David Cole writes another must-read:
You may not know this, but there’s an entire subgenre of YouTube prank videos in which white, Asian, and Hispanic pranksters venture into black communities just to fuck with the locals. They’re called “hood pranks,” and, cumulatively, they have hundreds of millions of views. And within this subgenre is a sub-subgenre in which pranksters fart on black people. Or at least they pretend to (they use a handheld noisemaker called a “pooter”). (…)
This is what it’s come to. Black America is now seen as a joke, a prop for comedy. Wanna see a startling Black History Month statistic? On YouTube, the most watched upload of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has 9.8 million views. The most watched “farting on black people” video? 16.7 million views. (…)
Morgan State professor Jason Johnson (…) frets that “African-American birth rates have fallen below what is known as ‘the replacement level,’” adding, “A shrinking black population puts many of our age-old strategies for success at risk, since black power has always come from maintaining political majorities in cities like Washington, D.C., being a crucial voting bloc, or acquiring federal or private investment after a census.”
Yeah, about those “political majorities.” Based on U.S. Census Bureau calculations, Washington, D.C.’s “black population is disappearing.” And in Chicago? “Chicago’s white population seems to be on the rise. In fact, the total population of whites now may exceed that of blacks.” And what of the “progressive” West Coast? The region is seeing “an exodus of blacks” even as many “economically struggling Midwestern cities” have “declining black populations.”
As we know all too well, the elite Left and the bumpkin Right (I’m looking at you, Glenn Beck) enjoy deploying Dr. King’s speech for their own purposes.
(This suits the King family fine, as they own the copyright — even on the plagiarized bits, amusingly — and charge a fee for its use.)
Both sides sigh that “Dr. King’s dream still hasn’t come true,” although of course they differ furiously on the reasons why. (Or pretend to when the camera’s red light is on.)
They are all missing the point, because they’re making what may or may not be called “a category error” but I didn’t go to university and am also too lazy to google that right now.
What I mean is: They treat King’s speech as a blueprint, when it is in fact more like a song.
This is surely how “I Have a Dream” has been (unconsciously) “consumed” all this time:
As the rhetorical equivalent of a particularly stirring vocal performance — an aria, or, more aptly, an anthem:
Whitney Huston singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The “Marseille” scene from Casablanca…
We do not think to ask with a tsk, “Well, that’s all well and good, but have those songs come true?” Because the last two words would stumble on their way from our brains to our tongues.
Yet we demand such an answer when it comes to King’s speech.
About a bloated all-star performance of “We Are the World” in 1993 (which seems to have had some kind of White House imprimatur) Greil Marcus writes:
It may be that behind the great good feeling of this performance lies only propaganda, a fabulous sheen of communitarian self-recognition disguising a new government that means to leave the country as it found it. But as John F. Kennedy proved against his own will, or for that matter his thoughtlessness, false promises can be taken up by those who only hear the tune and don’t care about the copyright.
If, as Robert Ray of the Vulgar Boatmen puts it, “The sound of Dylan’s voice changed more people’s ideas about the world than his political message did,” then the same can be said for the sound of Kennedy’s voice and his political acts.
This is the most profound thing I’ve ever read in Marcus’ somewhat overrated critical ouvre (and, amusingly, given my subject, he is quoting someone else — but at least giving the other fellow credit…) but I’ll leave my own musings about the similar effect that, say, Joe Strummer’s “singing” voice evokes for another time (and coffee.)
For now, I wonder if I, and not a few other dismayed souls, black and white, were being rather too hard on those folks I wondered at a few years back at Taki’s:
From what I can make out, every year, African-Americans celebrate MLK Day with boozy parties at “da club.” Which is fine, I guess. White people have been commemorating statutory holidays with drunk driving and explosives since forever.
It’s not like I celebrate Canada Day by getting really drunk and holding a séance to contact the ghost of my dog, so it would be peevish to expect Americans of any shade to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. through, say, displays of ritual plagiarism. If we’ve learned anything from the aforementioned Kwanzaa, it’s that historical accuracy is largely optional in the sphere of holidays.
But from what I can make out from these MLK party flyers, the whole “adultery” thing, on the other hand, is a key component. (…)
In some cases, fireworks are Photoshopped, with exuberant, distasteful obliviousness, behind his head. (…)
“Voter suppression” hysterics will be relieved to learn there’s no ID required at Club Technics’ MLK bash.
Delivering on the promise of its “Free At Last” theme, the Wish Ultra Lounge in Dallas lets everyone in, no cover charge (“before 10 PM”).
All very tasteless and undignified, and seemingly breathtakingly, well, tone deaf — but only if, I now realize, you make the category error mentioned above.
Let’s face it: Dr. King’s speech is the only thing that 85% of those partiers (along with most of the rest of the world) probably know him for.
And they “know” (whether they know it or not) that that speech is a song.
And so they leave the think-tank-ing and bad faith hand-wringing to the rest of us, and sing.