Tag Archive: critical theory


photo by seatgeek

Mr. Flame (R) and Steve Aoki. photo: seatgeek

Waka Flocka Flame, in the seminal track “Rage the Night Away” with Steve Aoki at the helm, presents two seemingly contradictory ideas in an exhortative manner to his audience. In the very first line of the song, he proclaims, “We don’t give a damn about money/we alive right now/all we do is party/and get high right now,” while mere moments later, and practically in the same breath, he implores the listener to “make yo money stack” [sic]. While Waka could simply be illustrating his own inner thought process (perhaps a daily reminder to continue making his own “money stack”), his tone suggests, not a reflective inner monologue, but an urgent message. So I assume he is speaking to me, recommending that I earnestly dedicate myself to the task of making my, as it were, “money stack.”

It is also unclear whether he means that a person who is attempting to “make their money stack” should be more concerned with constructing a single stack of money, a “money stack,” which I call the Noun-Level Stack (NLS), or with obtaining an amount of money so significant that it “stacks,” referred to as Verb-Level Stacking (VLS).

noun-level stack

Noun-Level Stack

Verb-Level Stacking is not a “stack of money” being constructed; rather, it is “money that stacks.” To elaborate, achieving the VLS depends upon accruing an amount of money that is so great, the money is capable of being formed, and perhaps even forms itself, into haphazard “stacks” of perhaps indeterminate but necessarily substantial quantities, and earning money to this extent is to be considered “making” (“making” in the sense of “forcing”) your money “[to] stack” insofar as you are forcing your money to be capable of being stacked by having accumulated so much of it.

Now that the distinction is perfectly lucid, it may prove worthwhile to add the following as an afterthought: I say “necessarily substantial” due to the fact that a very small amount of banknotes, say anything less than 20 count, would hardly constitute a “stack” but rather a small pile, at best.

verb-level stacking

Potential Verb-Level Stacking

 

Continuing on, in light of the fact that this apparent missive follows his proclamation that “we” don’t “give a damn” about money, are we to conclude merely that Flockaveli is indeed giving frivolous, contradictory advice? Is he that mercurial, airy, irresponsible?

Or is he attempting to intimate to the listener that, in order to “party” to such an extent that one could be said to do nothing but party, it is necessary to accrue a “money stack,” such that the expenditures associated with the traditional partying lifestyle (alcohol, food, nice clothing, cover charges, et cetera) are provided for, not simply sufficiently but many times over? Based on the rest of the lyrics, we can dispense with the naive and frankly apologistic idea that Mr. Flame is referring to any other manner of partying lifestyle than this.

This raises the question, assuming Waka does want the listener to follow in his footsteps and do nothing but party, how does he reconcile the need to earn the money (whether that money is to be accrued into one “stack” or, due to its bulk, to be in the process of “stacking”) with the desire to do nothing but party? Mustn’t a person do things other than partying in order to earn or obtain his or her prerequisite stack or stacks?

I’m going to stand tippy-toes on a stack of my own here and assume that that idea is so self-evidently clumsy and ignorant of the vicissitudes of modern life that it is virtually impossible Flockaveli—a person who comes from that very same modern life—could have meant it that way.

Rather, we can gather not only from the lyrics but from the feel of the song—high energy, blistering harmonic heat, pounding, surrounding bass, and anthemic, inarguable vocal fluorishes, certainly not something to be sustained indefinitely throughout every second of one’s waking life—that this song, itself, represents the attitude that one adopts when one is truly living, and that things done independent of this attitude do not constitute “living” in the same meaningful sense.

Therefore, we can derive that, of course it is possible to “do” nothing but party while also engaging in activities (i.e. jobs/employment/income) that make partying possible through the production of, first, a “money stack,” and then, one hopes, adequate levels of additional income such that one’s “stack” transcends the Noun-Level Stack and achieves Verb-Level Stacking, preferably to stay.

In this scenario, theoretically time spent not living would decrease commensurate to the degree to which one’s “money stack” is being made in the case of NLS, or the degree to which one’s money is “stacking” in the case of the VLS. This is the ratio of “living” to “non-living” which Mr. Flame would have his listeners improve upon, and which he has exemplarily perfected.

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This is a short position paper I wrote for my Pursuits of English class at Montclair State University. It critiques Roland Barthes’ extreme fixation on the audience in his classic essay, “Death of the Author.” I hope it is clear enough.

Barthes: Enabling Market Architecture

Roland Barthes’ anti-author stance enables a view of the reader as the ultimate arbiter of  the use-value of any text. While perhaps successfully attempting to counter capitalism’s emphasis on the author and the commodification (i.e. private ownership) of ideas, Barthes’ monomaniacal focus on the demand (as in supply and demand) of the reader creates a mirror image of the original capitalism problem. Instead of the author-as-individual articulating the needs of society through artistic critique–in order that those needs be addressed through discourse–the owners of the means of production (media magnates who control scores of publishing houses, film production companies, television stations, et cetera) are empowered to entice “society” to articulate the “needs” of the “author-as-machine,” in order for that author to not starve to death, impoverished. Of course, the author’s starvation is the last concern of the magnate, for it is the fulfillment of society’s demand–and the customer is always right–that maintains a steady stream of capital.

“The customer is always right,” is exactly the attitude that Barthes espouses in passages such as, “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.” The “reader” has no specific identity; the “reader” is both anyone and no one. It falls to the im-”personal” imperatives of the marketer, then, to determine who the readers are and what they want. And what they are determined to want decides not only the task of the author but the tenability of the author’s employment as an author.

The “unity” of a text, a quality which I take as synonymous with and inclusive of “cogency,” “relatability,” “coherence,” and ultimately, “value,” is dependent on the tastes of the reader, and without these qualifiers–all of which are dependent on cultural conventions–the text lacks “unity,” and therefore lacks “value” from either an artistic or capitalist standpoint.

This is the basis of consumerism: a culture of broad-based marketing to as many people as possible, starting with financially privileged white males, ages 18-39, but ultimately fulfilling the cultural expectations of whatever strata of society have proven themselves commercially exploitable. For example, by reflecting the conventionalized expectations of African-American audiences, Black Entertainment Television (BET) maintains a steady market for products aimed at African-American audiences. Such marketing to a specific segment of society only becomes a viable and worthwhile investment when members of that segment prove themselves a financially capable target market (often made so with myriad predatory banking practices, among other exploitation, prior to any demonstrable entrance into the middle classes).

This step in capitalism is the only point at which a racial minority or other marginalized group is recognized in the Hegelian sense as a true segment of Human Society. The mentality is, “Yay, I’m a genuine human being now because I’m being marketed to and can make a bunch of white rich people richer.” Yet such demand is only maintained by meeting the conventionalized expectations of the assumed readers of that segment, or put differently, by identifying a stereotype that favors the existing power structures–racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and above all, consumerist, upon which the power of the owners of the means of production is based–refining and rearticulating the characteristics of that stereotype over time, and succeeding in marketing it to the newly recognized, financially viable target market.

In other words, overemphasis on the reader reduces human freedom to the right to be on a focus group, reduces ideas to commodities owned and manipulated by corporations, and reduces the artist herself to another monopolized component of the means of production (artist-as-machine).