I almost fear addressing this issue, and as I examine my own reluctance, I realize that, while I consider this absolutely crucial, I retain the absolutely assinine concern of (for lack of a better term) alienating boys. As I write this, the imaginary blogger scandal dominates the discourse of the Sunday morning news shows, proving that, as Thers notes, only certain people are allowed to get angry, even in the face of complete fucking lies. (He has a more complicated point: that civility is invoked as a form of censorship, but you can toddle over to metacomments
to get that.) In any case, I probably worry more than I should about offending: one of the benefits of having a pop blog with a--uh--selective
readership (in the Spinal Tap sense) should be that I don't worry about such things. (I also don't get trolls, though I did have one once--followed me over from Eschaton--who wanted me to listen to Miles Davis. Heh. I guess that *is* how you'd troll a blog like this, though.)
But in truth, I do have issues with pop, mostly surrounding the issue of gender. Lyrically, much of the music I love obsesses over personal relationships, and because of the preponderance of male artists in this form, presents a certain view of them. I have no problem with that, except insofar as the bulk of the catalog turns into some rant by Saint Jerome--and that does happen sometimes. The peculiarity of pop, it seems to me, is that the melodic structure is so often fiercely at odds with the lyrical venom. Form and message functional oppositionally, like an Aryan Nations puppet show, or those old racist Bugs Bunny cartoons. It sounds great, but the pleasure conceals a damaging message: too frequently, the message is male rage at women, the rage of the powerful over the disempowered, which ought to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.
Of course women have rage, too. When women do music, I think, they tend toward harder genres: punk or metal, for example, which focus their anger differently. The venom--the power, maybe better--works on both levels, aurally and ideologically. There are examples of female anger in pop--Sam Phillips's "Baby, I Can't Please You" springs to mind--but generally one has to wander into the realm of the riot grrrls to get a real taste of it. (Mary Prankster's "The World Is Full of Bastards (And I've Dated Every One)" tells you all you need to know, really.)
The defense, which I've heard from some surprising quarters, is the persona. In other words, songwriting is not a wholly autobiographical process. Some percentage of what comes out is intended as a witty, ironic commentary on the state of gender relations in the world from a position not the writer's own: "Look at this outrageous position! Please join me in recognizing its fundamental absurdity." (Though, you know, not quite in those words.) Everybody wants to be Jonathan Swift.
It's not that I disbelieve the persona argument, necessarily. I do believe it some portion of the time. But I also recognize its function as an ex post facto
defense. Women's anger at injustice is often declawed by this method. "Jeez! Didn't you get it? It was a joke
!" (Once, and I swear I am not making this up, levelled at me by a colleague whose hand was still on my ass
at the time I was supposed to be laughing at his witty deconstruction of the forms of sexual harrassment.) Some portion of my male readership, assuming they're still reading, is almost certainly rolling their eyes at this argument and muttering some long-toothed old saw about "political correctness" or how feminists have no sense humor. Perhaps I am proving their point. But it's worth noting that they are also proving mine.
I'll bet we can do better. Can't we?