A Strange Land

In one of Pitbull’s latest songs, Ke$ha (oh, how I wish that were a typo) sings the following chorus:

“It’s going down; I’m yelling timber.
You better move; you better dance.
Let’s make a night you won’t remember;
I’ll be the one you won’t forget.”

I suspect the first two lines give a pretty good indication of how well modern lyricists handle metaphor.  (Or perhaps lumberjacking is more festive than I think.)  The second two lines are probably a decent barometer of cultural insanity.  Not only are they incompatible; they’re both individually…

I can’t think of a word to effectively convey my disdain, horror, exasperation, and pity.  Oy.

I think I’ll go with corrupt.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a place to start.  It takes a corrupt heart to sing this song.  (And I’m not going to quote the rest.)  Not that that’s either surprising or unusual.  The radio is not fit listening for the easily disturbed.

A lot of the time, it’s not fit listening for humans.  I would say that it’s cruel even to animals and plants, but animals and plants have the simplicity to be beneath much harm from “art”.

As I say this, a group of kids has come into the library.  They’re maybe 10, but they have an array of fancy gadgets and are listening to exactly the sort of music about which I was thinking when I said some was not fit for humans.  It would be destructive to them if they were older and wiser.  I can’t imagine the effects its having now.

My objection isn’t a matter of genre, for the record.  There are genre’s I happen to prefer, but I don’t object to the others even if I don’t want to listen to them.  I’ve studied too much historical literature.  Genre is fleeting; what is one period’s artless trash is another period’s pinnacle of culture.

Interesting.  Apparently I’m now a matter of curiosity among the wee ones.  And here they come.  Let us see how this goes.

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Apparently Endangering Cats Because of Rap Music

I think it’s safe to say, or that most people would agree, that the bulk of rap lyrics only “work” when (for lack of a better word) rapped.  If you read them like prose or try to say them the way you might say some other sort of lyric, they sound odd.

I think this is because of poetical expectations.  Most English speakers expect lyrics to rhyme the way “cat” and “hat” rhyme.  This is, if I recall correctly, called a perfect rhyme, but the name is rather prejudicial.  In any event, most rap lyrics seem to employ instead the sort of rhymes that I think are called slant rhymes:  they match the vowel sounds, but not necessarily the consonants.  (e.g. In his song “The Monster,” Eminem rhymes “cake,” “ways,” and “inflated”) In regular prose this is called assonance, but rappers are clearly intending to rhyme the words rather than just repeat the sound.  Thus, when they rap (for lack of a better word) they speak in such a way as to accentuate the common vowels.

I’m aware that this is interesting to about five people on the planet, and that the odds of those people reading my blog are slim.  It also might be entirely wrong.  I’m a middle aged white-man whose primary experience is with a bunch of writers long dead before rap music was ever envisioned.

But if someone else finds this interesting, and if that person also knows more about the subject than I do, maybe that person can help me answer this question:  Why is rap the way it is?

Well, okay, that sounds rather more judgmental that I intend.  I don’t mean it in the way I might ask, “Why is this bookshelf so messy?”  It’s more like saying, “I think there’s a story here, and I’d like to hear it.”

It’s the same sort of curiosity that turns documentaries into an addictive substance.  My family used to joke that if a documentary were on the television, any of us who walked through the room would be unable to leave.

It’s also the same sort of curiosity that makes online encyclopedia’s dangerous.  Sure, as a kid I would sometimes read regular encyclopedias, but there are few things more wonderful than an encyclopedia with hyperlinks.

Ok, again I admit that about five people on the planet would agree with that last statement.  You have to start asking questions about your life if you ever utter a clause that includes, “there are few things more wonderful than an encyclopedia….”  Luckily, if you’re the sort of person who might utter such a sentence, you’re probably the sort of person who doesn’t mind asking questions about your life.

Curiosity begets curiosity.

I could probably turn that into theological point about being created to enjoy an infinite God, enjoyment which perforce must involve exploration; or I could say that exploring creation is honoring creation and its creator; or something about diversity of knowledge.  And there I just did.  But my real point today was to ask the question above:  why is it that rap lyrics seem predominantly to employ slant rhymes?

Adore Him

There’s a point in the movie, The Avengers, when Loki, ostensibly the villain of the piece, intimidates a crowd into frightened silence, orders everyone to kneel before him, and then says:

“Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end you will always kneel.”

Those of us who have grown up in a culture saturated by messages of independence and individuality, we have a visceral objection.  We’re conditioned to despise tyranny, and to be rather extravagant when dispensing that label.  Freedom is sacrosanct; “ego volo” is more convincing than “deus vult” ever was.

The movie intentionally evokes that very response.  We’re supposed to abhor what Loki is saying, and then to thrill as the movie slows down to focus on the elderly man who resists Loki and refuses to kneel.  It’s like the scene at the end of Dead Poets Society, albeit with more costumed heroes and less grandiosity: we’re supposed to side with the rebel, because the rebel values freedom.  Then over time, as we’re exposed to similar exhortations repeatedly, we become more like that rebel ourselves.  We also learn to triumph over tyrants.

Unfortunately, then we get to Christmas and discover that we’re unfit for it.  We sing songs like “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” but we don’t actually know how to adore anyone.  Sure we talk about adoring people and we say that some people are adorable, but we don’t mean it in the same way.  We don’t venerate and worship them; at best we’re describing a strong affection we have toward them.  Too often we mean something more obsessive and dehumanizing; we adore people the way we might adore chocolate cake: we want to consume them for our own pleasure.

As a way of explaining what I mean, consider monarchy.  Those of us without one, and those of us who have one but don’t value it, don’t have practice appreciating people for being what we can’t be ourselves.  We don’t have practice celebrating what we can’t ourselves attain.  We can only comfortably praise someone if we can want to be in their place and expect that someday we might; otherwise we mostly get jealous and decry the injustice of it.

When Britain’s Prince William married Catherine Middleton, their wedding was televised around the world, but where I live, the most frequent topic was the future Duchess’ status as a commoner.  It was a Cinderella story, something with which we could connect.  A lot of people enjoyed it because it symbolized the hope (however remote) that anyone could become royalty someday.

Had Prince William instead married a Princess from some other hereditary monarchy, I suspect the story would have been received differently.  People would likely have called the celebration showy, unnecessary, and in poor taste.  They likely would have objected that our society is too advanced to believe in archaic concepts like nobility, that the existence of royalty was contrary to justice, that the Prince and his bride ought to have been ashamed of themselves.  Some pundit somewhere would have expounded on the virtue of other systems, the ones in which there was at least the illusion that anyone can become powerful and important.

We don’t like the idea of being ruled, especially if there’s any suggestion that the person ruling is better than us in some way.  We only accept it (to the extent that we do accept it) if we feel that we might at least be a part of it, at least through some sort of representation.  We may never actually try to be a part of it, but the possibility makes the existence of authority less objectionable.

This is one of the reasons people get so angry about politics, especially those with minority opinions; once the ability to affect the authority has been called into question, objection to that authority inevitably follows.  We don’t like being ruled.  We don’t like not being equal with everyone.

We can’t be equal to Jesus though.  We can’t be him, nor can we control him.  We can’t make him require less righteousness from us, nor can we convince him to adjust his definition of righteousness until we’re comfortable with it.  Adoring him, actual and proper adoration, would just remind us of those uncomfortable truths.

So it’s hard for us to do it.  Instead we change the story.  We make him our friend or our neighbor, rather than our Lord.  We make him a symbol, a metaphor, an idea, rather than a person to who we would have to submit.  We try to make him adorable in the friendly, cute, and harmless sense–like an adorable puppy–but only pay lip service to the idea that in the end, “every knee will bow” and “every tongue will confess” that he is our rightful ruler and judge (Philippians 2:10-11, NASB).

You see, Loki is actually right: we are made to be ruled, and seeking freedom from that rule only makes us unhappy.  We were just never made to be ruled by Loki.  There’s a twist for us, and that twist begins at Christmas.

Whereas Loki ruled through fear and was eager to kill any who opposed him, Christ in meekness came to his enemies in the least scary, most vulnerable way possible: he came as a baby.  We deserved fear and death, but he came on an altogether different mission than conquest; he came to join us, to reach out to us, to persuade us, to redeem us, and to give us life.

He could have come in power with a host of angels as his unstoppable army, but he’s humble, so he became vulnerable (a baby) and isolated (in a barn).  He could have come to force us to submit, to remind us that he is God and we are dust, but he’s good, so he became a human being like us to walk with us and face struggles just like we do, starting with the basic struggles of finding a roof and a bed.  He could have come to destroy us–we are rebels to his rightful throne–but he’s merciful, so he came with an invitation back to himself, a chance to use the freedom we craved to choose the God who would sacrifice himself for our sake.

We adore the newborn Jesus at Christmas because, as a poor baby in a cave, our rightful and unavoidable Lord revealed what sort of Lord he was:  merciful, good, and humble.  We can’t avoid being ruled–we were created for Jesus, who is our Lord even if we shut tight our eyes, plug our ears, shake our heads and shout that it isn’t true–but if we object to his rule we don’t understand it.

Christmas is a chance to encounter him again, to glimpse his character and see how it answers our objections.  He is worthy of worship; we don’t need to defend ourselves from him.  O come, let us adore him.

Weasel Friendly Music

Children’s songs disturb me a bit.  I’m willing to admit that I probably think about them too much, but I also have to listen too them too much.  Thinking is just an unfortunate byproduct of proximity, like toxic sludge or zonkeys.  Have you ever considered the lyrics to the song “Pop Goes the Weasel,” for example? There are lots of different versions, but the one my daughter likes best is almost grippingly distressing.

It starts with a monkey chasing a weasel around a cobbler’s bench, which, rather Continue reading