Public Enemy, "By The Time I Get To Arizona"

>> Saturday, July 07, 2012





I was just planning on going with some kind of useless rant about all the goddamn heat, and maybe a summer-themed bit of music video to go with; but then I read Brother Seth's great riffs off a Salon article I linked to Facebook the other day--and, well, I decided to go with something a little more, um, militant.

The Salon piece is about some douchenozzle's effort to get a referendum onto Arizona ballots "allowing" the state to ignore Federal law. Seth also found out Mr. Douchenozzle was asked if the ballot measure's passage meant Arizonans could invalidate anti-discrimination laws, and that precious little Douchenozzle is "confident that wouldn’t happen.

Of course he's right, but not for the reason he implies: he's right because the ballot measure would be unconstitutional and illegal if passed. But if Douchenozzle understood the Supremacy Clause, he probably wouldn't be wasting his time gathering 320,000 signatures from other idiots who have never heard of it, either; no, Douchenozzle presumably means that Arizonans are such nice people, they'd never even think of being mean to black people or treating them unkindly in any way.

Enter Mr. Chuck D.

The history here, for those who have understandably forgotten, is that in the 1980s; Arizona was prominently against the creation of a MLK holiday; unsuccessfully tried to merge it with Columbus Day; and, towards the end of the decade (but before he was impeached for obstruction of justice and misuse of funds), then-Governor Evan Mecham rescinded the official recognition his predecessor had signed into law (though Mecham did try backpedaling by declaring a Sunday a MLK holiday). One of the strongest opponents of the Federal MLK holiday was none other than then-Arizona-Representative and subsequent Presidential also-ran John McCain, though McCain later said he regretted his vote against a Federal MLK holiday. So, y'know, even before the whole recent business with Arizona passing a law allowing cops to shake down Hispanics for their birth certificates and Arizona politicians (most prominently the infamous Joe Arpaio) going Birther, there's a whole background. This isn't recent.

Public Enemy's response to the MLK fracas was understandably harsh and typically unsubtle. Initially a b-side, "By The Time I Get To Arizona" ended up getting made into a controversial music video in which--well, you can see it for yourself up there.

I suppose in this day and age, I need to provide appropriate disclaimers about how violence against politicians is wrong, no matter who does it to whom; that statement ought to be unnecessary, and it's really only there for the benefit of mental defectives who won't believe or accept it anyway, but there it is for the record: violence bad.

And there's also quite a lot of irony in PE making a video in which characters are planning and executing terrorist operations against racists who dishonor Martin Luther King, a man whose entire modus operandi was non-violent resistance to oppression. It has to be said that Dr. King, had he seen "By The Time I Get To Arizona", would have understood the anger it was coming out of, but nevertheless would have been utterly appalled and found the presentation of the message both amoral and counterproductive. I just don't think there's any getting around that.

Having said those last two things, however: I think I empathize with what Chuck D. and company were after, at least as well as any pasty white guy who likes to think he has a good heart and good intentions can. I was pissed about Arizona's racist shenanigans (which ones? take your pick at this point), and I am, again, a pasty white guy. If I were the actual target of that kind of dismissal and disrespect, I can imagine that pissed feeling being squared, cubed, exponentially raised by factors defying conventional forms of math; I may not agree with the program, but I see where it's coming from, I think I grok what's going on. Chuck D., as I recall, responded to the fauxtrage the video caused when it blipped on MTV by saying the video was fantasy, like an action movie; you can decide for yourself whether that was walking it back or the truth (and even if the latter, whether that excuses it: Death Wish is just a fantasy, too--an utterly repellent and amoral fantasy with few redeeming virtues, possibly none, but I'll be charitable and say it might have something I've forgotten in the long time since I suffered that movie). I get the fantasy, if that's what it is: who hasn't been so angry they've thought or said they could kill someone, even if they'd never do it, and even imagined ways it could go down? (With or without agency from the ill-wisher: I can think of people I wouldn't mind seeing eaten by bears. Ginormous paleocene bears with huge sabre teeth and yellow claws a foot long, bestial ice age bears with sloppy table manners.)

Endorsement? No. Approval? Not really. Understanding? I think so. Nobody needs me to tell them they have a right to a feeling, but for whatever it's worth: yeah, there's a right to be angry, the anger has what I would call objectively legitimate causes. It's not like there's that much subjective, your-mileage-may-vary, reasonable-minds-may-differ, etc.-type wriggle room for whether or not you're getting shit on. And Arizona, as a state, has a history of shitting on people who aren't white.

If you've made it this far, I also would like to point out the track is classic PE, with Terminator X making crafty use of funky samples from Mandrill and the Jackson 5 to create an angry, buzzing backdrop for Chuck D.'s ever-smooth flow. I'm not enough of a hip-hop connoisseur to give you a good breakdown of the track, I'm afraid; I'm just someone who dips his toes in sometimes. But I think I know what's good stuff, and "Arizona" is brilliant stuff from a technical standpoint. Just thought I'd mention that.






3 comments:

timb111 Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 11:10:00 AM EDT  

"violence against politicians is wrong". What? Why? When did this become the societal norm? And I just worked out the bugs on my time machine and was going to go back and kill Hitler (see the Tim Tripp strip).

Also of interest to you given your lawyerly profession: John Roberts' Origins

Eric Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 1:00:00 PM EDT  

Generally speaking, violence against anyone is wrong. There is an endless discussion, perhaps, as to when or if violence is the lesser of evils.

On a related, coincidental note: I just observed a squirrel caching tomatoes, sausage, ricotta cheese and flat noodles.

timb111 Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 4:42:00 PM EDT  

Oh, well, if you're going to include politicians in with people, of course violence is bad.

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