"It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" by Three Six Mafia....
Just letting that sink in....I would have blogged this immediately but I was in New York City. So on the drive back I've had time to process. But really, that's the only thing I remember about the telecast.
My immediate reaction was, as Queen Latifah seemed to channel, WTF! My next thought was, "Well I guess they whooped that trick!" Cause I like a good joke...
But then I started thinking about Dave Chappelle. On Oprah, and then more expansively on the Actors' Studio, Dave Chappelle offered poignant and provocative explanations of why he became disgusted with and eventually walked off his show. One of his anecdotes was about being pressured to wear a dress for a movie scene...he rebuffed and the producers retorted "all the greats did it..." The dress-wearing, black (male) comedian has long bothered me. I find it misogynist. Chappelle's refusal could be read as problematic--he rejected wearing the dress based on an awareness that being identified as female was semiotically equivalent to being labeled violable...and his refusal, rather than critique, of that positioning could be seen as falling short. But I know what he meant. And I'm glad he didn't wear the dress.
What does that have to do with Three Six Mafia? Plenty...It also has to do with Brunsli's post about Damon Wayans' attempt to trademark 'nigga.'I figured it all out during the drive to Virginia this morning. Why, I asked myself, did I instantly and reflexively feel a sense of shame about Three Six Mafia's win? Well, there are several reasons. While I am admittedly a bit of a snob about my hip-hop, I don't think there are many who would argue that Three Six Mafia's track is the best representation available...Oh, you thought I felt a sense of shame for the 'race?' No, not so much...I don't ascribe to the good/bad representation dichotomy anymore where African American representation is concerned. No, I realized rather quickly my pain was for hip-hop.
I remember when Prince won an Oscar for the soundtrack to "Purple Rain." That was a worthy prize. While his music was not 'mainstream' for the Academy, the album was and remains a viable artistic achievement. "Hard Out Here?" ...well I can't figure out how it got nominated in the first place. Especially--and here's my sore point-- as the first nomination from the hip-hop genre. "Love of My Life" from Brown Sugar? Hell, I'd take "Lose Yourself" from Eminem...wait a minute, that was nominated, but didn't win. So there's one of my queries, what aesthetic value did the Academy find present in "Hard Out Here" that was lacking in "Lose Yourself?" Like the first hiphop forays into the Grammy scene, the Academy is just way off from a critical perspective here. Now I've heard the argument---there were only three nominations-- that the pickings were slim. And it's possible divided support to the other two songs (I was rooting for Dolly Parton--she, Mary J. Blige and I share a birthday)allowed for an upset. But it's also possible the Academy "chose" Three Six Mafia-- wholeheartedly embraced them, that they liked it. Which gets to the rest of my musings...
As I said, I am a bit of a snob with my hiphop. Even four years of living in Memphis did not soften my palette for Three Six Mafia (or LaChat and the other Memphis set). I just don't care for it. But I respect it, for the most part, as an organic regional expression. And therefore, I acknowledge that Three Six Mafia is at the forefront of that regional contribution to hip hop. But I don't think the Academy has a complex palette for hip hop. So if they liked it, and therefore voted it worthy of an Oscar, they did so on two fronts I can figure: 1) it did the best job of representing the film it was written for...on technicalities, if you will. Perhaps the Academy found the other two songs less resonant with their corresponding films--I can't say because I haven't seen any of them...but that's one 2) they thought the song in and of itself was meritorious...they--to channel Sally Field---really, really liked it.
So that gets me back to the representation part of the discussion...Why would the Academy really, really like a song --a not-so endearing tune-- about the difficulties of 'pimping?'
Why have black people spent the past two and half decades, at least, seducing and 'pimping' the pimp representation? Another bomb soundtrack comes to mind...Superfly. Not to mention Dolemite to Iceberg Slim to Street Smart to Ice-T to Too Short to Snoop Dogg. Black artists have taken a lot of time to extol pimpery. And I don't know why. It's hardly a heroic or sympathetic trope.
Granted it has a certain resonance with capitalism and racism, but very litte credibility. Who takes a pimp seriously? Only a ho...Which is why it's intellectually impossible for me to like the song. Its lyrics attempt to subjugate me...make me sympathetic to the difficulties of pimping and I refuse to go there. But many others have. So two and a half decades later, American popular culture has accepted that premise. And Morgan Freeman to Terrence Howard can be celebrated for their interpretations of that agony....pimping, the Academy understands, is not easy!
Some people argue that African Americans in the cinema are now feted for degrading roles...pointing to Denzel in Training Day and Halle in Monster's Ball. I reject that. White women from Elizabeth Taylor to Charlize Theron hae improved their Oscar chances by playing 'degraded' or 'demeaning' roles...and let's not talk about Hattie McDaniels. I think across race, it's easier for a dramatic role, especially a character occupying a taboo representational space, to be nominated. But it just sticks out like a sore thumb when African Americans do it. We forget, in that instance, that Denzel won for Glory first...and that African American artists are complicit in the elevation of the pimp character. But for the chalice-carrying rappers of our time, dude wouldn't have written a screenplay about a pimp with a dream and therefore wouldn't have birthed the need for a song.
So while I think the song is unbearable, I can't be anything but congratulatory toward Three Six Mafia. They wrote just the song that movie called for and were therefore properly rewarded. Perhaps from now on, we will hesitate before we applaud another unironic portrayal of pimping.
I will have to pick this up tomorrow...I'm exhausted!