Odd Future: It’s Okay Because They’re Ironic Guys
By Alex Cranz
I read The New Yorker. I will totally cop to that. Growing up, we didn’t get daily newspapers. We got The New Yorker and we got National Geographic. On Sunday we got one newspaper so that we’d have a tv guide for the week.
Somewhere my mother is horrified that I’ve admitted that.
So I read The New Yorker. I don’t read all of it. The movie reviews are written to self-satsified jackholes—actually the entire magazine is. On occasion there’s a good article. One that draws my attention. The recent one on Anna Farris. That was interesting and relevant in the Year of Funny Ladies (you heard it here first! Bridesmaids is our Barbershop!). And once I read an amazing article about the liberal general fighting for our future in the Pentagon.
But then I come across something like the recent look into Odd Future aka OFWGKTA aka Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. I’m italicizing the name so it stands out to you. They’re a group of kids who rap and drop beats and drink Arizona Iced Tea and make mad money selling t-shirts that say “Free Earl.” I first heard about them back in February at BadAss Digest. I listened to the music, but I’m not a fan of rap unless it’s involving hammer pants. It didn’t really hit me. I closed my browser page and continued on with my life.
Okay but not really because then this article would be pointless.
This week The New Yorker cast much praise on them. They were so intelligent! They were educated! Some of them went to private/magnet/charter schools! Mom picks them up from the gigs in her SUV! Oooo.
I still wasn’t really caring. Good for them I guess? They’re not what an asshole like me traditionally think of and they’re not the image people like 50 Cent push. And I mean I like the idea of making a huge conglomerate of creative people who churn out fantastic work and operate as one in public. That shit appeals to me.
Then Tiger Beatdown, a blog managed by a very intelligent and creative feminist, went into some sort of Mel Gibson on the phone with his ex-wife rage over Odd Future and The New Yorker and the lyrics that get laid out like…uh…lyricists lay them. Also because of Sara Quin.
Sara Quin, oh she of the singing sapphic sister duo Tegan and Sara, had gotten a bit upset over the lyrics getting laid and wrote a very intelligent and heartfelt response, asking the media, the industry and the boys and girl of Odd Future to maybe stop with all the misogynist and homophobic language.
And seriously? The screed Sara laid out was quite nice. I nodded in agreement.
Then I laughed when I read Tyler, the Creator’s remark.
Tyler, The Creator is the brain behind Odd Future. He’s twenty and he’s smart and he’s created this little media empire out in LA using social media and some mad beats…apparently. Again my knowledge and taste for rap are atrocious. In the early 90s you were into rap, alternative or country. My love of Nirvana and Garth Brook’s The Chase can attest to my decision.
Looking at that response to Quin you’re probably irritated. Or maybe, like me, you’re irritated and amused and then irritated again.
But between The New Yorker and this “tiff” it’s pretty clear to me what Tyler, The Creator and the other men and lady of Odd Future are. They’re those asshole kids from XBox Live. Only now they’re making MONEY for it.
If you have never played a video game online you may be unfamiliar with the group I’m speaking of. You may not know that an intelligent conversation with strangers on XBox Live is impossible. You open your mouth and they stick a metaphysical dick into it. Then giggle. You can’t say anything back. Because there is that verbal dick getting swung in your face. And there is laughter and usually some comment about bare feet or a kitchen or a fat ass. It depends on how well you’re doing in the game.
And Tyler and co. are really, really good at being those XBox Live kids–refusing to engage in intelligent discourse. Sometimes it’s to the advantage of everyone.
Like when record producer Steve Rifkind attempted to reach out to Our Future.
Rifkind, as a record producer, is one of the slimiest people on the face of the earth. That’s a requirement to be in his line of work. Your resumé must contain at least one reference from the Anti-Christ or you get turned away. Reaching out to Tyler and Odd Future through the public medium of Twitter is just all kinds of hilariously trite producerness. Who does business on Twitter with a bunch of teenagers?
That response makes me want to hug Tyler, The Creator. It’s honest and mean and exactly what people should say to record producers.
It’s what makes me conflicted. Because as much as I hate-hate-hate the XBox Live way of communicating, I still have to admit that sometimes it works and works well.
But it’s the only way Odd Future can communicate. They’re inflammatory. Not just on Twitter, but in they’re lyrics. They talk about rubbing broken glass on women’s vaginas (NO THANKS) and Earl, the subject of the freedom campaign, has an entire song devoted to the rape and murder of a woman. They also like to use words like “gay” and “fag” as an insult.
When pushed Tyler, The Creator has insisted that neither he, or any other member of the group, is a misogynist or a homophobe. In fact they have woman and gays in the group (and they’re THE SAME PERSON).
Saying really nasty things and then insisting that you yourself are not nasty is common nowadays. Ten to one you’ve gone to a party where someone’s called someone else a kike as a joke, but then followed it up with “don’t worry, I’m not anti-Semetic.”
Oh, well now that THAT’S settled.
We’ve come to a point where if you acknowledge the hatred infusing your words then people give you a pass. The nastiness used by Odd Future and now embraced by their fans is evidence of that. And they’re not the first group who gets a free pass on misogyny. Die Antwoord, a South African group dedicated to skewering the Zef subculture, has been gaining popularity here in the US. A popular saying amongst their American fans, as popular as “Free Earl” is “No means yes.*”
Like when a woman says no but the guy rapes her anyways.
Like Odd Future they provide excuses for their lyrics. Like Odd Future they’re not really misogynistic. Like Odd Future they’re actually very well educated and ribbing on a subculture known for it’s ignorance. Like Odd Future they’re performance artists playing a role.
The best similarities between the two?
Yeah. They’ve both been appropriated by young, white, affluent hipsters. Twenty-somethings who go to Coachella with a feather in their hair and some ironic facial hair (though probably not at the same time sadly enough).
They’re embraced by the schmucks who call themselves liberal but forget to vote and then don’t hesitate to drop a few racist-misogynistic-homophobic-bigoted comments. All while insisting it’s okay because it’s ironic.
That, more than the XBox Live method of communication, gets to me. I’ve played online games for years. I’ve grown accustomed–numbed to the nastiness that gets spewed. When I hear someone not yet out of college going off about putting dicks into various orifices, my eyes glaze over and I think about how adorable my dog looks, all sleeping on his back.
It’s the idea that all should be forgiven because of irony that bothers me. Popular people saying terrible things is not a new concept. See Mel Gibson. But if he’d claimed it was all an act for a new film and that he was, for sure, definitely not a hateful person?
Oh he’d be forgiven, like that. It’s about the ART.
And the hipsters would flock. They sigh at Thanksgiving when Aunt Jenna goes on a rant about Gibson. “Gosh Aunt Jenna,” they moan, “Mel knew what he was saying. It was ironic. He was impersonating the horrible men he grew up with. JEEZE.” Then they’d down a PBR and peddle away as fast as their fixie would take them.
Leaving all the pumpkin pie to me.
This idea, that irony and art means words can be forgiven? It’s not new. More than one artist has traded on the inflammatory. Heck Clint Eastwood made oodles of cash with Gran Torino doing it. He’s just playing a racist shit. It’s okay. Sit down. Enjoy. It’s entertaining because you know horrible people like him–not because you agree with him.
But there is something implicit in marrying irony with the inflammatory and calling it art. It suggests that the words hold less power then previously thought. But calling someone a kike and then saying “just kidding?” Guess what. You’ve still called them a kike. And when they punch you in the mouth and then respond with “just kidding,” you can’t get mad.
Only you can. BECAUSE THEY PUNCHED YOU IN THE MOUTH. And they can be pissed too. YOU CALLED THEM A KIKE, ASSHOLE.
The irony doesn’t diminish the power of the words. No matter what The New Yorker or the hipsters tell you.
My feelings for groups like Odd Future and Die Antwoord are complicated. I’m pissed that they’re so popular when they say such awful things, but I can see the genuine artistry to what they do–to the characters they play and the music they write. I hate that they and their fans hide behind irony. Use it to absolve themselves of accusations of bigotry. I hate that they’ve crafted these images to incite discussion, but then fail to actually engage in the discussion.
I hate that they’ve now made me suggest (in this article) that self-censorship is necessary and that artists have a social responsibility to their audiences. Because they shouldn’t. An artist should be allowed to say what they want in their pursuit of art. But when they get a room of people to chant “rape her,” the line between sincerity and irony blurs and I get worried.
*Full disclosure. I love Die Antwoord and all their misogynistic, Zef-mocking glory. I’ve now invalidated everything I’ve said. But if it helps, I have a strong hatred for myself because of it! There’s self-flagellation involved.