Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Chapter 4 (Part One): The Meeting

On the whole, U’s trip back to the compound went quietly. He spent most of the time rehearsing his confession. At one point, several months ago, U had tried to write a confession so that when he finally killed the doctor, and the Stripes ran in, he could pour out a passionate and beautiful admittance of guilt. He had fantasized about the way they would all react and how the MediaStation controllers might report his compelling proclamation across the airwaves. But, after several drafts, U found the writing to be impossible. It would be best just to let it happen; just let his confession come out naturally.

When he arrived at the entrance room of the compound, Mr. Node was no longer tending to the green plants and the air felt uncomfortably calm in comparison to the excitement U felt. The metallic door shut behind U with a muffled sound. He stood facing the room and the hallway stretched out in front of him. “...04.03…” U’s rectangular PDA read.

“I don’t know why I thought anyone would be here, I’m 30 minutes early.” After say this aloud to himself, U briskly moved down the hallway towards his office. The image frames still held their position along the hallway, bringing vivid colors of light unto U’s path.

“I should take in all this while I still can. Once they punish me, there’ll be no more beautiful images from Earth to look at.” U thought with melancholy. He stopped and watched a particularly stunning frame which showed a field of yellow wheat. Golden red leaves and deep brown branches could be seen extending out from where the camera was set. The title of the frame read, “the tree house”. The wheat moved effortlessly with the silent wind which also blew the soft clouds above. The image frames were meant to give the compound a sense of Earthliness, and that is what U felt.

“U!” A female voice confidently echoed out in the long hallway. U turned to see a middle aged woman in a white skirt, which went well down to her shins, walking towards him. As she drew closer, U could see that she looked concerned. Her face always wore a look of heaviness upon it. Now, that weight seemed to have increased to an insurmountable mass. Not that she appeared old, for her features were pleasant enough; it was something in her mannerisms that revealed the weariness. U felt his blood quicken as she stopped a few feet from him.

“U, what happened today?” It was a question, but the firmness in her voice made him think she was making a statement.

“Are you going to answer me? I asked what happened today.” U looked at her, and a slow grin covered his face.

“What happened to whom?

“You know what I mean. What happened in your office today? I saw some Red Stripes running in there earlier. And Dr. Ortho never came by to check my work. There’s a Blue Stripe in there right now. Her voice had shifted while she was talking, rising from distress to panic, and finally ending sorrowfully. What did you do U?”

“I made a leap of faith Mrs. Gram. It had to be done, and now I must go deal with the consequences.” And with that, U turned from his co-worker and stole down the hall. He imagined her look of disbelief as he walked on.

“She said he’s already in the office,” U thought to himself, “what could he be doing? Collecting evidence or something I suppose.” He walked a little bit quicker, and a little bit lighter. He didn’t let the image frames distract from his walk anymore. Turning the final corner, U was confronted with the door to his office. His breath went still for a moment, which was broken only by a contented sigh.

“Finally, justice will be done. They will punish me and this will be over.” U stepped forward and the door swooshed open before him. When his eyes adjusted to the darker light, U could make out the shape of a man hunched over his computer. The man was facing the wall opposite of the door U had just come through. When that door shut, the man looked up from his typing. U could now just make out the man’s Blue Stripe uniform. The Stripe still faced away from U, but his head was perked up as if to listen.

“Mr. U?”

“Yes, and you must be Mr. Hughes.” U felt a rush of blood and adrenaline as the conversation that would lead to his judgement began, but he tried to hide his excitement. He walked over to the desk. Mr. Hughes turned around and rose to meet U. He was a tall man, maybe taller than 6 feet. He wore his uniform with confident presence and the angular nature of his face made U think that he was able to counteract the forces of time simply by being assured of the present.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t have met over more pleasant circumstances Mr. U, but we’ll just have to make the best of this. My name, as you apparently know, is Mr. Hughes, I work for the Enforcement Center as the Chief Investigator. Please sit down Mr. U, we just have some formal questions to go through,” U and Mr. Hughes both sat down facing each other, “Before we continue can you please pull out your PDA. In order for this conversation to be legal we need a written record,” U complied with Mr. Hughes’ wishes. He selected the “Chat” button on his PDA, Mr. Hughes did the same. By doing this, the two men could record every word they said. It was a rudimentary system, which required each party to concentrate and visualize each word they said, but it was fairly effective in recording thoughts both spoken, and unspoken.
“Please set your PDA to the internal setting, I will be asking you a few questions that should not be answered out loud.” U did as Mr. Hughes asked, thinking to himself that the Blue Stripe was undoubtedly referring to the confession of the murder.

“In all cases of murder,” Mr. Hughes began to say out loud, “the eUnion has ordered that the System’s judgement be confirmed by a report from a Chief Investigator. This law was passed to ensure that whenever a member of the eUnion is facing a possible severe punishment, absolute justice is done. Of course, the System has yet to make a mistake in judgement and so my job is mostly a formality, but I’m sure you will feel safer knowing that your life is not treated lightly.”
When Mr. Hughes finished talking, U’s PDA lit up with text:

“Continue talking with me like normal, follow my cues…”

“The first question I have is how long you knew Dr. Ortho, please play close attention to your PDA as you answer so that we can record it properly,” Mr. Hughes said aloud.

Again the PDA displayed a message from Mr. Hughes: “You do not need to answer my verbal questions on the PDA, just give the appearance that you’re thinking about your answer. We must give the illusion that this is really an interrogation in case anyone is listening or watching. I need to talk with you Mr. U. You did something today which is out of order, and you were not punished. Do you know why?” U looked back down at his PDA in confusion, what did he mean “the illusion of an interrogation?” A quick bolt of panic spread through U. “This was not the way it was suppose to happen,” he said to himself.

“What is this?” U asked Mr. Hughes.

“Please Mr. U, use your PDA for all answers and comments so that we can properly record this interview.

U concentrated on his words: “I don’t understand what you’re talking about…what is this?”

“Good, I think that went through. Now, the next question is how was your relationship with Dr. Ortho before today?” Mr. Hughes said with a factual tone.
Another message appeared on U’s PDA: “I am a protector of the System, and it is my job to insure the integrity of it. The judgment of your action today presents a challenge to that integrity. We both know that you murdered a man, and that the punishment for murder is severe, yet the System allowed you to get away without any punishment at all. Don’t you find that a bit odd?” With a flooding pulse, U reread the message. “Maybe this man isn’t really a Blue Stripe,” he thought to himself, “No, that wouldn’t be possible, he would have to fool the System. But if he is a Blue Stripe, how can he question the judgment of the System?” U waited a moment before answering Mr. Hughes:

“Yes, I thought it was odd. I’ve just spent most of the day trying to understand why I wasn’t punished. But what I want to know is, who you are? You say you’re a Blue Stripe but you’re questioning the System. That makes no sense. I can’t figure out why the real Stripes aren’t swarming in to punish your doubt, but until they come, I won’t listen to your lies.” U believed little of what he said, but he couldn’t let Mr. Hughes’ words rest.

“Alright, that answer went through. I want to thank you for your trust and cooperation Mr. U, I assure you that these questions are for your protection. Now then, could you tell me how you felt about Dr. Ortho both personally and professionally?” Mr. Hughes’ verbal questions seemed like all the right ones. U wondered why he couldn’t just answer those questions and be punished.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hip-Hop: A Conclusion

Finally, let us return to , that is a viable genre for the Christian Artist. I have so far only alluded to a criteria by which we can judge the merits of various musical genres, but not directly spoken of it as such. It is my contention that by looking at complexity, unity between form and theme, relevance, , and spiritual potential we can best evaluated genres.

In regard to , I have already shown that lyrically Hip-Hop can be done in such a way as to incorporate a tremendous sense of intricacy. While the repetitive nature of the instrumental elements of Hip-Hop might seem to make the genre simplistic or rudimentary-and therefore not capable of being relevant-this simplicity is actually a purposeful choice on the part of the artist to shift the emphasis from the instruments to the vocal elements. And it is here, in the lyrics, that the complexity can be found. But there is, and has been, a great danger in this complexity: a Postmodernist emphasis on complexity which allows for some focus on the individuals, but does so in a manner that is so complex that communication ends and the individuals and everything else in the universe loses all value, or the Marxist approach which abandons complexity for communication and in the process completely removes the individual or particular aspects of life. These pitfalls should be observed and avoided by the Christian Artist. Instead, the artist must explore, discussing a variety of topics and dealing with several issues ranging from the suffering of particular people to political problems to love and God. But here I am speaking of thematic complexity. Lyrically there must be a complexity which mimics the complexity of Christ's creation: a complexity in layers which can be peeled off and enjoyed on multiply levels. Here an example will help. When I, a scientifically inept man, looks at a flower, I see beauty and peace, love and often times I am filled with a feeling of thankfulness knowing that God created such a profoundly beautiful plant knowing that I would one day see and enjoy it. However deeply I feel about this flower, if a botanist sees that same flower, knowing all its intricate workings, how can he not be overcome with more thankfulness and understanding than myself? And if a painter sees that same flower, and knowing the art of colors and shadows and shape and form, how can she not appreciate it more than me? In the same way, the Christian Artist-and this goes for all the arts although my purpose here is specific-should seek to create art which can be understood by the common man and yet is still filled with complexity for those that are able to understand. But, in the end, the complexity is there, if we choose to aspire to it.

has been a major challenge for many Hip-Hop artists. This is in part due to the fact that most rappers do not produce their own music, and whenever a work of art is divided among other artists, vision and theme will suffer-there are a few exceptions of this, particularly in film where you have literally hundreds of “artists” interpreting a script and working together to form the finished product. Generally, this is what makes films such an incredibly difficult field of art to work in. But some directors, a hand full at most, are able to micromanage their works to such an extent that their own vision comes through: Kubrick, Wes Anderson, Kurosawa. But this challenge can be easily overcome if the artist will merely make a conscious choice to be sensitive to the theme of the lyrics and what the music itself seems to be suggesting. In this area of Hip-Hop I feel that there needs to be a lot of maturing on the part of producers. We must decide to make unified art. Again, there is a clear potential for unity, and as Christians it is our obligation to make art which glorifies God. I am referring to skill and craftsmanship now. There is no technical problem with combining the themes of a Hip-Hop song with its form, but it is difficult.

is perhaps one of the most important criteria used to judge Hip-Hop. As we have already seen, Hip-Hop is clearly a genre which is relevant to the issues of today. It speaks to the complexity of modern life, the feeling of alienation that has arisen from the absurd dissemination of data in the few decades, the sufferings of people, the joy of life etc... In addition, the way in which this genre is able to speak to all of these issues so successfully is through the great emphasis upon lyrical content. This is especially true in regards to the typical amount of words per song in the Hip-Hop genre. Because there is so much more room to speak, issues can be dealt with in a powerful way. The fragmented nature of Hip-Hop music is an acknowledgment of the fragmentation of modern life, but this does not necessarily lead to despair. For the Christian Artist the fragmentation-particularly seen in the use of sampling, looping and cutting up records-can be a place of real empathy and honesty about our world. And there is no need for the theme to end here. From this point of honest empathy the Christian should evoke the beautiful and the infinite and the hopeful though this music. Just as we live in an ugly world filled with debase and grotesque things, a world of overwhelming data and virtual chaos, the Hope of our salvation and the Word of God and His work in our lives weaves together a pattern of beauty out of the brutal world: illuminating and evoking His creation and its profound and infinite loveliness, and in the process, giving value and real meaning to life, individuals, art, politics, love, science, community, etc... The important thing here is that with Hip-Hop, the Christian artist can speak to, and about, the world around him in a way that is not detached and unfeeling, but rather empathetic and honest; while at the same time the genre provides a platform for discussing issues at such an extensive length that a intricate dialog is produced. In short, it neither shuns the natural world, the people of that world, God, nor the artist.

The artistic potential to Hip-Hop is something that I had intended to discuss at length-and perhaps I will at another time-but never got around to. Throughout my posts on Hip-Hop I have brought up minor points alluding to this, which I will now attempt to flesh out to some extent. Whenever an artist is deciding how to approach art it is important to look at the potential for the genres. For instance, the Opera or Classical music would not be the best choice for art which is attempting to be relevant and empathetic; for the most part these genres of music have been thoroughly explored. If we identify the beginning of Hip-Hop as the late 1970's (and this is an early figure because the genre did not truly come into fruition until the early 80's) than we see that it has been around for about thirty or less years. If we compare this to rock, which began in the early 50's and has lasted until today-50+ years-we see that Hip-Hop is still a relatively young genre. (This is a problematic comparison because it assumes that genres have a static lifespan rather than a dynamic one which fluctuates in relation to culture, the media, and technology. In a later post I will attempt to hash out these issues better.) The point being this: the genre is young and therefore has a lot of room to mature. I would suggest that the most productive area for maturity in Hip-Hop is in its treatment as an actual art form-which is a major reason for this study on the genre. If you are a Christian Hip-Hop artist, or indeed any Hip-Hop artist, and you desire to do something original, approach your art consciously: consider theme, form, content, complexity, unity, communication, and meaning. If you do this you will be original.

The last element of the criteria I will discuss is and it is the most important for the Christian Artist. It can be summed up as follows: Is there anything in the genre or form itself that will be a stumbling block for people, and, Does the genre or form allow for the glorification of God in an intelligent, honorable, and productive manner? I don't believe that I have to defend my argument much here, since this entire discussion has essentially been an attempt to prove that for Hip-Hop both of these questions should be answered in the affirmative. In regard to the first question, the can be made which will not reasonably offend-emphasis on the words “can be made,” because, as I have already pointed out, many Christian artists do not seemed to be concerned about the form of this music and its relation to very similar music which glorifies violence, sexual abuse, selfishness, hatred, and a fundamental disrespect for humanity and God. There is nothing inherent to the genre that is dangerous for witnessing. To the second question, I would refer back to the rest of this post: the complexity, the unity, the relevance, and the potential all demonstrate how there is an incredible potential in Hip-Hop to glorify God and speak about issues and topics in such a manner as to challenge beliefs, apathy, doubt, and despair.

In conclusion, I hope that artists, musicians, , , and have all benefited from this discussion. But my real hope is that the Christian artists will begin to examine their art and the methods by which they make that art. We are called to excellence in everything that we do, and art should not be an exception. It will not be easy to do, but it is our obligation to approach our art, whatever that might be, consciously. There will be many mistakes, many failed attempts, and many embarrassing works, but we must be positive and supportive. In writing this I make no claim that I am capable of making a Hip-Hop project following the guidelines I have set out here. But I would hope that I, and many others, would work towards this goal with the glory of God as a driving force, not our own pride or glory-for that will surely lead to failure. If you are not an artist, make it a point to encourage and support those Christians around you who are, because it is a daunting task. If this is done, God will be glorified and humanity will be edified, blessed, taught, encouraged, empathized with, and grown.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Why Noneuclidean?

"If God exists and if He really did create the world, then, as we all know, He created it according to the geometry of and the human mind with the conception of only three dimensions in space. Yet there have been and still are geometricians and philosophers, and even some of the most distinguished, who doubt whether the whole universe, or to speak more widely the whole of being, was only created in Euclid's geometry; they even dare to dream that two parallel lines, which according to Euclid can never meet on earth, may meet somewhere in infinity. I have come to the conclusion that, since I can't understand even that, I can't expect to understand about God. I acknowledge humbly that I have no faculty for settling such questions, I have a Euclidian, earthly mind, and how could I solve problems that are not of this world? And I advise you never to think about it either, my dear Alyosha, especially about God, whether He exists or not. All such questions are utterly inappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions" (Ivan from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky).

We all may have a Noneuclidean mind-a mind to know God and "dare to dream"-but not of our own strength or wisdom. Alone, we, like Ivan, "have a Euclidian, earthly mind".

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Lyrical Complexity in Hip-Hop: Part Two

If we examine the way most modern attempt to be , we find that they are usually working under one of two : or . Both of these theories fail to give a good approach to rap lyrics, as I will show, and therefore are inadequate. By discussing them, however, we can see how the multi-level theory provides a better base for creating artistic .

The Marxist variety of rapper is a direct descendent from the Marxist literary movement. This movement was based on the idea that all of history is the story of the proletariat against the aristocracy, or the oppressed against the oppressors. The Marxists spoke out against works of art which were complex on the grounds that they were elitist. If a novel, or a poem, is written in high language, with complex metaphors, and it is over the head of the common man, then it is elitist and supports the oppression of the lower classes. Rather, they argued, a work of art should be didactic—it should teach something. Specifically the Marxists argued that art should speak about the class struggle and with a language that can be understood by the masses. In some respects the Marxists illuminated a very real and important crisis that was occurring in the Arts starting in the early turn of the century and continuing to today: the move towards ultra-complex works which were genuinely difficult or even impossible to truly understand. How can you speak about the universal suffering of humanity in a format that only 5% of humanity can understand? The problem with this literary theory was that it didn’t provide a sufficient base to speak about the issues of life. All that the Marxist writer could do was write a version of the struggle of the classes. All individuality was gone as was the important of particular elements of life: love, air, clouds, experience, passion, imagination, all these were rejected as forces of the upper classes—that is unless the writer could somehow connect these elements to some larger story of the struggle, which in any event trivialities the particulars. There are many examples of this in Hip-Hop. If one was to attempt to list a top ten of “artistic” rappers, many of them would either speak exclusively on political topics or at least much of the time. Again, this is due to the Marxist influence and that idea that art should help enact revolution of some kind. As I have already pointed out, the problem with this theory, and the rappers that follow it, is that it does not provide any room for speaking about the smaller things in life. Clearly there is more to life than politics and the struggle, so any artistic approach that confines themes to these elements simply cannot be adequate.

The other artistic movement that has had a large impact on Hip-Hop is Postmodernism. Here, the problem of Marxism seems to be fixed: the individual, experience, the particulars are all open for exploration in this theory. In addition, there is no stress placed upon “teaching” the audience anything. However, where the Marxists were strong—in their rejection of “elitist” texts—the Postmodernists were weak. In a theory which emphasizes the unknowability of life, the chaos, the absurdity, and the alienation that occurs as a result of these things, complexity is necessary. One cannot speak of the absurdity of life in language that is clear and precise. Thus we get artists and writers whose work seems to make little or no sense, an art form that is far above the grasp of the common man. And although this theory provides the space to explore the individual elements of life, it has no way of giving value to those things. A human being is simply another thing in the innumerable mass of chaos called life. As a result, most Postmodernist works of art that actual choose to focus on a finite or particular elements of reality (like a person) result to showing the meaninglessness of that element. We can see this in Hip-Hop in the artists whose work seems “experimental” yet has little or no meaning behind it. Abstract lyrics are often used, but not to express something complex, instead they actually speak of the inability of humans to communicate in a vastly complex world. Thus there arises an unscalable wall between the artist and his/her audience. These works are very difficult for the reader to digest and in the realm of Hip-Hop—where it is hard or at least annoying to rewind the song in order to understand a word, let alone an abstract/chaotic song—this theory of art is extremely out of place (although many of these artists are successful. And that is not because people understand their themes or their messages but rather because society has been taught that abstract=deep and random=art.)

To avoid both of these theories, the Hip-Hop artist should instead create works which work on several levels so that the complexity of life can be expounded upon without alienating the listener. For the Christian artist this has particular meaning, as there exists a very real basis for both complexity in life and the value of the individual elements of life. Because God created everything, and the universe is almost infinitely complex, then creating art which mimics that complexity gives glory to God and provides empathy to humanity which is constantly confronted with the vastness of life. This life is not in anyway minimized by its existence in a vast universe however, because God created everything, everything has real value. Not just those who follow Christ, but all men and women, plants and animals, everything has significance and meaning. Thus, if there is a political situation where people are being oppressed (when is there not?) the Christian artist can freely speak on that topic, advocating the rights of all people while not basing those rights simply on an agreed upon definition of existence or consciousness. So a song with the subject of the struggle of the working class would not be restricted to didactic language and would in fact have a great deal of complexity as it founded the struggle upon the divine rights of all people. And the Christian artist can speak on the chaos and alienation that occurs in modern life without falling in to a despair or hopelessness which leads to abstract—and thus non communicative—art, and without leaving the individual as meaningless.