My Rambling Belated 84th Birthday Present Post for Leonard Nimoy

leonard-nimoy-uncle-22I don’t like to project my love for Star Trek because it reminds me of friendships lost.  In my youth I would play with my elementary school buddy while shooting imaginary phasers and helping alien races survive atrocities that humanity was largely responsible for.  Did I realize that I had a pretty messed up white savior complex at the age of 6?  No of course not, but those are the kind of things I think about when I decide not to project my intense love for the show.  This is a pretty hypocritical thing to say because I don’t hide my intense passion for LotR’s or Star Wars at all but those two are just as problematic…..

Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.  I digress and I digress and I digress.  I was going to tell you the story of a little boy who learned a most valuable life lesson from the most beloved biracial character to ever grace American television.  Let me tell you that tale.

I met this really awesome guy back in the second grade (let’s call him Jim) and he is a large part of the reason why I am a nerd.  We became wonderful friends, and we would often take turns being Kirk and Spock and going on adventures in back yards and on our parents’ king sized beds.  Jim would usually be Captain Kirk and I would usually be Spock, something that I was more than okay with because I identified more as Spock.  Leonard Nimoy was less macho than William Shatner but every bit as decisive and strong.  What fascinated me the most and what has stuck with me from that very young first viewing of Star Trek, however, was that Spock was more human.

There’s a reason why Kirk says what he says at Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.  Spock is, out of every character in the show, the most human.  He is much more complex a character than Kirk, who is one dimensional and for the most part boring.  He’s idealistic and cares for his crew to be sure, but in the end, he is nothing without Spock.  Star Trek would be nothing without him. Leonard Nimoy brought to life a character who is part Vulcan, part Human.  Vulcan’s are stoic and have cast away emotion for pure, cold logic while humans are emotional and rash.  Now imagine, as an actor, you were given a role which had to be half and half.  How would you do it?  Nimoy was tasked to show emotional restraint in his facial expressions and yet still convey his feelings, a seemingly impossible task that he didn’t just succeed in doing, but he perfected.

Take a moment and watch this, and you’ll get a hint at what I mean.  (And also weep)

Whomever decided to make Vulcan eyebrows slant up was a genius because it helped the audience see more of the eyes, which are the fundamental vessels of honest emotion.  Furthermore, Nimoy delivered literal lines with such humor and wit that Guardian’s of the Galaxy copied the idea for the character Drax.

A few people who are close to me were surprised how much Nimoy’s death affected me.  I don’t like to project my love for Star Trek because I don’t like to think about losing my first best friend.  As we grew up, we grew apart.  Jim taught me so much and was a blessing in my life, and Nimoy’s death has forced me to think once again about losing Jim’s friendship.  But thinking about these things is healthy because Leonard Nimoy taught me that there is no such thing as pure, perfect emotional adjustment.  To achieve such a state would be inhuman.

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Concerning Viet Cong and the Politicization of Band Names

The cancellation of Viet Cong’s show at my alma mater Oberlin College is now receiving national attention.  They were scheduled to perform at the ‘Sco (which is the small club located within the Student Union) on March 14, but the promoter, Ivan Krasnov, cancelled it after receiving backlash over the offensive band name.

In the past I have argued that band/musical project names should hold nothing back from the artist’s work.  Specifically I have fought for people not to blindly hate Tom Krell’s band because of the silly name How to Dress Well.  In making that point in my top 10 albums of 2014 post my girlfriend and occasionally brutally honest editor (I am immensely grateful for this) told me that band names are important and that one should judge music based on its titles and artists to a certain degree.  She told me that it was especially important for Tom Krell, an independent artist who’s band name plays an enormous part in its image and promotion.  I grudgingly concede, especially after I asked a good friend the other day if he would listen to a band with the name How to Dress Well and his response was to laugh and say hell no.

While How to Dress Well may be a somewhat absurd name that decreases Tom Krell’s pool of potential new fans, the negative effect is nothing compared to Viet Cong.  If you chalk it up as “just a band name,” you discredit those who were or had family veterans tortured for years in prison camps.  No, discredit is not strong enough a word to describe the impact this name has on those directly affected by the Vietnam War.

In an interview, front man Matt Flegel laughs the controversy off.  Not only is he aware of the problematic connotations, but he dismisses a letter directly from someone who had family that were tortured.  It is repulsive to see his reaction, and based on the half-assed apology that he released today, he’s keeping the name.

Our band, Viet Cong, has existed for a little over three years now. When we named ourselves, we were naive about the history of a war in a country we knew very little about. We now better understand the weight behind the words Viet Cong. While we don’t take any concerns about the name lightly, we feel it is important to let you know that we never meant to trivialize the atrocities or violence that occurred on both sides of the Vietnam War. We never intended for our name to be provocative or hurtful.
We truly appreciate the seriousness of the feedback we’ve received, and we will continue to be open to listening to issues and concerns from all perspectives.
With love from the band Viet Cong.

There are several problems with this “apology.”  They acknowledge the band name is problematic and that they are in the wrong for choosing it.  They claim to “better understand” the appropriation they are benefiting from and “truly appreciate the seriousness of the feedback,” and yet have made no efforts to change their name.  They do not care, and to prove it, they end the damn thing with the damn name.

For those who believe that censoring artists for politically charged names is ridiculous should at the very least recognize that there will always be social backlash.  This band, bathing in its power and privilege, doesn’t want to aid a marginalized community and are actively promoting the racist notion that their feelings are invalid.  If you don’t see it that way, then consider starting a band called the Auschwitz (insert word here) and see how that goes.

So yeah, Oberlin added to its progressive reputation and cancelled Viet Cong’s show.  To his credit, promoter Ivan Krasnov made the tough decision to abort the event after he made the effort to bring them to perform.  In his issued apology, Krasnov explains the motives behind the decision and gives some really good points.  The one that I appreciated the most from a history major perspective was the citation of Oberlin’s commencement cap and gown tradition.  In the summer of 1970, Oberlin seniors refused to wear the cap and gown to their commencement ceremony and used the refund money to give to Vietnam War protest efforts or local community projects.  To this day, graduating Obies wear whatever they want.

Do Not Risk a Myopic Opinion of Kanye’s Character for the Sake of Etiquette

“People talk about the number of viewers the Brits get, or the number of viewers the Grammys get. They need to do award shows for the Nobel Peace Prize, but I guess that doesn’t sell as many MasterCard commercials.”   — Kanye West

I tried to avoid the Grammys, because I’ve grown to hate them and I really did not want to try to rationalize the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences decisions when most of them are bollocks to begin with.  When Beyoncé did not win, my opinion solidified.  I became slightly intrigued when I heard Kanye West stood up during Beck’s acceptance speech and then sat back down without saying anything.  Still, I was not too concerned with it and did not think too much about it.  But I’ve heard some things and held conversations that have made me upset and I would like to address them.

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Comparing apples with oranges makes a lot of sense, so we may as well do it with music too!!!!!!  Let’s talk about how a Pop Diva’s VIDEO ALBUM is more or less artistic than a SINGER-SONGWRITER’S.  There are more people on Queen Bey’s album simply because it is much more complex than Beck’s.  If anything, the extent of the collaboration is monumental given the fact that her album was surprise released and NEVER LEAKED.  Beyoncé also wrote, produced and arranged all fourteen of the songs on her album.  There were a total of ten producers on Morning Phase and every single one won a Grammy for Best Album.  If Beyoncé had won the Grammy for her Self-Titled Masterpiece, then every single producer would have won a Grammy.  Therefore the point about Beck’s production is irrelevant.

I am going to keep going on this rant, because this is important to me.  To say that Beyoncé is only a performer and not an artist is filth.  Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities, usually involving imaginative, creative or technical skill.  Beyoncé and Beck are both artists.  The number of instruments that either one plays might make them more or less proficient, but not more artistic.  That’s right, I minced words and am now done addressing this vaguely sexist photo.

One more thing.   A lot of the internet (youth) have responded to Beck’s win with “Who is Beck,” and I have never heard of Beck.  He has written twelve studio albums (four of which have gone platinum) and is responsible for one of the biggest singles of the 90’s, “Loser.”

I would argue that he has deserved a Grammy since Beyoncé was 15 years old, but that does not mean he had the best album of 2014.  Beck even said later that Beyoncé should have won because her album is simply better.  For me, both albums are superb, but if the Grammys were truly a fair process, Beyoncé would and should have won.  I won’t crunch the numbers or talk about sales, but I think the biggest reason she lost was because her supporters split their votes with other nominees.  Furthermore, the bigger Grammys are completely and utterly ridiculous.  “Best New Artist” is usually given to someone who has been around for years and a white dude almost always wins in the Rap category.  Rarely do the artists who deserve it win.

Kanye West knows that, so he walked on stage as if to say it, but then left.  The most common response to this most recent interruption (or lack thereof) is one of anger and resentment.  On the surface, this is a good thing because it means that most people are aware of proper etiquette.  However, I believe that there is much more to be discerned from this event.

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“The worst thing to call somebody is ‘crazy.’ It’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. So they’re crazy.’ That’s bullshit.” –Dave Chappelle

He has since apologized, but Kanye’s history of making his opinion known at awards shows is notorious.  The most infamous occurrence was at the 2009 Video Music Awards when Taylor Swift won Best Female Music Video for “You Belong With Me” over Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”  Placed in this context, Kanye is almost making fun of himself by walking on stage in silence and changing his mind.

Make no mistake, I believe that Kanye is egotistical and rude.  But I recognize that in doing so without looking further I risk having a myopic view of his character.  Exploring the methods behind his calculated intrusions helps understand his persona and this essay does a wonderful job in delving into the themes that Kanye’s serial interruptions signify.  If you had to name one person who was the face of African American music today, who would it be?  Most people I’ve asked respond with Kanye West or Beyonce, therefore, should it not be their obligation to create spaces for the marginalized groups they represent and identify with?  Criticize me all you want for “making a non-race issue a racial one,” but it is no accident that all of the discussions I have had about this usually ended up in white men telling me Kanye should kill himself and Jay-Z and Beyoncé need to respect real art.  If I manage to get a last point in, my response is this:

Mr. West uses a lot of samples in his songs (as is prevalent in his genre), and this involves paying the artist who’s music he’s using.  Depending on how much of the song he samples and depending on the loaning musician’s permission, Kanye will give that person(s) co-writer credit.  That’s not only art, but also generosity and synergy.

“My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater.  That always sounds so funny to people, comparing yourself to someone in the past that has done so much, and in your life you’re not even allowed to think that you can do as much. That’s a mentality that suppresses humanity.

“This humanity that I talk about, this civilization that I talk about…it can only happen through collaboration.”

Kanye West, Oxford Lecture, March 2, 2015

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