February 7, 2004
Random Spasm of Voice Columnist Critique
Also appreciated in the Voice: Mr. Matos' reply to Richard Goldstein, whose writing I often have issues with. I'm always down with his efforts to shed light on America's prejudices, but I find his blows for the cause too often weakened by shaky reasoning and oversimplification.
For example, in this critique of Eminem, he starts out with a quite plausible premise:
"Richard Wagner was a great artist, but he was also an anti-Semite, and most assessments of his genius address this fact. The Birth of a Nation is a great film, but no appreciation can ignore its racism. No one dismisses such discussions as politically correct. But when it comes to art that is profoundly, even violently, sexist or homophobic, a different standard applies. Any attempt to confront the social meaning of such work is met with stiff—and I do mean stiff—resistance..."
Fair enough. But then he starts hitting us with some shaky and seemingly random assumptions. Like, where does he get the idea that Em was forced to curtail his gay-bashing as a side-effect of the "war on terror"?
And the more he writes, the more Goldstein sounds opposed to the very sort of nuanced discussion he called for above. The bulk of this piece takes offense at anyone who does acknowledge that Eminem is both a valuable artist and a bigot:
"The real dissenters are the activists who've been pummeled for failing to see the complexity and originality of this bleach-blond Baudelaire. As a former rock critic, I know how easy it is to throw the word genius around. In this case, however, it's not about a lack of standards. It's about using the imprimatur of art to avoid looking your pleasure in the eye..."
His stance seems to be that anyone who calls Eminem a valuable artist is simply in denial about Em's bigotry, and their unexamined enjoyment of his bigotry is the only reason they find value in him. This is a long way from where we started out, and he lost me about halfway through the trip.
All too often that's how his pieces read for me: a worthy premise backed up by a muddle of broad generalizations, each with some truth to them but overstated and under-supported, adding up to less than the sum of their parts rather than building a solid argument.
It's frustrating because I'm totally sympathetic with the principles he's trying to represent, and rooting for him to prove his case, but end up feeling he's overplayed his hand. And it's a delicate situation cuz I don't want to be like the guys who got so caught up in parsing the minutiae of the NY Times sex-slaves piece that they came across as callously dismissive of the undeniable fact that young women are being horrifically exploited just as the piece describes, somewhere at this very moment.
But getting too sloppy in search of the truth can render truth obscured. I usually think Goldstein's columns have an underlying message that needs to be heard, but he makes it too easy for readers who need that kernel of truth to use the flaws surrounding it as an excuse to toss out the whole package, and retreat back into the comfort of their prejudices.