of ass. Sometimes I'm optimistic like that.)
Anyway, any vidder who wants to use this song to address hypocrisy, racism, misogyny, classism, or political argument--and I think the one thing all viewers have agreed on is that the vidder does want to say *something* about those--has to be aware of the ambiguities in and surrounding the song and has to choose clips that will either exploit or reduce the ambiguity as best helps their argument. And instead the vidder seems to have not exactly noticed the ambiguity, or rather they had a very clear take on how *they* interpreted the lyrics and a very unrealistic expectation of how shared that interpretation would be.
The person who posted the vid
(who may or may not be the vidder; how would any of us know?) says, "[I]f racial issues are the only thing that Eminem conjure up in your brain, then, well, then you listen to him differently than I do." And that right there is part of the problem. Of course other people listen to Eminem differently than the vidder does. Everyone listens to every artist differently, but that's even more the case with controversial and political artists. Additionally, the refrain of the song--and the place where the vidder cut the song to start--is Eminem shouting, "WHITE AMERICA!" [eta 2:
Rewatched and I was wrong about this: the song has the original intro, and the first phrase is "AMERICA!" not "WHITE AMERICA!" But given that "WHITE AMERICA" is the refrain, I don't think associating "AMERICA" with "WHITE AMERICA" is a stretch.] That's not exactly redirecting the audience to a nonracial reading of the phrase, especially when the vid stars three white protagonist, and the second two sections of the vid (after the opening that establishes it's a multi-fandom vid) both seem to deal with race: Spike's violence against people of color and Veronica Mar's friendship and (the vid suggests) betrayal of Wallace. If the vid was meant not to deal with race, or not entirely with race, then the Spike section shouldn't have been first and/or should have focused on non-racialized violence.
These are the interpretations of the vid I can come up with so far:
- Fuck you, fandom, for forgiving pretty white boys and girls anything, for cherishing every bruise on their skin and every drop of blood they shed, while never giving a fuck for all the people of color or white women or poor people they hurt on the way, let alone all the people of color and white women and poor people who aren't represented.
- Fuck you, fandom, for bitching about the poor politics of my woobies or the shows my woobies are on, because they're in pain and I'm in pain because you're harshing my squee.
- Fuck you, demons and monsters and rich rapists, for ruining the lives of Spike, Veronica, and Dean.
So the fact that I can get the COMPLETELY OPPOSITE readings of 1 vs. 2, and the completely different intra-textual as opposed to extra-textual readings of 1 and 2 vs. 3, are because, as an argument, the vid's a mess. It's possible to tell the vidder is angry; it's impossible to tell what they're angry about. The vid seems to switch haphazardly between treating "white America" as something inside the text and something outside the text--which it actually is, it's both a social population and a media construct--but fails to acknowledge that arguing about the text and arguing about its audience are not always identical, and/or that if "white America" is sometimes literal and sometimes a metaphor, you need to be clearer about when it's which. It is really hard for me to tell whether Spike, Veronica, and Dean are supposed to be villains or victims or both simultaneously, or who's being condemned for what. veredus
, I know, argues that the three are "punished" for their various violations and betrayals, but this doesn't work well as an intratextual argument: when Spike burns alive, he's saving the world, textually redeemed by heroism; Veronica is raped before her friendship with Wallace, the second rape attempt isn't related to a breakdown in their friendship, and indeed she actually sacrifices her own goals at significant times at Wallace's request; Dean's violence towards women (or the demons possessing women's bodies) is not a textual cause of his death or suffering.
So as a political vid, this could be arguing something I agree with, something I disagree with, or something which I think is an indefensible analysis of the text. And it's a failure, not because I don't agree with it, but because it isn't clear enough about what it's saying for me to tell what I'm supposed to be agreeing or disagreeing with.
Initially, I'd counted this as one of the two vids dealing with race, but now I'm just not sure.