I have never considered that museums may not be displaying “authentic” history. Preserving an artifact in its ideal form rather than its reality is an interesting issue. I don’t think the public would be very receptive to going into a respectable, national museum only to be met with dirty smelly things. If a museum chooses to put Michael Jordan’s uniform on display, they are going to wash it first. But isn’t the sweat and stadium smells of a winning game part of history too? The public, I believe, has a very specific image of what we call ‘history’. It is supposed to be neat and orderly — no matter how messed up a massacre was, or how devastating a hurricane became, or even how revolutionary a torn down wall is, things need to be labelled with smart little placards. A visitor should be able to walk into an exhibit and experience from start to finish the progression of events.
But I don’t think history is actually anything like museums say it is. Just like in Bush’s memex, people should be free to jump around history as they please, making their own connections and analyses. While museums for the most part appear to allow this, a visitor can easily go on a ‘guided tour’ or download the best route to see everything. Or consider the Luvre in France. You walk inside one end, and go in one line, exiting out the other end. I understand that not everyone is a trained historian, but traditional museums are almost patronizing in their treatment of experiencing history, holding your hand like a child and explaining in simplest terms the significance of something. I think instead of this, a picture or a replication should be the jumping off point for the experience of history, not the end.
How best to preserve this exact moment?
Performers like Muddy Waters were especially successful in catering to a wide audience, mostly due, as Miller points out, to their large repertoire. If a musician could play black and white music, knew various cultural and local dances, memorized different kinds of tunes, etc., he had a greater chance of employment than a musician who only knew plantation songs, or only knew pop songs from the north. It’s interesting that there were several artists that overcame “differences of race, class, or region” despite his skin color, and were extremely popular to both white and black audiences. In such a racially segregated era, for music to transcend this barrier I think is amazing. We’ve talked about before how pop culture often progressed at a faster pace than the legal system, and I think this is a prime example. A fiddle player who grew up in the deep south could then produce music to be played on the radio and enjoyed by both white people curious about ‘authentic southern’ music and also black people longing for home, just by being able to play various racial genres. Which why is that even a thing in the first place? It’s strange to me that ‘race’ can be a genre, like a white person wouldn’t listen to ‘black’ music or buy ‘black’ products. My goodness people, a homegoods brand is a homegoods brand, the dishwashing soap isn’t going to change properties based on the color of your skin. That tshirt doesn’t know if you have more or less melanin. Racism as a concept baffles me, I understand that it started when white people “discovered” (heavy emphasis on the quotes) darker skinned people in Africa, but why on earth did they immediately jump to ‘Hey Joe, I got a great idea. Let’s take this other human and torture, rape, and enslave his people for hundreds of years, and then later, let’s be actively and legally cruel, violent, and unreasonable hateful to his successors, just because they’re more tanned than us.’ I thought we prided ourselves on our logical, rational ability, yet this seems incredibly illogical, and irrational, to me.
How can love be illegal?
Hank Williams, the father of modern country music, often wore a cowboy hat and “western” style clothing despite growing up and singing in Alabama (where there are most definitely no cowboys). It’s the same story with Jimmie Rodgers, who wore a costume of railroad overalls and hat. But why is this stereotypical southern imagery necessary? And why was it so popular? In part, I think the people managing Rodgers and Williams remind me of the minstrels. The minstrel singers performed what they believed was black culture and music. Likewise, these country singers performed and wore the clothes that the public believed was authentic southern. It may not have been accurate, at least for the majority, however stereotypes and imagination go a long way to shape the views of the masses. It’s even more befuddling, however, that those who migrated from the south to urban cities, loved this kind of music and film, yet they, more than anyone else, should realize this is not quite how life really is in the south. They themselves buy into this commercial country image the north sells, despite having lived and experienced the “real south” (whatever that is). Additionally, when considering songs like Honky Tonkin’, about adultery and cheating on one’s husband, these crass popular songs which depict almost a lesser, more basal culture, were listened to and liked by the masses, including those who moved from the south. Maybe it’s just my liberal, millennial point of view, but I imagine I would be somewhat offended if all these ‘fake southerners’ were singing all about my family’s home in such a crude, comical way. Or maybe I’m taking it too seriously, afterall, pop songs today are just as crude and secular and sexist and biased as they were then.
The best possible representation of my people (that was sarcasm)
America’s segregation history is one of violence and cruelty, yet in the midst of this, phenomenon like the minstrel show exists. Or even more interesting, people like Muddy Waters existed in this era and context of intense radical racism while also transcending the borders between genres and race. Muddy Waters would listen to everything on the radio — country, jazz, pop, minstrel songs, etc — and sung them in his own way. He had very wide musical talent, despite being nearly illiterate. Later on, he would further fuzz the boundaries separating the races by singing in integrated bands and working on movies for Disney. In a time when it was illegal for a black and white person to play music together, the radio allowed this to happen. After all, you can’t see skin color when listening to a guy play the guitar. I think it’s pretty rad that in the face of such unfair and unjust laws, people still found a way to stick it to the man while doing something they actually love. Music is something that has always passed borders between race and ethnicities long before the legal and political systems, and it makes me wonder if America, or even the world, would look a lot different if these integrated bands didn’t have to play in secret.
The swing beat can be seen in most modern beats — from DC’s go-go and pop artists like Major Lazer, I think it’s pretty cool that I can turn on my radio in 2018 and hear a beat created in 1875. Very few cultural relics survive the turning centuries, and the displaced accent popularized by the opera song, Habanera, is one of those idyllic few. This displaced accent is seen in many genres of music as well, like Cuban and Argentinian, as well as opera, jazz, and pop. An interesting band that plays with the musical timeline, Post modern Jukebox covers modern pop songs in a more vintage/jazz version. I actually like the Jukebox version better. The female vocalist sings with a raspy, sultry voice that echoes the underground cafe singers of the 40s and 50s. The accompanying band plays behind-the-beat, a perfect string of piano and bass beats that captivate the listener. One reason I may be so enamored with this style and genre of music is it is reminiscent of a time with more wonder and fun. It may be a stylized, stereotyped vintage utopia, but in my mind, swing jazz played on a jumping record symbolizes America’s golden years of music. Just after WWII, America emerged as one of two global superpowers, and although it was tinged in something darker, we had the only nuclear weapons in the world, making us more powerful — and dangerous — than any other nation. It was an age of invention and revolution, and I want to be as much a part of the past as I am the present. The lovechild of minstrel shows, the swing beat has captured a cultural in America from decades ago and transported it into the future. The swing beat is like a musical time machine, relevant in the past, present, and certainly will in the future.
Real life time traveller
A boundary transgressing animal is something that doesn’t fit into a predetermined category, and also (even worse for those who stake their lives on these categories) cross the boundaries between, fitting into multiple categories (very dangerous stuff indeed). There is no room for the middle ground of Venn diagrams — there is only completely separated circles. Minstrel shows could be considered a kind of boundary transgressor. By enabling white people to act out desires considered socially unacceptable, like laziness, romance, and even obnoxious glee, they are able to cross that line through blacking up their face. While the actions and lyrics may not have been an accurate representation of black life style and customs (really more of a trippy distortion in which white people had no idea wtf was going on) their perception was perhaps an extension of their more basal desires. Similarly, minstrel shows were surely a way in which African-Americans eventually found their way into professional entertainment businesses. Black artists were not allowed to perform in theatre, broadway, on the radio (and then not on the ‘white’ radio), however blackface helped introduce a white audience to the idea of black performers. By mixing the white and black races on stage, minstrels became a weird and almost otherworldly liaison between the two populations.
We’ve come a long way to make this happen
I find it very ironic that during the Civil War, confederate soldiers would sing songs about black people and their beautiful mulatto girlfriends, while fighting to keep the very institution of slavery. What did then-slaves think about this phenomenon? I would have laughed and shook my head. It’s the same thing when it comes to how country music became what it is today. Instruments we associate with country, like the fiddle, banjo, harmonica, etc. were originally used in black folk music. And popular country singers covered songs musicians used to perform trying to imitate a black person. This is crazy ridiculous to think about — a music genre stereotypically classified as ‘white people music’ was the original ‘black people music’. It doesn’t really make sense to me. Maybe they liked the way it sounded, or wanted to capture a perceived sense of a carefree fun-spirit they thought blacks harbored. What’s even more weird to think about, is African-Americans would also dress in blackface to perform these songs. Maybe it was perceived differently back then, but in today’s world, it looks like they were only perpetuating discrimination and highlighting ‘us vs. them’ factors. I can’t imagine that minstrel shows were the only way a black man could make a living. It just seems so vulgar now, and so ‘out there’ that’s it’s a little hard to wrap my head around.
Like, what even is this?
It’s strange to think that memes and IM and Marvel movies and e-textbooks all came from the government wanting to bomb the shit out of Russia. Without a centralized hub, it would be next to impossible for Soviets to take out communications between the bases. From this need, an entire network blossomed into the insane genius of the internet we know today. It’s pretty incredible that such creature came from war — the threat of total nuclear annihilation is what enabled me to be typing this post here today. That’s pretty wild. One problem (of many, my goodness) that the military was, ironically, the free spirit embedded in the internet’s core. We needed something that could morph and switch lanes on it’s own, yet that’s just it — on its own, the internet was free to make connections everywhere, to bring information across the country, and then across the globe. There is an inherent independence to the internet that made –and still makes — it hard to control. No one person has the ability to dictate the web, and however ironically, that’s what makes it so powerful.
It could happen
Information is not the same as meaning.
At first glance, it’s pretty easy to understand, but actually, it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, and I would disagree with Claude Shannon that the meaning of a sentence is less important than the informational bits gleaned from it. Which is another point that gets me confused. It seems like Shannon’s ‘information’ is something new and uncertain. For example, that man is fishing. If you and I were to look at that man, holding a fishing rod and wearing river boots, there would be no uncertainty that indeed, that man is fishing. So because there is no uncertainty, there is no information to be had. This concept doesn’t really tango with me. If the man is fishing, you can get all kinds of information. Like, the man is by a river, the man is about 50 years old, the man has not caught a fish yet, etc. How come this is not information? These are facts you would not have known had you not looked outside and seen the man, yet after you’ve witnessed the scene, there is no uncertainty about what’s happening. The information may not be relevant to you, but it is still information. Maybe that’s what he means? Like the ‘u’ after a ‘q’ is irrelevant, and can be implied, it’s not information? But it still holds meaning in the English language — just not information??? The dictionary says information is “facts provided or learned about something or someone.” It’s a fact that in English, a ‘u’ comes after the ‘q’. I still don’t get it, Shannon.
Is this man irrelevant?
Vanever Bush’s memex inspired the internet as we know it today. It was a radical way of researching and reading that would allow the reader to take control, go at his own pace, and create unique pathways to different conclusions. By enabling the reader to jump quickly from book to book, passage to passage, author to author, the ultimate authority of the writer began to dissolve. Today, it barely requires a thought to jump from one link to the next. Our internet is the very reflection of how our mind processes information. And I don’t think it’s a detriment to research or the self, rather, this ability to take control and choose our own path is empowering. No where else in history can one find this kind of power — the infinite possibilities the internet promises is kind of scary. Turning the unimaginable into reality was truly a revolution, and I just hope that our progress is worth the consequences. It’s true, my generation has a shorter attention span, we live with our parents longer, and by golly we listen to the radio when we drive. Despite this, I still don’t think that having instant access information is completely a bad thing. In a way, we’re forced into it, technology is all around us, every single second. Even in going ‘off the grid’ technology is still at work affecting peoples’ lives. I’ve mentioned before that a robot takeover is imminent, and I only half-joke. Human progress is natural and inexplicable, but if we keep pushing the boundaries, life will give way to something much less human, and much more dire than a teenager obsessed with his phone.
Behold, The Internet