Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Reggae and Gay People

It's a real heartache to me. Sizzla is possibly my favourite of the current generation of dancehall musicians. He carries the heritage of Lee Perry, Big Youth and Dr Alimantado effortlessly and adds his own thing. The hooks are great, and he sings straight from his heart.

One problem - he's a total homophobe.

See, I never cared especially for Wagner's music so I was never really faced with the problem of how to negotiate the art/ politics problem (Wagner was a Nazi sympathizer). Sizzla is my modern day equivalent.

I think it was a 70s thing in particular - the politics of aesthetics. The general thrust seemed to be that right-wingers didn't like radical art, but lefties did. That seems to broadly be the attitude today.

Well, this never made sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, if you listen to any piece of music (without lyrics), it says nothing at all about the composer's political convictions. How they feel about welfare benefit, gun control, abortion or whatever else. Secondly, one of the pivotal movements for the avant-garde was the Futurists, who were Fascists.

So formal properties remain apolitical. We would like to think that art with questionable content will consistently be substandard, but this isn't the case. Leni Riefenstahl is a classic example. In much the same way, racist jokes are always politically objectionable but people are more likely to forgive the joke if it's actually funny. I would take this as meaning that the form of the joke is solid, even if the content is offensive. Conveniently, most people who cook up these jokes aren't that bright so the jokes usually aren't funny. But even if they are, that doesn't make it forgivable. A friend of mine said to me recently "I think you can say anything as long as it's funny". This seems to be a widely held belief, I would contend that even if it is funny, that's not a license to be hurtful to any group of people.

Back to Sizzla. There is no room for ambiguity in his lyrics. He cooked up a song called Nah Apologise, which is him declaring his refusal to apologize for writing and performing songs which incite and encourage hatred and violence towards homosexuals. This song is freely available on youtube. I looked at it, and noticed that the discussion wall generally went along the lines of people writing "kill batty boys!". Great. So my good turn for the day was flagging the video to youtube, and alerting them to the fact that it's inappropriate and incites hatred and abuse towards gay people - which is against youtube policy anyhow. What's surprising is that it's already been looked at by 355,586 people (to date) and it would appear that I'm the first person to object.

I hoped that they would take the video down, but instead they just disabled adding comments. Not ideal, but I guess it's something. Though if I was catching the brunt of his hatred (i.e. something anti semitic) I wouldn't be satisfied.

Rastas, particularly the ultra-orthodox branch to which Sizzla subscribes - called Boboshanti Rastas better sort this thing out. Jamaica has such a proud tradition, they punch above their weight culturally, but why the hatred? No-one asked them to be gay, it's a low pressure deal. Their rationale behind the hatred of gays comes from their claim is that to be gay is to go against the will of God. This comes form the book of Leviticus - the same book that states that any child who says their parents name in vain shall be put to death.

Do Boboshanti Rastas follow through on this instruction as well? Of course not. If they could first of all admit that the hatred of gays comes from a personal dislike rather than sublimating it to God's will, that'd be a start.

Dear Sizzla: you have a right to your opinion, and I have the right to call you a fool.


Karen Burke said...

Great post!

I am not so sure about the observation that commedians who make racist/homophobic jokes aren't smart, though. Some of them are, i.e. Sacha Baron Cohen and Frankie Boyle. What happened when I heard Bruno's Ausschwitz joke was that I didn't laugh because I didn't think it was funny.

Sam Mildner said...

oddly I was discussing this issue with my housemate just the other day; it just seems such an odd thing for a culture which is, in a media context, always depicted as the ultimate in positivity and acceptance.

Good thoughts though, although , like the other poster I'm not sure about the comedian thing though!