Friday, December 08, 2006

Bullshit Detector

Americans are a funny sort. They are best defined by what they forget rather than what they remember. I had an interesting breakthrough in class the other night. I was showing the students a segment from Ken Burn's documentary series, Jazz. The interesting part to me was that even in the 1930s all the aspects of black musical authenticity, white mimicry and its attending patterns of shit and shinola were in play. Benny Goodman was a hell of a player. But he was no Duke Ellington and he was only a echo of Louis Armstrong.

The point is not how white folks copy black culture. I love Elvis for Elvis and I don't really care too much about the thievery. But I do think that if you don't train your brain to tell the difference between copy and original, or at least play around with all the different shapes that define a genre, you will have a hard time building a functioning bullshit detector. And that was the point that fairly jumped out at me when my dull obedient students refused to engage with what they had just seen presented by Mr. Burns. They don't have functioning bullshit detectors, or they have just turned them off because its plainly easier to get through the waves of crap being dealt to us culturally, socially and politically if you just say "whatever."

To some extent the last election was bracing in that it appeared for a moment that a fair number of Americans turned their BD's back on and said enough is enough. We need to start talking with our enemies. As Lee Hamilton pointed out the other day, we talked to the Soviets, why can't we talk to the Iranians? The answer is that we got so arrogant and so self-righteous that we thought we don't need to talk to them, they need to come to us. Well, an few thousand IED's later and we are beginning to realize that we'd be better off talking. No bullshit.

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