July 30, 2013

The Most Pretentious Thing Ever Written About George Zimmerman.

This is Sasha Frere-Jones, writing about Jay Z’s new album (which is pretentiously titled "Magna Carta Holy Grail") in the (pretentious but traditionally a bit subtle in its pretentiousness) New Yorker:

But just like the politician that he occasionally texts, Jay Z is exactly who should disappoint us, unless our admiration is mute conformity and our optimism was a party smile. His friend has disappointed us by allowing a squeegee of surveillance to be dragged across America and approving the killing of foreign civilians with robots. Those civilians, in another country, see America the way Trayvon Martin saw George Zimmerman — a force they couldn’t stop physically creating a story they couldn’t fight historically. So what should Jay Z be doing instead of currying favor with critics in an art gallery? Maybe something like what his friend Kanye West thought up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he blurted out, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Jay Z may be our most accomplished rapper but he rarely does anything to alienate anyone the way that West continually, and valuably, does. Which is probably why Carter represents athletes now, for profit and pleasure.
I think Frere-Jones fancies himself some sort of genius rapper of the print medium, cramming together disparate references and conveying a tone of outrage over... oh, who know what? What's Frere-Jones's problem here? Jay Z shouldn't work for profit? He shouldn't aspire to an art gallery audience?
Jay Z’s performance at the Pace Gallery, a transparent rewrite of Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present,” took place three days before the Zimmerman verdict, so what could he have done to leverage his influence? He could have ditched the idea of lip-synching to “Picasso Baby” (a weak retread of “99 Problems”) and recreated the Zimmerman-Martin showdown with everyone in the room, following them around the perimeter of the gallery and scaring the shit out of them, eventually pulling a gun. And though that would have been the aggressive vision of a different artist, Jay Z is exactly the kind of figure who could weather the ensuing controversy, retaining all of his homes and maybe even his Samsung deal.
Speaking of failing to scare the shit out of people, for whom is this New Yorker shit writ?

What emotions were felt by the target audience for Frere-Jones's article?
  
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28 comments:

surf-ed said...

My eyes started glazing by the third sentence. A long way from anything Finnegan writes...

Locomotive Breath said...

It's the New Yorker. Are you really surprised that it's pretentious?

Ralph Hyatt said...

the way Trayvon Martin saw George Zimmerman — a force they couldn’t stop physically

Excuse me, but it would seem that Trayvon did see Zimmerman as a force he could stop physically, thus Zimmerman's broken nose and gashed head.

AaronS said...

I recently rewatched Ken Burns' documentary on Prohibition. I was highly amused during his section on Lois Long to hear him say that all the young working girls in NYC couldn't wait for the next issue of the New Yorker. I suppose they wanted to live vicariously through Lois Long and her exploits. I suppose the current readers of the New Yorker want to live vicariously through Frere-Jone's imagination, where apparently he's being chased around a gallery by Jay-Z with a gun.

kimsch said...

Excuse me, but it would seem that Trayvon did see Zimmerman as a force he could stop physically, thus Zimmerman's broken nose and gashed head.

This.

Ann Althouse said...

In the hope of getting some insight into this particular brand of blather, I read the Wikipedia article on Frere-Jones. Excerpt:

"He was born Alexander Roger Wallace Jones on January 31, 1967, in Manhattan, the elder child of Elizabeth Frere and Robin C. Jones. His younger brother, Tobias Frere-Jones, is co-founder of the prominent typeface design company Hoefler & Frere-Jones, and is on the faculty of the Yale School of Art. Tobias and Alexander both legally changed their surnames from Jones to Frere-Jones in 1981.

"He is a grandson of Alexander Stuart Frere, the former chairman of the board of William Heinemann Ltd, the British publishing house, and a great-grandson of the novelist Edgar Wallace, who wrote many popular pulp novels, though he is best known for writing the story for the film King Kong."

William said...

I'm a long time New Yorker subscriber. I wasn't aware that there was any large overlap between New Yorker readers and rap fans, but I suppose it's possible. I guess it's also possible that rap music could be a worthwhile art form. I've never actually listened to Kanye West or JayZ so it would be unfair to pass judgment on their imbecilic noise......There are so many lies about George Zimmerman. Trayvon was not afraid of George. If George looked like Hulk Hogan, Trayvon would have run home and that would have been the end of it. Trayvon was annoyed not afraid.

Johanna Lapp said...

The 99% white audience of The New Yorker understands the race struggle in America in ways that Jay Z. never can.

Cog said...

Wasn’t it Tina Brown who revamped the New Yorker in the ‘90s? Circulation rebounded by adding heavy doses of progressive prattle about hip celebrities, the kind of thing Frere-Jones has done there for years. Inbred pretense has overtaken anything that might be of any interest now.

CWJ said...

I don't know about his audience, but his POV seems to be one of alienation and bored decadence. Witness his adoption of the Russian diminutive of his given name and a hyphanated version of his surname. He cannot create, and has little imagination, so he demands that artists should act out his alienated fantasies for him as if no one else could understand (except him of course) without the artist's demonstration.

He's a lotus-eater.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm a long time New Yorker subscriber. I wasn't aware that there was any large overlap between New Yorker readers and rap fans..."

I doubt if there is, which is what makes this interesting. Rap must be presented as a description in New Yorker-worthy prose, but it's ludicrously overdone and interwoven with politics and art. The NYr reader wants to feel that she's in the loop, connected to what's current, and also that she's concerned about race, even with respect to things she doesn't want to get anywhere near.

Frere-Jones does the translation into prose, even as he imagines the Zimmerman encounter turned into an art gallery performance for you too.

EDH said...

Jay Z’s new album (which is pretentiously titled "Magna Carta Holy Grail")

I think Magna Carta is a play on Jay Z's real last name: Shawn Corey Carter.

Beyonce also refers to herself as "Mrs. Carter".

But yea, more fact-free commentary about Martin and Zimmerman from Frere-Jones.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Jay Z may be our most accomplished rapper but he rarely does anything to alienate anyone the way that West continually, and valuably, does."

-- West is an idiot; it is to Jay Z's credit that he doesn't engage in the same idiocy, even if the new target of his idiocy might be a politician I disagree with.

chrisnavin.com said...

I think there's a bigger picture here, which is perhaps that pop-art, marketing, Warhol-Koons, hip-hop, modern and performance art are meeting up. It's a big confused, high and low, post-post-modern institutionalized mess from where I sit.

As if all the arts needed were to be institutionalized. A good dose of traditionalism wouldn't hurt.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I googled Sasha because it suddenly occurred to me that this guy might be white.

He is, so the column is essentially Sasha, a white guy, saying that Jay-Z is

Matthew Sablan said...

"I think Magna Carta is a play on Jay Z's real last name: Shawn Corey Carter."

-- That's actually pretty witty. The Holy Grail part seems weird; maybe there should be some punctuation between Carta and Holy?

Ann Althouse said...

"I googled Sasha because it suddenly occurred to me that this guy might be white."

Well, I had that question too, and they've got a caricature over there at the NYr. I asked Meade, "Do you think there's any chance that this guy isn't white?"

Ralph Hyatt said...

I googled the article's author because it suddenly occurred to me that he might not be black.

The reason that I thought that Sasha was african-american was because I did not think that a white person would have the nerve to accuse Jay-Z of being a sell-out and being insufficiently down with the cause.

But there it is, in the New Yorker.

Matthew Sablan said...

"

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Considering how American the feeling is, there should be a word in English for the despair that attends our moments of racial atomization. Every few years, an event flares through the unsheathed wiring of our collective guilt, enmity, and shame, and it feels like we have fewer words than ever. We watch one more violation of humanity unfold. We look around, throw something soft against a wall, and surrender to weeks of a sciatic pulse that has no name and no treatment. In Portuguese, there are words like “saudade,” for the beautiful sadness that immobilizes us and sweetens the air. This American sensation wants a sharper word, something like “helpless” but more tannic, more acute. We don’t have this word, and we need it more every year."

-- This opening paragraph reads like a parody of what I would give students to start a composition course. This would be the "Before editing" picture, if you would.

John Lynch said...

I don't understand why New Yorker would want to emulate Rolling Stone.

I don't like prose that implies that if you disagree you aren't "with it."

I wonder how many readers unconsciously sneer while staring at paragraphs like these.

kimsch said...

Johanna,

The other day on The Five, Bob Beckel was telling Eric Bolling that Eric Bolling could know nothing about the black "struggle", but he, Bob, could. Because Bob and his father had attended civil rights marches and supported civil rights.

White progressives are the only people who can know that.

Jason said...

I'm gonna let you finish, but Sasha Frere Jone's article is the most pathetic, pretentious overwrought piece of drivel of all time! Of AAAAAALLLL TIME!!!

Henry said...

Those civilians, in another country, see America the way Trayvon Martin saw George Zimmerman — a force they couldn’t stop physically creating a story they couldn’t fight historically.

Parallel structure is a bitch. It's so hard to get couldn't to agree with they.

DanTheMan said...

Frere-Jones is the Liberal Church Lady. You just read his superiority dance.

Kaja said...

Frere-Jones: “I’ve spent much of my life playing music, and on and off since 1990 I’ve been a member of a funk band called Ui,” he wrote in the New Yorker in 2007. “We’ve had six members, all white, though most of the musicians who inspire our sound are black.”

From "Sasha Frere-Jones is a White Man".

Kaja said...

Frere-Jones: “I’ve spent much of my life playing music, and on and off since 1990 I’ve been a member of a funk band called Ui,” he wrote in the New Yorker in 2007. “We’ve had six members, all white, though most of the musicians who inspire our sound are black.”

From "Sasha Frere-Jones is a White Man".

VekTor said...

Everything one need know about Sasha Frere-Jones is encapsulated by (what can loosely be called) the following "thought":

Maybe something like what his friend Kanye West thought up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he blurted out, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Jay Z may be our most accomplished rapper but he rarely does anything to alienate anyone the way that West continually, and valuably, does.

What Kayne did there was valuable, folks. He's an exemplar that others should strive to emulate in that sterling example, that virtuoso ad hoc performance.

Crunchy Frog said...

Michael Jordan got the same treatment for not being sufficiently race-baiting.

He was too busy selling shoes to white kids to notice.