a call for change

When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses? While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I’m disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile.

As journalists and colleagues defend, excuse and congratulate ‘Tyler, the Creator,’ I find it impossible not to comment. In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook and find deeper meaning in this kid’s sickening rhetoric? Why should I care about this music or its “brilliance” when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible? There is much that upsets me in this world, and this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve drafted an open letter or complaint, but in the past I’ve found an opinion – some like-minded commentary – that let me rest assured that my outrage, my voice, had been accounted for. Not this time.

Strong, heartfelt words coming from Sara Keirsten Quin of the Canadian indie band, Tegan and Sara, condemning Tyler The Creator and his work. Here at The Superslice we listen to a lot of Tegan and Sara. We also listen to Odd Future and have become fans. How do we broach this without coming off as glib, dismissive or sanctimonious? We must first ask that trite question, “Is Tyler a critically misunderstood artist or a hateful scourge?” The banal thing to do would be to file this under the “It’s Art!” umbrella, excuse it and move on, but I have no intention of doing that because that would be way too easy and would end up c-blocking any potential for having an important dialogue or discussion. Is Tyler a hateful scourge? Is he spreading hate-speech? No, I do not think so. Not at all. I think the allure of Tyler and Odd Future has mainly to do with an alignment to a sense of authenticity that represents itself with this devil-may-care attitude, a punk poetry. The homophobic slurs arise from his immaturity, the violent misogyny is over-the-top and cartoonish, launching it into the land of absurd satire. It is an awful joke that is meant to shock. They have made themselves the arbiters, zealots and posterboys for taboo-smashing. This is not a new cultural phenomena. If you scan our recent collective pop cultural memory, you will find agitators and provocateurs such as shock jock, Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, Eminem and his group, D12.

Even the OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All aka Odd Future) catchphrase and sociopath’s mantra, “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” Tyler has admittedly confessed, “It’s all a gimmick.” It reeks of contrived and manufactured anarchy. The outsiders, people who have not celebrated their, now extensive, mixtape collection or listened to Odd Future’s work, do not get this. They perceive it as a pure assault. They do not understand that, at the end of the day, it is just entertainment to the fans. Hell, one could easily take a Quentin Tarantino flick out of context.

I get it though. The empath in me knows that because words have the power to maim and hurt. Words have the ability to prolong hate, incite violence. We are possibly treading a culturally dangerous line here. Sure, there will be a minority of simpleton fans that will not be in on the joke and will inevitably take the volatile content literally, but what are we supposed to do about that? Stop indulging in Tyler’s crazy nihilistic fantasies? Again, it is easy for me to brush off. I would probably feel differently if Tyler’s harsh lyrics specifically bashed Asian-American dudes in their mid-30s. Then again, I would probably eventually get the joke. I do not mean to belittle Tegan and Sara’s trepidation and distaste, but I think their reservations are mildly out of context.

Is Tyler misunderstood critically? People, including me, have misconceived, Odd Future, as a kind of hipster Wu Tang clan. Predictably, Odd Future hates this label. Like all artists, they want to be perceived as original and individual. What artist wants to be neatly bottled into a category or compared to a previous act? Artists like to play God and that god complex reigns supreme. But back to the issue of context, I do not think they are like Wu Tang as once thought. For the sake of proving a conversational point, I must blaspheme and compare them to another group. They are more akin to artists such as the supergroup sideproject, Gravediggaz (check out this vid), which included the members: RZA from Wu Tang, Prince Paul (De La Soul and Handsome Boy Modeling School production) and Frukwan from Stetsasonic. Gravediggaz and this forgotten, but still awesome, track by Cube and Dre belong to the hip hop subgenre of Horrorcore. I do not mean to be a condescending chauvinist with this analogy, but I would compare the vehement abhorrence of Odd Future to a romcom fan mistakenly walking into a showing of Saw or Hostel. You know, it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Also, maybe Tyler and Odd Future are just doing their job of being polarizing artists.

I also understand that Sara Keirsten Quin and company are not just condemning and attacking the sole art and content, they are also reacting to how the critics and media have quickly embraced Tyler and Odd Future as the new darlings of the music world. On the surface, it appears that their meteoric promotion all but enables and endorses homophobia or misogyny in the world-at-large. I think this is somewhat ridiculous. It makes me shift into OFWGKTA apologist mode and tell the detractors, “Look, if you followed them you would realize that they are just a crew of creative and mischievous skater-kids, prank-loving rakes from Los Angeles. That Tyler is a self-deprecating son of a bitch and is literally, a bastard and sad clown. That for every homophobic or misogynistic slur in the lyrics, it is all but balanced out with some bizarre contradicting or paradoxical statement or lyric.” I want to tell this to Sara Quin and the rest that they do not have to buy their records or listen to them, but stop the protest and let them do their thing. No need to waste that emotional energy. I want them to watch this goofy interview with Vancouver’s Nardwuar the Human Serviette that displays Tyler’s knowledge of music and shows how lighthearted and immature they are (by the way, I love how Nardwuar routinely catches these hip hop artists off guard and coaxes them into the best interviews):

It is fascinating how people have become attached to them. Controversy is an aphrodisiac, I guess. Check out these love letters:

It is a weird scene. Culturally, these kids are onto something. I have not seen this type of Gesamtkunstwerk since Kurt Cobain, Nirvana and the Northwest grunge movement. I mean, Odd Future has yet to be a mainstream household name, but they are on that path of being underground critical darlings who are ready to break. Currently, I believe they are somewhere in the zone between Nirvana and artists like Die Antwoord, James Blake and Lykke Li. These “new” artists have garnered a wave of enduring Internet buzz. I witness in all these fresh players a uniqueness and originality, an authenticity. Also included is a hearty serving of angst and/or pathos.

Part of me hopes that Tyler matures and grows out of the homophobic and the misogynistic language; the other part realizes that that maturation would probably castrate him artistically. This is because I know that their youth and ferocious immaturity is part of the wild ride that is known as Odd Future. By no means, would I want them to water it down, but rather, make it less uncomfortable, less awkward when I blast one of their tracks for my prudish friends. Then again, we all need our closeted guilty pleasures. Who knows. That homophobe, Eminem, became friends with Elton John. Maybe, and I am not being facetious here, one day, Teagan and Sara and Odd Future will perform together at The Grammys.


More decent articles on Tylerphenomena:

(photo by Julian Berman)