Wednesday, October 13, 2004
The Journal Or The Journalist? Jin, Oliver, and Me
So OK, finally got the Jin package today for a review I'm doing for next week's Bay Guardian. This here is kinda a throat-clearing, a warmup and a digression from the writing I'm gonna do for that.
Once again, it all starts with a blog post.
In February, Madison at Diesel Nation had a strange, fascinating post about Jin. Noting Oliver's sharp critique of Jin's video, he made a canny point: "And so begins the culture critiques that will mark Jin's career more than his musical talent."
The post ends with Madison's comments about how he thought Jin's presence might actually displace me and Oliver from some imaginary position as the Asian American vox populi.
"I think O-Dub, as an Asian hip-hopper himself, is asking too much from the young kid. But I understand what's up. When Jin's album drops he'll become the resident hip-hop pundit that will represent the voice of all Asian rap fans out there. Who needs a quote from Oliver Wang or Jeff Chang when you got a Ruff Ryder ready to speak? I'm not saying O-Dub is jealous, but I certainly understand if he's scared. I'm a conservative leaning Black man who has to deal with the stupid things Stanley Crouch writes three times a week. Trust me, I understand."
I found the post weird--esp. the assumption that there's a limit on the number of Asian American males that can take up media space. And I certainly don't waste any time waiting on Dan Rather or Ted Koppel to call me for "the Asian American male opinion" on anything. Most folks who call me for an opinion on hip-hop--and it ain't like my phone is ringing off the hook--aren't trying to get a specifically Asian American one anymore anyway.
As another digression, I do have peers and elders that set out in their lives to be "an Asian American voice", a necessary and very important role in a media that's antagonistic to expressing race in America in anything other than white, white, and a little bit black. This is a country in which right-wingers make Michelle Malkin a centerfold, and progressives will be happy to have one Asian surname in their Palm Pilot to ignore. It's a thankless task, and I haven't had enough patience, persistence, or focus to try to make that my life.
So anyway I just noted Madison wasn't bearing any ill will, just making an observation, and I ignored it cause it didn't really make any sense in the world I actually live in.
When I think about it now, Madison actually was taking a slightly different spin on a point I had made--per Greg Tate--in an article about hip-hop journalism for a book called Pop Music and The Press. I couldn't imagine Madison had read that article, hell, I barely read it. Anyway, here's what I had written, in respect of hip-hop journalism's plunge into celebrity circle-jerking:
"Hip hop journalists are regularly forced to confront holy-rolling baby-boomers like Joe Lieberman and C. Delores Tucker whose reactionary politics obliterate the sore to save the cancer. So these kinds of narratives can serve as defense mechanisms: a way of protecting and justifying the existence of a generation so debased by outsiders and elders. In fact, many hip hop writers are cowed by the power that rappers claim in the act of representing. As Rakim put it, "In this journey, you're the journal. I'm the journalist." Intimidated by such hypertextuality, writers reduce themselves to confirming a rapper's "reality" or conforming to it in order to defend it. Authenticity marks the hip hop nation's borders."
I don't think Jin's presence diminishes the presence of any other Asian American males. There's a scale question here: Jin's life is what's being written. Us AAMPCs are just the readers.
That's the brilliance of O-dub's now infamous AAMPC Clones post. None of us ever got into this low-paying, always hustling, so-called career to get gassed by some talking head. Generally we're some ugly motherfuckers with a fairly pathetic obsession. And when we aren't mistaken for each other, we all pretty much get ignored equally.
In Ta-Nehisi Coates' forthcoming Village Voice piece--next week, most likely, I'll link when it's up--the presence of Jin opens up the subject of Asian American masculinity and manhood. Not talking Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, or Bruce Lee. Asian American male-ness becomes the subject. The better Jin's album, the greater the likelihood this conversation gets moving. For the piece, Ta-Nehisi called a bunch of us to chat, and in truth, it was maybe one of the first times many of us got to talk about these kinds of issues outside our own rarefied circles. The point is: Jin's the myth, we're just here to tell it again.
The interesting thing for us AAMPCs and AAFPCs--and BTW can we give some love to the AAFPCs? They're the ones who are really making it happen--is now there's a subject to match our own subjectivities. The question is how we respond. Do we get magnetized? Or do we mix it up? In a way, it's a teaching moment we shouldn't miss.
So I'd say it makes perfect sense for Oliver and the rest of us to be critical--in the same way Madison may be of Stanley Crouch. The world is big enough for all of that.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:21 PM
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