Hate Thy Neighbour

The phenomenon of prole-hate in music is a curious beast. Otherwise sensible people, considered members of academia and the middle class, will passionately hate certain types of music. They will overlook all its qualities, disparage its musical appeal and consider it the worst kind of crass commerciality. And it happens over and over again, with surprising frequency, in all sorts of contexts.

Chris at Word The Cat posted about one such hated-but-brilliant genre last week, Romanian manele, and how it's hated by everyone from script kiddies to literature professors. But certainly I've seen similar diatribes against funk carioca, new orleans bounce, UK garage and so on. It's amazing how socially acceptable it can be (certainly chav-hate in the UK completely is). Certainly it can be partly explained by some sort of hegemonistic pushing of the values of the bourgeoisie, but in the end I'm not sure that's the primary motivation. Actually, I think its a lot simpler than that.

One thing that almost all of these kinds of accounts have in common is the bog-down into details about clothing, manners, appearance and other factors that have very little to do with the actual music. I think this gives a clue to what it's actually about - it's a hate of the people rather than the music, and the music gets swept along in it all. And not just any people either: it's almost always the people you don't like or didn't like as a kid in your immediate surroundings. People don't hate "proles" across the globe but close to their own community. Hence the hate for manele which is actually a hate for roma in disguise.

The same sort of argument can be made when it comes to subcultures - is there anything a "proper" hip-hop lover hates more than their immediate "neighbour" in southern hip-hop? People can dismiss loads of music but only get truly livid at the stuff that they encounter near (but not in) their own social surroundings. (A similar thing can be seen with hardcore and punk people against emos. At this point the connection to class gets tenuous indeed...)

I'm certainly not immune myself to this stuff. I can't honestly listen to or appreciate french house or britpop (among other things) because the people in the discos in York were listening to it when I lived there. Nasty fucking music for nasty fucking people! I'm trying to get past these sentiments but it's damned difficult. Maybe the worse you feel about it the more powerful it actually is, look at punk and rock'n'roll...

I think this is partly why I can appreciate writers who are completely outside the music they write about, like Fredrik Strage here in Sweden. He may write for (and I quote) "the ad executives, who want to be hip (but don't actually want to get 'down')" (AH-H) but the fact that he is so distanced from the musics serves to create perhaps a better communication between high and low than if he'd be standing right next to it. I'm not sure if this partly contradicts stuff I've previously said, but there you go.

Update: Gorgeous Bourdieu quote on this subject: "Social identity lies in difference, and difference is asserted against what is closest, which represents the greatest threat."


wayne&wax said...

interesting -- i'm in the process of working up another long post, and maybe something else (a proper article?) that deals with the notion of neighbors and music. worth bearing what you describe in mind, though i wonder how we're to define "neighbors" across these various contexts. how many of these people are actually sharing physical/social spaces?

Birdseed said...

Well there's spaces and spaces I guess. I mean, maybe "they" don't frequent your cocktail parties but you can't help run across "them" in the street, talking in restaurants, on public transport. Then there' the media space - the media tends to do a lot of lumping together of people negatively. And I guess discourse space as well - I've heard plenty of old hungarian ladies talk really unpleasantly about roma that they at most encounter at the market or in the street. It's not going to be very remote people you discuss negatively in your everyday life. (In fact I can think of good examples of people idealising an oppressed group in another country while hating the ones at home, German extreme-right hip-hoppers and all.)

That said I guess it's the richest in society, at least here, who most despise immigrants and the working class. Maybe neighbours-once-removed, then.

Anton Hultberg Hansen said...

Personally, I don't have any problem hating a variety of genres. I don't see how my personal musical preferences could be harmful to anyone. Besides I think that musical tribalism furthers subcultural bonding and creativity.

However - I do make a distinction between me - the person, and me - the journalist. When I write articles or do stuff on the radio - I try to keep my cool and avoid getting excessively hateful. I guess my blog is somewhere in between - a semi-public space where I sometimes air my private thoughts.

Anyway. You say that Fredrik Strage is a good example of a journalist who can handle vertical communication - from prole-artists to middle class consumers. I do not agree. Hip hop does not need more nerdy, ironic journalists who poke fun at the genre. Hip hop needs to wake the fuck up!

After the Don Imus incident, the neocons are trying to blame hiphop for the violence, teenage pregnancies and other problems of the ghetto. Take a look at what Bill Cosby is doing now...scary stuff.

I think we need to start taking hiphop seriously. And I believe that academics play an important role in this process. Academics tend to go beyond the trend-sensetive music journalism, and attempt to see the bigger picture.

While journalists will tell you that Tupac was cool, or that he was a "real" thug. They will not inform you about his political views and his connection to the black power movement.

I think that the entry of the hiphop-generation into the universities all over the world can balance the nonsensical music and nonsensical reporting we have seen the last ten years (just go back and listen to your old Public Enemy or BDP records and you see what I mean).

Check this posting:

So in conclusion: No - I dont think we need more nerdy journalists with no connection to hip hop writing about hip hop. What we need is for the hip hop activists to ally themselves with the academics...

Birdseed said...

Do you really think the hip-hop "movement" itself, especially the very middle-classy one we've got here in Sweden, is able to give a more objective view of the phenomenon? The hip-hop "elites" (who inevitably would be the ones with the voice) don't have the clearest view of a genre where a very significant portion of artists work under very different premises than they do.

I think "your side" of hip-hop does as much distortin' as any of the entertainment journalists. Fact is, hip-hop is a very broad genre encompassing all sort of internal oppositions and if anything needs to be treated with the complexity it deserves. Reducing hip-hop to a political, word-skill-based, sample-oriented genre is actually possibly worse than reducing it to a dance-based, functional-worded, mostly electronic genre because the latter is definitely dominant today, like it or not, and also probably better represents hip-hop's origins.

Anton Hultberg Hansen said...

If you bothered to read the link to my earlier blogposting you would have seen that you missed my point slightly.

(here is the rerun: http://antonhultberghansen.blogspot.com/2008/04/frtydligande.html)

I am no longer part of the Dj Premier worshipping backpacker mafia. And I dont think that this group is underrepresented in the swedish hiphop scene. You might be right that this is generally what the swedish, middle class based, hiphop-scene embraces.

But I did not call for more tributes to Jay-Dee. I called for the youth to start viewing hiphop as their music and a way of making their voices heard. Plus I called for academics to get involved and give some perspective to the discussion on hiphop, which is, truthfully speaking...pitiful.

Anton Hultberg Hansen said...

By the way...maybe this could interest you...