Hey, let's have a Screed toay! But first, weather. Gah. It continues to be cold - no, colder. I don’t recall it being this cold for this long, but surely that’s the case. The days are indistinguishable; bright, white, blue and painful. Supposedly the light helps - hey, at least there’s sun! But it’s possible I have some form of reverse Seasonal Affect Disorder - I’d prefer the gloom. The blue skies bring a false cheer to the afternoon. I’m at work now, getting ready to go home to conclude the first and most generally useless part of the day, and I dread the walk. The car will be cold, which means there’s no relief at the end of the walk, just a slightly less arctic chamber in which to shiver and curse.
Ah, but where would I go? What would I do?
UPDATE: Nevermind it’ll be 40 by Friday
It's the trifecta: a site I can’t stand, talking about an artist I don’t care about, written by an academic who knows you can’t get any accolades these days unless you sprinkle the words Whiteness and Privilege all over your par-baked pan of doughy prose.
tldr: a singer’s new album seems to suggest he’s going all Country-style on us, and we need to acknowledge the problems here.
So. It's a BuzzFeed piece called "Justin Timberlake, John Mayer, And The Western Rehab For White Masculinity." Apparently Timberlake did a video teaser for his new album, and it was set on his ranch.This is as problematic as you can imagine.
Timberlake’s out-of-nowhere embrace of the West comes at a pivotal point for his career — and for the place of white men in the public consciousness.
There is no public consciousness. There are memes and opinions held by some, broadcast loudly to millions, accepted by some, ignored by others. If you do nothing but read or generate articles saturated with llike-minded chatter about your pet issues, yes, you think there’s a public consciousness, but that’s like being on a bus full of slumbering people and concluding the whole world’s asleep.
Twenty years ago, Timberlake launched his tremendously successful solo career with a dance and style borrowed heavily from black artists — and Michael Jackson in particular. Now, like so many white artists (Miley Cyrus, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea) who’ve built their fame at the intersection of hip-hop, R&B, and pop, his image and music are scrutinized, particularly in terms of racial dynamics and appropriation, in a way that Paul Simon and Madonna never were.
That’s funny. I remember Paul Simon was lauded by the proper-thinking people for expanding the musical landscape of the radio. Some criticized his breaking of the South African artistic boycott, IIRC, but no one talked about appropriation back then. As for Madonna, there's a link to an article about cultural appropriation, and one of the authors wonders if there would have been difficult, fraught discussions about her La Isla Bonita video - which one critic at the time called “multicultural.” Oh, those ignorant days of yore.
Anyway, Timberlake he has a new persona, and it’s Backwoods Dude.
Flannel! Seriously! Part of why the Western motifs of Man of the Woods feel so performative, so memeworthy, so laughable is that it doesn’t feel like a progression, or like something Timberlake’s been working toward, or a return to his roots. Instead, it’s the image equivalent of a trip to a dude ranch: an accidental projection of his greatest vulnerabilities, and a desire to immerse himself in a simple, elemental, mythical, masculine world that doesn’t ask hard questions or demand nuanced answers.
That’s correct. Like 99.9% of all the things these people do, it is a pose, a marketing concept, an idea helped along by photographers and set designers. But it probably had an organic beginning:
Timberlake is fully in control of which images come out of his life in Montana, a stark contrast to New York, or Los Angeles, or even Tennessee, where documentation of his life and that of his family are at a premium. In Montana, he doesn’t have to endure the feminizing dynamics of celebrity culture in general and paparazzi surveillance in particular. In Montana, his life is his.
Da noive of dat guy!
In other words, he spent a lot of time in a place where he was left alone, and turned this into the guiding idea for the next album. Okay. So? So what?
The teaser trailer condenses this idea to its most basic form. Just a minute long, it nevertheless features 49 shots, alternating swiftly between images of the natural landscape (sky, water, plants, horses, fire, mountains) and Timberlake: Timberlake enveloped by water, Timberlake kneeling in a snow-dusted field of cheatgrass, Timberlake walking through rows of corn.
You can break down each of the shots in the teaser even further, but the overarching message is incredibly simple: The West is a place of authenticity, or regeneration, of fatherhood, of returning to the basics, of freedom, of control — all of which is to say, of unfettered manhood.
Do you get the feeling that the author thinks this is a good thing?
Do you sense that the author has any argument about whether those things are not true about the West, or should not be true?
Do you also suspect that the author would be surprised to learn she has no standing whatsoever to discuss these issues? Because she doesn’t - at least as I understand the rules these days. She cannot attempt to discuss the viewpoint of someone different than hers, because the secondary aspects of being human - gender, race - trump any concllusions one has drawn from a lifetime of being human. Race and gender are silos, and there’s no peeking out from yours and saying you understand what’s going on in the others.
Oh, and please do not give me the line about how you can make certain conclusions based on observation and experience. In this very piece we literally have a white woman talking about how black artists regard appropriation of their culture - an act of such pinkspreading in itself I can’t even; she is taking up the oxygen of black people who would want to make that case themselves, thank you very much. It’s the very definition of privilege.
No, I’m not serious. But it’s still nonsense. Unfettered manhood is not necessarily “regeneration, fatherhood, returning to the basics, freedom, control” - it can just as well be raping and pillaging. The terms she uses are the definitions of civilized manhood, strictures men place on themselves to achieve a greater good that transcends the individual. In its smallest definition, it’s the family unit.
The reason the Old West plays into a masculine ideal has to do with building things out of nothing, establishing order, self-reliance, physical labor, and a certain apartness from the soft decadence of urban life. The country / city split is hardly unique to America, of course. The idea that there are certain virtues to be found and encouraged in the rustic areas was old hat in Cicero’s time.
The author brings in John Meyer, who also shot a video outside, in flannels. He wears old-time clothes and buys motor oil for his car.
These might not be the traditional markers of woods masculinity, but for someone like Mayer — best known for womanizing and/or writing sensitive songs like “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “Daughters” — it’s meant to signify a transformation. Same for the cover art for Mayer’s second post-Montana album, Paradise Valley, which places Mayer, dressed in a long coat that approximates a cowboy’s duster, staring into space, cowboy-ish hat on his head, while a black lab looks up attentively. (Like Timberlake, Mayer also, at one point, dons a Pendleton Blanket amid the Montana snow).
Yes yes yes. You have identified another marketing campaign: brava. Let's have the thesis, please.
Yet neither Mayer nor Timberlake has actually moved to the West. They’ve moved to a sanitized, whitewashed, exclusive myth of the West; a West where there are wide-open spaces without any reminder of how they got that way (stealing land from Native Americans)
Wow, as they said on the Internet two or three years ago, just. wow. Did you know that the West had become a myth? And did you know - sit down, this will blow your mind - some indigenous residents were displaced when the Europeans moved in? (Not the Salish-Tunaxe and Semteuse, though; they were almost "killed off in wars" with the Blackfoot.)
Anyway, all these guys want a West where life is “without strife” in part because it’s so incredibly white.
Well, that’s an interesting thing to say, Incredibly White writer. Is this because white settlements don’t breed strife? European history would seem to dispel that idea.
It’s a West where the presence of dude ranchers like Mayer and Timberlake — and hundreds of other non-Montanan millionaires like them — have made it increasingly difficult for nonmillionaire Montanans to maintain their ways of life.
Citation needed, you might think. I mean, rich guys streaming into the country and buying working ranches, turning them into wilderness playgrounds - sure, that would affect the local economies. But what “ways of life” are we talking about, exactly - and since when did BuzzFeed or leftist academics care about Montanans maintaining their ways of life? You get to maintain your way of life only if it meets the proper criterion; otherwise, you are a retrograde anomaly in a changing world, and while your struggles may be sad, it’s a necessary loss in the big grand project to make sure right-think can be found across the land without deviation from the acceptable minimum.
More shattering insights:
This vision of the West as one of the last nourishing, manhood-stabilizing retreats for outsiders — the last best place — is a myth built on hollow stereotypes. But its perpetuation, whether by country music or the Montana tourism board or Timberlake, is essential to the nation’s sense of self, and gets reactivated in times of national identity crisis.
Which is to say, constantly. For God’s sake, the Vision of the West has been reactivitated since they finished the transcontinental railroad and declared the Frontier closed.
In 2014, Willa Brown, writing for the Atlantic, made a compelling argument linking the lumbersexual to both gentrification — the process by which hipsters colonize and come to own a once “savage” urban area — and a post-recession crisis of masculinity.
But that crisis, like the one of the turn of the 20th century, was really one of white masculinity, and the avatars of lumbersexuality — Justin Vernon, Nick Offerman — are not that far removed from Teddy Roosevelt and Paul Bunyan. “The message of these symbols was clear,” Brown wrote. “Get out of the cities and into nature, and the white man would be more powerful than any of the forces threatening him. Even a weekend at a camp in the Adirondacks or a little woodworking would do the trick.”
Manhood would be restored, as would any anxieties about worthlessness or your voice not mattering. Which is to say: White manhood, and the confidence that naturally accompanies it, would be restored.
It’s a good article - more interesting than this one - and while it suffers from the usual womansplaining about how men think (kidding; somewhat) it reminds us that people in the early 20th century were convinced that the mad pell-mell rush of modern life was stripping away our Vital Essences. I see it in the ads all the time: this modern world, with its clattering typewriters and jangling phones, took a toll. Those were “the forces threatening him,” not paparazzi or dusky hordes of immigrants or gender-theory studies majors. A good outing in the clean restorative countryside - a vacation, or just a motorcar jaunt - would help. If you really wanted to take the cure, you went out into the woods and did Manly Things. And then you moved your bowels. Finally!
There are two problems here. Yes, it was a problem of white masculinity, but that’s because white people were the overwhelming majority of the country, and hence any problem would be a white problem. And even if it was, so what? The combination of white + masculinity means they subjects of the piece should’ve quitcherbitchin’ because they had it coming to them?
It’s possible that the outdoorsy proponents of the era made vigorous appeals to buck up the white race in the name of all the progressive eugenics idea - to mention an old variety of settled science.
Back to the problematic aspects of wealthy celebrities living in Montana:
These men are all unequivocally successful: They have enviable careers, global celebrity, and are paired with some of the most beautiful women in the world. They’re not trying to escape shame or disappointment. Instead, they’re fleeing criticism — and criticism, in particular, of the way they’ve handled issues concerning race and their own privilege.
Let’s go fly fishing. I need to get away from the incessant criticism of the way I’ve handled the issues of race and privilege.
The author then describes how white people are moving to places already populated by other white people.
A place like Montana offers something more than just space, or control over who’s asking questions. In Montana, these men have effectively placed themselves in what writer Rich Benjamin calls “whiteopias”: places where white people are moving, at least in some small part, to be among other white people.
Note that the people who live there don’t call them that. The term was coine by a writer who wrote a book called “Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America.” Here’s an excerpt, taken from a review, discussing why people move to predominately white areas:
Benjamin discovers the reasons are not cut and dry.
"Most whites are not drawn to a place explicitly because it teems with other white people. Rather, the place's very whiteness implies other perceived qualities. Americans associate a homogenous white neighborhood with higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, hospitability, cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites' minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And, if a neighborhood is known to have those traits, many whites presume--without giving it a thought--that the neighborhood will be majority white.”
It's an interesting thesis, but remember what the author of the piece said: these men have effectively placed themselves in places where white people are moving, at least in some small part, to be among other white people.
Or, because they can afford a big ranch where they're left alone and there is snow and wolves and other ranchey things pop stars want to put on their Instagrams.
Back to the article:
Still, “teasers” are meant to distill the essence of a project, and the one for Man of the Woods suggests an unwillingness on Timberlake’s part to deal with the larger questions and considerations that now attend being a white celebrity — and a desire to return to dynamics of his earlier stardom, when his actions and dominance went largely unquestioned, when his responsibility to the causes and battles of the black culture from which he’s borrowed so heavily went unspoken. This new iteration might resonate with white audiences. But like similar retreats by Miley Cyrus and Macklemore from the “strife” that attended co-opting black culture, it will not silence his critics. It will embolden them.
Okay. Make an album that co-opts another culture, you’re appropriating. Throw up your hands and say screw it and make an album based on something everyone else says is your culture, and you’re retreating to a safe space of whiteness.
You know who never apologized for cultural appropriation? Elvis Costello. Did a country album back in his New Wave days. He had no right to that. All copies should be melted down.
The “Wild West, but now” is where we can get away from the internet and Twitter and Instagram, away from the hard questions that make us consider things we’d rather not. But that belief is as mythical as the rest that shape the West in the popular imagination, and Limerick has little patience for its perpetuation: “the workings of history carried the opposite lesson,” she writes. “The West is not where we escaped each other, but where we all met.” It’s where, in other words, the larger questions of privilege, whiteness, power, and masculinity seem to crystallize themselves in their most potent forms.
The great privilege of white masculinity has always been to avoid those questions. But these days, none of our contemporary Huck Finns — whether Donald Trump Jr., or Justin Timberlake — can excuse himself from those conversations without consequences.
Uh huh. The consequences include articles like this. But they'll probably survive.
tl;dr: you're not an individual. There are no individuals.
Lately we have been enduring the second iteration of . . .
That's what happens when Mr. Toad picks you up. Well. let’s see how The Batman gets out of this:
Seems riskier than ducking, but he’s the Batman. Once the train clears the tunnel, the Wizard stops it by remote control, and it’s time for some high-quality physical action. He really looks as if he’s lost his balance:
Robin joins the fray, and he’s feeling all frisky. Hey Dad watch me do acrobatics!
Eventually one of the henchmen gets a gun and shoots Batman in the face. Just kidding; they hit him on the head. Robin too. The effect lasts 9 seconds and has no physical after effects.
Wonder if Batman ever questions his decision to have narrow eye slits:
That's some quality deduction there, Robin. They give chase, but the Wizard disables the Batmobile, and the jokers get away. They’re pretty proud of themselves.
Unfortunately, they forgot to steal the detonators, so the X-90 is worthless.
Meanwhile, Barry Brown, the radio guy who works from his living room . . .
. . . is broadcasting news about the inventor of X-90 coming to town, and says “for those who are vitally interested, he is stopping at the Stafford Hotel.” Is he giving secret messages to the Wizard? It could be! The enigmatic Mr. Brown is still a mystery!
So Vicky Vale shows up at the Stafford to take Dr. Morton’s picture, because visiting inventors of explosives are always a Page One item; the henchmen show up at the same time and take everyone hostage. What’ll it be, apartment, shack, or mine?
Turns out they stuck Vicky in a closet, and once she’s rescued she tells Batman and Robin that Doctor Explosives was kidnapped, and blah blah etc etc they drive off and find the bad guys, who are driving somewhere in the only other truck in California. They stop to go back by the barrels of explosive liquid and enjoy a rich, satisfying cigarette. And then:
Man, he loves that move.
I have to say: the fights just aren’t up to our usual standard.
Oh crap Batman's serious about this
I have to admit I didn’t expect this.
ZZZZZZT, says the Wizard! Mwahhahahahahah
Tune in next week for the thrilling funeral of Batman, Dead Man! Or not.
That's it; I'm done. See you around.