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Black Sky Thinking

Bum Rush The Show: Why Reality TV Has More To Do With Violence Than Rap
Luke Turner , August 12th, 2011 06:00

Luke Turner refutes the Daily Mirror's assertion that hip hop was to blame for this week's unrest. But there's another popular cultural form that reflects the kind of society that caused it

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With weary predictability, the violence that has taken place across Britain this week has led the tabloid press to pick on a familiar scapegoat. "Is rap music to blame for encouraging this culture of violence?" thundered the Daily Mirror's Paul Routledge in an op-ed piece. "I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs."

It's the same trite argument that has led Marilyn Manson to be blamed for the Columbine Massacre, Wagner for Hitler's atrocities, and Emo for teen suicide. Curiously, though, there has been no boycott called on PWEI's forthcoming reissues thanks to the fact that Norwegian killer Anders Breivik was listening to Clint Mansell's Lord Of The Rings soundtrack piece 'Lux Aeterna' as he carried out his killings in Norway, describing it as an “incredibly powerful song”.

Obviously the effect music has on the brain is a deeply complicated one: I personally have a strange feeling of militant power when, wearing black, I stride down the road listening to Laibach's 'B Mashina' closely followed by 'Tanz Mit Laibach'. This has not yet led me to form my own state, issue a passport, and design a sinister totalitarian logo. Neither has my love of the turn of phrase in Nick Cave & The Bad Seed's murderous 'Stagger Lee' led me to "crawl over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's arsehole", while laying waste to the patrons of my local hostelry. Los Campesinos! and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have yet to be accused of contributing to the relative decline in white middle class population growth thanks to their pernicious influence as a form of musical bromide on male indie youth. To assert a direct correlation between a musical genre or artist and the behaviour of its or their fans is clearly fatuous.

Routledge has as arcane a view of hip hop as we might expect from a grizzled prog fan complaining about punks in 1976. He is clearly still caught up in the memory of the East / West Coast killings that tainted opinions of hip hop during the mid-90s - much as Norwegian Black Metal was also affected by the fascist, murderous habits of some of its musicians at a similar time. Neither genre has, in the popular imagination, been able to shake off this unfortunate past. Admittedly the Quietus has recently covered and praised an artist who has sung the lines originally written by Ice T in 1991, "Cop killer. Let's kill the cops tonight"... but that was PhD-studying, blog-beloved white synth pop artiste, John Maus. Hackney hipsters crooning along to his take on the song were notably absent among those lobbing rocks at the Metropolitan Police from the end of my road on Monday night.

Routledge is also wrong in his accusation that the "trashy materialism" of hip hop leads to looting. Think of Dizzee Rascal there, with his love of... fishing. Perhaps it's because he doesn't know where the nearest broken branch of JD Sports is that Lil B generally wears the knackered trainers, bright jeans, and scruffy t-shirts of a skate kid. Professor Green, who himself comes from Clapton, branded Routledge a "moron" for his comments, saying, "Yea ban rap music, silence our voices even more. Surely this isn't about shifting the blame, but accepting responsibility? Neither my music or that of my peers is to blame for society and its faults. we didn't create the tiers.” Plan B took on The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh, arguing for education as a positive force: "The real thing that's going to help these kids is some knowledge and some education about how to live, because what's the point of getting arrested and put into jail for a pair of new trainers or a fucking microwave?"

Odd Future have as part of their mission statement a separation from weary bling of yore. So while Tyler's greatest flaw is that he is a typical teen nihilist, he certainly isn't a materialist: "I created O.F. cause I feel we're more talented / Than 40 year old rappers talking about Gucci." And he is, after all, just one member. Consider Frank Ocean, whose Nostalgia ULTRA mixtape's cover features a car that's more Basildon than Beverley Hills. Let's not forget too that Ocean now mixes with the likes of Kanye West and Jay Z, men who do charitable work and, while not shy of spending their hard-earned cash, do not necessarily live up to the materialist cliché. Compared to our very own Prince Regent and future King George IV, Sir Elton John, or Boris Johnson's hair, they're positively modest. After all, what of our top-and-tails-sporting Prime Minister, whose Tuscan tan certainly didn't come for free - unlike the free mixtape culture that's now so much a part of hip hop.

So while Routledge has clearly fished his article out of a folder of pre-prepared drafts titled "In Case Of Inner City Violence", we at the Quietus have, in the course of our conversations over the past couple of days, landed upon a pop culture phenomenon that can be seen in this frustrated, selfish violence. It would be of course be barmy - nay Routledgian to say that this week's chart topping hit by Cher Lloyd was a coded signal to go and loot a bunch of swag from Jaegar. Yet with the X Factor marketing machine once more hoisting a turd like 'Swagger Jagger' to the top of the charts and filling Simon Cowell's pockets at the time same time, and another series of Big Brother about to begin today, it is not far fetched to see a connection between the kind of materialist society that breeds the violence and looting we have seen across Britain this week, and reality television programmes.

I would add to this searing dissection of the impact of 2011's British materialist society, published in the wake of the violence, that X Factor, Big Brother and their ilk are the broadcast manifestations of a culture that prides superficiality and materialistic show over community spirit, talent and creative, considered thought

You do not become a hero on Big Brother through achieving anything worthwhile. Instead, fleeting fame is given to whoever shouts the loudest, or best degrades themselves for the hooting mob sat at home watching on the flat screen TVs so popular with this week's looters. On the night of broadcast of X Factor episodes, The Quietus Twitter feed is awash with comment from those of whom we follow who are bizarrely obsessed with the polished, tightly orchestrated programme. As much as some might claim otherwise, this is not evidence of music bringing people together, or the creation of a community. Instead, they are a modern take on the 4.32 Hanging Special from Liverpool Street, or the circus freak show. Celebrity culture and reality television are symptomatic of a selfish society that can lead teenagers to mug an injured passer-by. They have not learned this from hip hop, but from a culture that demands you feel insecure about your lack of ability to purchase what you are told you need, just as it delights in picking on the weak and humiliating the different.

Divide and rule, humiliation and hierarchy, dreams that are easily crushed and nearly impossible to realise: these are the methods of late capitalism as manifested through reality TV and talent contest. The deeper the humiliation, the more degrading the act, the more mockable the contestants, the greater the fiscal reward for the companies that control the phone-ins, the single sales, the endless, self-perpetuating and dreg-gathering tabloid coverage as practiced by Mr Routledge and his ilk.

To say, as many friends of The Quietus and apologists in the broadsheet press often do, that reality TV is merely the broadcasters giving people what they want is to insult millions by linking class and intelligence. Instead, it is the television signal bouncing around the intellectual and aesthetic void in which we increasingly live, in all aspects of life.

Just as reality television rewards banality and the uniform, so we live in cities that all now resemble each other. How can you have pride in your community when your high street could be anywhere, just as the songs of your culture all sound the same? Reality television, unlike hip hop (Wu Tang's philosophy, Public Enemy's politics, Odd Future's complex internal rhymes schemes and word play), shies away from any hint of the intellectual, kneels before King Moron, and serves only to maximise profit for a few who, one suspects, despise what they are making, and mock those who consume it.

Yet this week has, curiously, been a week when we have in fact seen many British heroes on our television screens. The people refusing to be silenced as they question the politicians making walkabouts of their damaged neighbourhoods. The Muslims and Jews joining forces to protect a synagogue in Stamford Hill. The lady who has been watched by 1.5 million people on YouTube berating the rioters in Hackney. And perhaps best of all, a different kind of reality TV, showing British people performing at their very best.

Sangat TV, a community channel ran by the Sikhs of Birmingham, has been broadcasting constantly through the disturbances, from cars driving around the city reporting on the violence, and talking to local people of many communities, many faiths. The unifying theme of the ad-hoc discussions on limited budgets has been of pride, pride in being British, pride in standing up to would-be miscreants, pride in religions putting aside their differences. The programming is interrupted by adverts, cheaply made, for local business and butter ghee. And what's more, unlike the X Factor or Big Brother, it has a pretty nifty soundtrack.

J M
Aug 11, 2011 10:58am

The Daily Mirror are always just going to blame something that's anti- conformatist. People seem to forget that the words in hip- hop songs are just lyrics, they aren't meant to inspire people to go out and smash and burn shit. As noted in the article, music has always and probably will always be used as a scapegoat, which is pretty infuriating. But people will do anything to get a headline, as the Murdoch corp. recently proved. Not sticking up for the daily mirror, of course.

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J M
Aug 11, 2011 11:00am

Also I agree with your point about materialism. Thanks to advertising all across the medium of TV, not just on reality shows, we live in a culture which is now about what you have rather than how you achieve it something.

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Darren King
Aug 11, 2011 11:36am

Great stuff Luke. One point though, Cop Killer was Ice T not Ice Cube.

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Mars
Aug 11, 2011 12:19pm

Great fun! So, the entirety of England just rolled it's eyes at this Daily Mirror article, correct? It's ALWAYS the music's fault, isn't it?

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Meh
Aug 11, 2011 1:42pm

Although there are a multitude of complicated causes for the social unrest of the last few days, I think it would be naive to not consider that some rappers perpetuate this lifestyle. Chuck D from Public Enemy has been tweeting some interesting stuff about it over the last few days that's definitely worth a look @MrChuckD

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CS
Aug 11, 2011 2:04pm

I think that there is an element in the background of inner city crime that we have witnessed in the last few days that has a direct relationship to hip hop. It's not the whole picture or the over-riding factor - but just a contributing element. Just of Roman Road in E3 at the time 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin' posters were pasted to every available wall and every phone box in the area. It struck me then that perhaps attitudes could be formed from the corporate gangsta life as depicted. There was a huge amount of territorialism, not local pride, it was just a petty and impoverished view made quite understandable given the lack of vision, education and opportunity in and around the estates of the area. Many of the young people, of all ethnicity; were styled and heavily influenced by hip-hop. I remember feeling that this was quite cynical and irresponsible of interscope/warner brothers, given the demographic being marketed too and the circumstances of their lives. The target audience for this campaign was young boys, perhaps 11-16 years old. Hip hop is a really powerful form of music, that [appears] to mostly speak directly to the aspirations, good or bad or lack of, of the youth coming of age in these poor inner city areas. It helps forge their identity and helps set them apart from a society that they see they have no real stake in. I really cannot see how this could not be an influence. I agree that blaming hip hop is not the answer or even the question, but to deny that it has any relationship or connection to the problem what so ever, is in my view; not accepting the full complexity and truth of the situation.

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CS
Aug 11, 2011 2:21pm

Ref: Odd Future http://gu.com/p/3x5fy

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Ruprecht the Monkey Boy
Aug 11, 2011 3:10pm

Some good point, I'd agree that it's all symptomatic of the same problem. However, this:

"...the likes of Kanye West and Jay Z, men who do charitable work and, while not shy of spending their hard-earned cash, do not necessarily live up to the materialist cliché."

is utter bollocks. Kanye West has diamond teeth for christsake.

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John Doran
Aug 11, 2011 6:07pm

In reply to Ruprecht the Monkey Boy:

Kanye West, quite famously ran a massive educational project for years, which set him back several million dollars. You don't need to look far beyond the titles of his first three albums to see his interest in schools.

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John Doran
Aug 11, 2011 6:14pm

In reply to CS:

Yeah, I remember the following year when Lord Of The Rings came out and there was blanket advertising everywhere, nearly everyone in Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green and Mile End started dragon hunting. You couldn't move for anyone under 5ft shouting, 'I'll chiv you up, dragon bamba claart!' Such is the utter craven stupidity of us East Londoners.

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John Doran
Aug 11, 2011 6:16pm

In reply to Meh:

Rappers do not perpetuate the lifestyle of drunk 35 year olds throwing bricks through the windows of Poundland.

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Meh
Aug 12, 2011 8:18am

In reply to John Doran:

Nice to see you considering other people's opinions, especially the opinion of one of the most prominent figures in political hip hop. People weren't just 'throwing bricks though the windows of Poundland', they were looting shops for big tv's and expensive clothes. Not that I said rap is the only factor, but all types of music contribute to culture and social identity. Not just rap. Back to my original point, there are a number of things that contributed to this kicking off anyway, all of them more relevant than rap or reality tv.

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CS
Aug 12, 2011 8:28am

In reply to John Doran:

Yeah I remember that, kids dressed as Orcs with dragon blood on their adidas, nasty. Must be something about you East Londoners and poster campaigns. Luckily the dragon problem in the shires such as Bethnal Green was relatively minor, but you know that. The little scaly fuckers probably deserved it anyway, wot with being bought up on an endless diet of hip-hobbit.

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G
Aug 12, 2011 9:27am

Outstanding article. Your paragraph about 'Divide and rule, humiliation and hierarchy...' was particularly salient. Fucking brilliant.

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Ruprecht the Monkey Boy
Aug 12, 2011 1:22pm

In reply to John Doran:

So? Lots of rappers run charitable foundations. No one is saying he's tight-fisted. But I can't believe somone is going to sit there and tell me he is not an icon of consumerism and materialism.

Case in point:

http://floortwo.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/just-when-you-thought-consumerism-couldnt-get-more-trashy/

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Aug 12, 2011 2:08pm

Luke Turner very much on form in adressing the matters raised in a week when like many others I felt genuinely disturbed rather than merely disgruntled by what's going on in this country (which I still love. If you only stick up for your homeland when it's doing ok you don't understand what true patriotism means.)
It's so true that the anti-intellectual, pro-hirarchy culture has been pervasive for too long. When it was announced that Big Brother was returning my heart sank. Can we not leave the noughties behind already?
If there is anything to be taken from this depressing summer of headlines then can we find the guile to reject all the ugliness that's besmirched Britain in recent years (yes I mean indulgence of greed, the veneration of the agressive and the bullying, tabloid overkill, debased culture/language, dismantling of meritocracy in favour of a pronounced gap between the rich and poor) and move on.
This probably sounds naive but given the choice between naivete and further cynicism I know which I'm sticking to.

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Ron Corbett
Aug 13, 2011 8:06pm

In reply to John Doran:

John Doran is clearly deranged.

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SJC
Aug 15, 2011 6:37pm

you downplay the materialism of Jay-Z, who is actually one of the most materialistic rappers i can think of. this is in fact one of the qualities that makes for his best music.

rap cant be blamed alone but rappers are also prone to saying how powerful the medium is. so which is it guys?

of course if you have a good upbringing youll be able to sieve out the good from the bad - this is the area ppl so quick to point the finger should be looking into. but look at those 50 cent adverts 50 cent did for reebok a few years back. yes you can say he isnt making kids stab each other and that would of course be right, but its disingenuous to claim that its merely reflecting reality. what hip hop does is reflect reality AND glamourise it. art is art at the end of the day and artists should always be able to explore their own vision of the world and present it as they see fit but rappers need to be more honest about this push and pull that is in their own work i think.

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John Doran
Aug 15, 2011 7:14pm

In reply to SJC:

Earth calling 2003! Earth calling 2003! If you actually read Luke's piece he's saying Routledge doesn't even have the first idea what music London teens are listening to... which on the evidence of things neither do you.

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SJC
Aug 16, 2011 9:57am

In reply to John Doran:

considering ive spent most of the last decade listening to grime, road rap and US hip hop (both of the shabazz palaces and gucci mane variety), i would say i have a pretty good handle on what The Kids are listening to. but thanks for the tip - ill be sure to check the quietus more often so i can learn more about The Kids' listening habits and see where i've been going so wrong.

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John Doran
Aug 16, 2011 11:01am

In reply to SJC:

Look, it was you going on about 50 Cent not me. Bottom line: if you want to listen to a load of really good rap and still maintain that its fans are generally idiots then that's your prerogative. Well done you.

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SJC
Aug 16, 2011 11:25am

In reply to John Doran:

i definitely do not think rap fans are idiots. my argument wasnt that different from what plan b (i dont see you saying *he* thinks rap fans are idiots) is quoted as saying in the piece. you seem to think everyone that watches reality tv is an idiot however, which is pretty insulting too, and also just a bit bizarre - that kids are too stupid to be able to form any judgement of their own watching mtv cribs. im happy to accept that all these things have some influence on some level but i know you have to defend whatever is above the comments box, so best of luck in your mission to take umbrage to anything that doesnt chime with the article. i never said rappers should tone down their message or 'take responsibility' or 'be more positive' as 'kids are thick', i said that in 2011, saying that rappers are merely reflecting reality is a bit too simplistic, that surely now we can accept that it is a bit of both. a cursory listen to someone like rick ross (who is great btw) or a look at ads like those with 50 cent did - i dont care if theyre old, sorry, i didnt realise everything we mention has to have been made in the last fortnight, or do you think The Kids dont have memories? - will tell you that pretty quickly.

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John Doran
Aug 16, 2011 1:31pm

In reply to SJC:

"I think that there is an element in the background of inner city crime that we have witnessed in the last few days that has a direct relationship to hip hop."

This is just bullshit. Simple as. And the onus is on you to come up with better evidence than you have been doing so far.

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SJC
Aug 16, 2011 2:29pm

In reply to John Doran:

but its obvious that idiots like routledge are just talking kneejerk bollocks. hes almost too easy a target. no different from when the star had 'kick this evil bastard out' on their front page some 15 years back. or when some other red top had some equally moronic discussion about 'how did black music go from motown to dizzee rascal?' that sentence you quoted makes it sound like you listen to a bit of giggs and seconds later you will instantly find yourself lightening someones wallet with a knife against their neck.

my response is that more important than rap, there is a far larger causal relationship between inner city crime and education, home life, the actual physical environment lot of kids live in, and authority. but that is just common sense. im not into completely negating any discussion about the role of music however, as there is still a reasonable, nuanced discussion to be had about it, but of course, its not the central factor. routledge is barely even worth giving serious consideration to. if you look at say, the bronx in the 70s for example, a time of poverty and increases in gangs, it wasnt 'evil' rap that was popular, it was 'nice' funk and soul.

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John Doran
Aug 16, 2011 2:48pm

In reply to SJC:

We're obviously talking about two different things here. Music doesn't exist in a vacuum and there's always cause and effect to some degree but I'd say it's minimal in cases like this. If you think that rap videos and culture has more of a negative effect than the easy fix of reality TV then I plain disagree with you but you're welcome to your opinions. Going back to Luke's piece I don't have any time for Kanye West whatsoever: http://thequietus.com/articles/00104-black-sky-thinking-kanye-west-sensitive-soul but even I'm not going to portray him as some kind of bling merchant who is intent on portraying African Americans in the worst light possible or that he's a bad role model for children/young people. He's bookish, intelligent, keen on education, got a good way with words, looks fucking cool. His comments about GWB in the aftermath of Katrina probably did more good in motivating people politically than any number of op ed newspaper pieces did, so more power to his elbow. There are plenty of other genres of music whose practitioners indulge in conspicuous shows of wealth (from Bruce Dickinson owning a fucking Jumbo Jet to Dolly Parton owning her own Theme Park) but it's only ever African American artists who get continually chastised for this. You can say rap music played a tiny part in people looting TV shops if you like but I don't see any evidence of it more than Oasis owning a load of Rolls Royces played a part.

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ML
Aug 21, 2011 1:59pm

"If your stuntin on my set
Then im dumpin on the lead
I was doin this ting
When u was jumpin on your bed
Have u munchin on the lead
Gunners jumpin on your head
Now im jumpin on with ghetts
Get it pumpin on your set"

I don't understand, is this meaningless then? if its acceptable to say consumerism has a pernicious influence and advertising and branding has a real affect then why isn't this equally affective? Music is as powerful as force as advertising and the language of grime is hard, hard as in being a don't give a fuck, well hard man. I grew up on rave and jungle and garage but couldn't handle the hyper masculinity of the grime scene, its just seemed to get heavier and heavier.

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cj keefe
Oct 30, 2011 6:12pm

One of the most intelligent to the point and honest statements i have read!For too long Politicians and media companies have pointed the finger at the underdog and blaming hip hop is yet another of their unjust targets! Im a capitalist culture that tells people to worship celebrities for the sake of being famous despite lacking any real talent, brains or even morals it seems hypocritical of papers like the mirror or sun(regularly covering programs like the x factor, big brother, towie, shipwrecked and various over reality TV trash shows!) to blame anybody in the hip hop industry especially seeing how much hatred newspapers try to invoke daily!

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