Just a warning- this is a post about some questions I have. I don’t think there will be any answers, mostly just thinking aloud.
I was thinking about this scene from Office Space today
Because I was listing to Waka Flocka Flame at my desk. With my headphones on.
I like this song. It’s got a palpable sense of anger and dread hanging over it. It’s not something I listen to every day, but for whatever reason I was in the mood for it.
But I was listening to it with headphones on. Frankly, I might feel a bit like Michael Bolton from Office Space if someone heard me listening to it. Why though? I mean, it’s just music, right?
I think there are two jokes in that scene- one is the ridiculousness of a nerdy white dude rapping and the other is when he sees a black man selling flowers he not only rolls up his windows, but he locks his door. The implication is obvious – if he had just rolled up his window we could assume he just didn’t want to be hassled. But locking the door means he’s actually afraid of that man. He’s rapping to scary black music, but he’s afraid of black people!
I found this scene funny when I saw it, but there’s something deeper to it that I’m trying to pick apart. I mean, why can’t this dude sing along to some rap music? I have a cousin who refers to herself as a “country chick” but she’s spent her whole life in Orange County, living within a five minute drive of the Pacific Ocean. It wasn’t until about a minute ago when I was trying to think of an example of someone I know whose musical taste is way outside of their life that it even occurred to me that there’s anything unusual about that. Actually, I don’t think it’s that weird. Country music is as much suburban people music as it is music for rural people. If she were claiming she could drive a tractor that would be weird.
The other thing is that the guy who made the movie is a white man- Mike Judge in a movie directed at a white audience. We’re all supposed to look at this and laugh. Because we’d all know that a white man listening to rap is weird.
I’m going to skip discussion of whether singing along to rap music by white people is OK, if a certain word is used. My opinion on that subject isn’t really all that interesting.
I was young in the 90s so I was around for the big freakout about “gangster rap”. But in the end, part of the appeal of gangster rap for white people is that they’re living vicariously by listening to it. It’s exciting to identify, if only in the most abstract sense, with someone bravely looking at a world of constant danger and fighting against it. Even conquering it. I’m not saying there’s nothing ethically questionable there- for some of these rappers this is their real life, and sometimes that music has real life consequences for people.
But I always thought it was odd that right around the time people were freaking out about gangster rap, one of the most critically acclaimed and popular movies was this:
Gangster MOVIES! FREAK OUT EVERYONE!
But seriously, what’s the difference? I’m no more Italian than I am black. Just like I’d probably have no luck moving to the ghetto and joining a gang, I’d never make it as a mobster. But for some reason, listening to music is taken as an endorsement of something, but watching a movie is not. If someone walked into the room and I was rocking out to Waka Flocka Flame, I might turn it down and be a little bit embarrassed. But I wouldn’t hastily try to change the channel if I were watching The Godfather.