more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

REDRUM: Mid-week roundup

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While I’d love to tell you that things have been quiet around here for the past couple of days for some exciting reason – like being imprisoned in a creepy hotel due to a bizarre revenge plot – I’m afraid it’s just because I was snowed in.  Again.  On Monday, work was canceled.  On Tuesday, work was canceled and a state of emergency was declared.  Today, most of us are back to work – but the MBTA has really and truly begun to collapse.  For whatever reason, service was running – badly – for most of the day on Monday.  I think it’s because neither the City of Boston nor the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declared the state of emergency then, which was dumb, because that was the day of the fucking blizzard.  But anyway.  As of 7:00 p.m. on Monday, the T literally said, “Well, fuck it,” and suspended all service.  Our illustrious governor finally declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, and the T suspended all rail service for the day.  Gov. Baker had made some comment about how the T’s level of service has been “unacceptable” – which isn’t wrong, of course, but which is basically his fault – and General Manager Beverly Scott had some things to say about that. “We’ve had a perfect storm for decades, decades of serious disinvestment. […] And every nondecision ultimately is a decision, figuring out through the years how to make it all work without having the investment — how to rob Peter to pay Paul.” Naturally, Baker proposes cutting the state transportation budget by $40 million, $14 million of which will be cut from the T directly.  I don’t think Scott has been a great manager, but I also think it’s clear that she was given an impossibly thankless job.  Trains on the Orange Line are all 30 years old, if not older.  Many trains on the Red Line are similarly antiquated.  The tracks, switches, and signals are ancient on all lines.  This isn’t something she fucked up: this is something that cowardly politicians have kneecapped for decades.  And local government is focused on stupid Potemkin villages for the Olympics – rather than real investment in infrastructure upgrades.  Great.  In any event, I despair of ever making it home tonight.

It is a lot of snow.  That’s for sure.  I’m really tired of it, and contemplating moving back to Australia – although I am disappointed that they didn’t kick out that jug-eared nincompoop, Tony Abbott, earlier this week.  Well, the Coalition is almost certain to lose the election next year – if they don’t get rid of him before then – so that’s one thing to look forward to.

I have managed to watch a hell of a lot of stuff over the past couple of days, including the first three seasons of The Thick of It (and the movie version, In the Loop), and two movies that were new to me: Boyhood (not shameful that I hadn’t seen it yet) and Magnolia (completely shameful that I hadn’t seen it yet).  Some capsule reviews, because I know how much my opinions matter to you all:

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– Boyhood was a perfectly adequate film.  I can’t say there was anything seriously wrong with it.  I can’t say it was terrible.  I just didn’t care about any of it.  Is it a white male thing to think that everything that happens to you – no matter how commonplace and deadly dull – is super important?  Dudes, some of you are insignificant.  Sorry.

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– Magnolia was amazing.  I am really, truly sorry – not facetiously so – that I hadn’t seen it until yesterday.  It twists and turns, and it’s batshit insane, and it’s great.  Musical numbers!  Deranged quiz shows!  Raining frogs!  This movie has it all.  It’s three hours long, which is perhaps a bit much for hysterical people’s problems, but I didn’t let that stand in my way.

Finally, because I was busy watching fun things and getting drunk on Sunday, I did not watch the Grammys.  I heard about them, though.  And while I feel some modicum of pity for Beck (since he must know he’s the most despised Grammy-winner in…well, this year, at least), I am also astounded (this, to borrow a phrase from Humbert Humbert, is a rhetorical figure: I am not) at all the casual racism I see surrounding the debate about Beck winning Album of the Year over Beyoncé and about Kanye’s frustration with Grammys voters getting it wrong.  Specifically, I’ve seen a lot of white people latching onto this tweet:

Okay.  So, like, I’m going to try to set aside my incandescent anger and look at this rationally.

First of all: sure, one-man singer-songwriters are talented people.  They’re the auteurs of music.  Good for them.  That being said, they usually write and perform music that can be written and performed by just one person.  There’s much more to rap/R&B/hip hop than just one person’s contribution – and that’s awesome.  It makes for some of the most exciting, kickass music around.  Neither genre is better than the other – but one (which is predominantly white) is FAR more rewarded than the other (which is predominantly not white).

Second of all: you cannot look at the bodies of work of either Kanye West or Queen Bey and say that they aren’t completely controlled by each respective star.  They can collaborate with 20 different people on a song, use autotune, sample speeches from feminists or songs by Billie Holiday, whatever – it’s still obviously their vision.  You cannot tell me that either of them sounds like anyone else.

Third of all: isn’t it just a wee bit classist (and therefore often racist) to set instrumental virtuosity as the greatest indicator of musical talent?  I certainly think so.  A white kid from an affluent suburb or a big city is far more likely to have access to the kind of money, time, and training necessary to master an instrument – or many.  But even if you want to stick to the “Beck plays 14 instruments and Beyoncé ‘only’ sings” argument, trying to claim that it’s a legitimate reason for Beck to win Album of the Year instead of her, Prince has never won Album of the Year despite playing however many instruments (“all 27” on his debut album, according to him, or eight according to his Wikipedia page).  If you’re going to sit there and tell me that Prince has never deserved to win Album of the Year, I will tell you to go play with a thumbscrew.

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Fourth of all, and most importantly: Beyoncé’s album was a complete game-changer.  It is a great album, just in itself.  But it was also an unprecedented record-breaker, selling gazillions of copies with no promotion, no advance warning, no standard industry-mandated hoops to jump through.  How in the world can anyone look at the immense impact of her album and consider it anything BUT the album of the year?  As she herself says in her verse on “Feelin’ Myself” (from Nicki Minaj’s also awesome The Pinkprint):

Changed the game with that digital drop,
Know where you was when that digital popped.
I stopped the world —
Male or female, it makes no difference,
I stopped the WORLD!
World stopped.
…carry on.

She’s not kidding.  She singlehandedly changed the way artists can release their music, and that’s amazing.  She also ignited countless discussions about feminism and sexuality – which is ALSO amazing.  You cannot look at her loss as anything but entrenched racism, frankly.  I’m sure Beck’s album is fine, but Kanye is right: it is NOT the album of the year.  That honor should rightly go to a black woman this time, not yet another white man.  If you disagree, have fun being part of the problem.

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