15 February 2012

The Weeknd and the Rosary

Last month, I was excited about The Weeknd with my typical religious, evangelical fervour, telling everyone about the mixtapes, sending them off, and generally enthused. Drugs, sex, rock 'n roll, and heavy beats on my new 'good' headphones. What was not to love?


Well, a new remix of House of Balloons dropped today and I eagerly downloaded it. And it's great, don't get me wrong, it's great, but I'm having pangs of regret about my initial excitement about the records, particularly the orientation towards gender relations in the lyrics. I get the mixture of sex and drugs, doing drugs as a metaphor for sex, sex as a metaphor for doing drugs, yes, very nice, but it's still...about sex. And a kind of sex that's not particularly egalitarian. It's centred on male pleasure and the use of women as sex objects and the portrayal of women deriving pleasure from being sex objects. That's what it is. And it's a bigger problem, it's the problem I have with Danny Brown (whom I still love, by the way) and hip hop/R&B in general. I want to love it, but I'm not sure how much I can intellectualise away the the nastiness, the 'awful' bits. Yes, perhaps it is people/men representing their experience, or how they idealise an experience. Yes, perhaps the culture which artists embed in encourages a certain orientation towards gender relations and representation. Perhaps, yes...Yes, yes, yes. But still: it is what it is. He's singing what he's singing and slice it any way you want, it's not what I want to be morally acceptable, at least in my 'liberal enough' world. You can't just say, Forget what he's saying exactly, isn't he saying it well. No, unfortunately, you can't do that.

So. What do I do. The music is great. His voice is great. It sounds great on my 'good' headphones, and there's no point in having 'good' headphones if you don't have any bass and there is little or no good hip-hop/R&B without some sort of 'awfulness' in this sense. It's a part of the swagger of the music, what makes it so damn good to listen to. So. Do I just keep listening to white guys who look like me whine about their white, getting-close-30-now problems? What do I do.

I have a similar issue with a piece of jewellery I recently acquired. A piece of jewellery—who am I kidding: I got a rosary. I've wanted one for a very, very long time, and the maths-literate younger sister's fiancé sent me one. A beautiful one—an absolutely great gift for me. I've wanted a rosary for a long time because I used part of the Hail Mary as an epigraph for the novella I wrote as part of a college honours project. It embodied the whole ethos of the story. My grandmother prayed the rosary as she died as well. It brought her a great deal of comfort and it brings me a great deal of comfort, not because I believe it carries any power, but because I believe in keeping objects to remind me of what I believe, not what other people believe about the same objects. I like re-appropriating religious symbols, a kind of subtle subversion in response to being called to submit to them. I bought a Japanese Shinto 御守 Omamori when I applied for the studentship at The Open University the second time. It was on my keychain and every time I saw it, I remembered: I have a goal and with hard work and some luck, I will get there. I just can't forget my goal.

The rosary reminds me of what I believe, but it has nothing to do with Catholicism, and everything to do with wanting to have a thing, a kind of good luck charm to hold, to wear when I run, and to remind me of all the goals I have in my little life and how hard work and little luck will bring success.

My famed older brother, in his typical ability to call out my bullshit, called bullshit on me in a chat:
19:33 So, here's the thing about your rationalist appropriation of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Rosary, and Shinto shrines at least in terms of it's public appropriation. It's all very middle class and white."Your symbols are bullshit in terms of what YOU think they mean.   But I'll be happy to use them for my own individualist psychological purposes." 19:34 This I can imagine would be at first confusing.And then would feel horribly rude.   "Oh, you're catholic too? I see your rosary" "No no, total shite. It centers me though so that's cool." 19:35 I wonder if you couldn't draw comparisons to the attempt by the white southerner to attach some more benign meaning to the confederate flag. 19:36 In principle I suppose you could make it mean something else.  But you can't really completely (certainly not quickly or abruptly) divorce symbols at the very least from their historical context and historical use by the community and historical understanding.  19:37 I really want to wear the Keffiyah but I worry it would confuse muslims and would be read as mockery. my reasons are strictly aesthetic (and a little rebellious) but I don't know.
See, with the exception of the Shinto example (given Shinto's very different approach to everything), he's right. I had the rosary around my bag and I was thinking, people can think whatever they want, it means what it means to me. But I can't. I can wear it when I run, keep it out of sight and keep the meaning for myself, I suppose. But I can't say it means something that it doesn't mean in the context that I live in.

These two threads intersect, I think: The Weeknd and the rosary. I can derive the meaning I want from these objects, I can intellectualise it, but the moment I try to spin the top of my own meaning in the world of contexts, there are deep, deep attractors in the field, deep depressions on the plane of meaning that my top is bound to spin into. And people will think what people normally think because that's the way things are. The world is a world of contexts and all these symbols and words make sense in that context. Not Stephen's context.

Pray for us now and in the hour of our death. I know what this means to me, but I can't make it mean that for you...
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