Installation on the High Line. Image from thehighline.org
Original for clarity. Image from iwantapresident.wordpress.com
Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wild Side” was recently put under the microscope after being called “transphobic” by a student group. The original song was released on Lou Reed’s Transformer in 1972.
Lyrics from Genus.com:
Holly came from Miami F L A
Hitchhiked her way across the U S A
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,”
Said “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.”
Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was just everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, “Hey baby, take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls go
Doo doo doo…
Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City is the place where they said
“Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side”
Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Looking for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should have seen him go go go
They said “Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side” alright, huh
Jackie, she is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then you know that she had to crash on
Valium would have helped that dash
She said “Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls say
Doo doo doo…
Students at University of Guelph, Ontario issued an apology on their website for playing the song at a function, stating “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgment.” What is considered objectionable was the “problematic” suggestion that transgender people are “wild” and the phrasing “he was a she.” Note, no mention was made of the use of the word “colored.”
While today the song would probably be phrased differently, contextualized it was very socially advanced for its time. The Stonewall riots were in 1969, homosexuality wasn’t removed by the American Psychiatric Association from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1973. Just mentioning transgender people, oral sex, and drugs in a song was controversial. Lou Reed himself dated a transgender woman for years and was subject to electroshock treatment as a teenager to “cure” his homosexuality.
Most seem to think that the students were overreacting and projecting modern sensibilities. The song still has a lot of power for many young people. I had one student do a class project about the song just last semester. Though they might not be representative, most queer and trans people I know thought the censorship was ridiculous and potentially harmful for trans and queer communities. Friends in bands have pointed out that when they cover the song they just change the lyrics to “she was a she” and “the girls sing.”
Most importantly, Holly Woodlawn, the subject of the first stanza, was interviewed about the song. When saying the lyrics out loud she says “… was a she” skipping over the “he” in the original, but otherwise enjoying the lyrics. She said she loves the song because it has given her immortality.
In Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital Thornton applied Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital to the rave subculture, whereby being ‘cool’ was dependent on a culture-specific values and knowledges.
Thornton found subcultural capital was equivalent to ‘hipness’. It is determined by being ‘in the know,’ wearing the ‘right’ clothing, having the ‘right’ haircut, liking the ‘right’ music, and moving the body correctly within a given situation. The distinction of being ‘right’ is dependent on the invested meanings of culturally significant symbols. Unlike Bourdieu’s cultural capital, subcultural capital is influenced more by gender than class.
Though this clip is a bit dated (replace myspace with facebook and flip phones with smart), a lot of the cultural cues have stayed the same. The Williamsburg location, Pabst Blue Ribbon sponsorship, contestants participating ironically, being hungover, wearing tight pants, using cocaine, etc., all signify hipster-ness.
Not something we hear much about, but strong parallels with the US’s incarceration of young men of color.
The Sentencing Project is a non profit organization that collects data about prisoners and suggests policy reforms. The 2016 Trends in US Corrections data sheet has been released and can be found here.
Information includes prison population, rates of international incarceration, state expenditures, population by offense, population for drug offenses, and female, racial, and youth population in prisons.
In this clip from Full Frontal, Samantha Bee reports on the technical problems with field drug test kits and, like all aspects of the criminal justice system, the different ramifications for people of color.
Conflict Theory applied to deviance studies looks at how laws can be used to control the proletariat and serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. Laws provide power to everyone on paper equally, but obscure real power.
When Nancy Reagan died, a petition was started on change.org entitled “Have Fetty Wap Perform “Trap Queen” At Nancy Reagan’s Funeral.”
Fetty Wap is a rapper and his song “Trap Queen” is a thinly veiled recognition of the role women play in houses used for crack cocaine production. “Trap” was initially a slang term for a house where crack is produced. The term has since morphed into the label of a particular style of southern (US) rap. Through context clues in “Trap Queen,” a trap queen could be defined as someone who aids in the preparation of drugs (“showed her how to whip it, now she remixin’ for low” and “cookin’ pies with my baby”) and accounting (“we be countin’ up, watch how far them bands go”), as well as being someone to spend money on (“we be letting bands go” and “left the mall, I’m gettin’ fly with my baby”) and have fun with (“I love her how she work the damn pole,” “I get high with my baby,” “I can ride with my baby”). Women are also considered to provide a more legitimate front for a house that would otherwise have a large number of young men hanging out.
The petition is drawing a comparison between the proletariat / individual / powerless (Fetty Wap) against the bourgeoisie / government / powerful dealing in illegal drugs.
As explained in the petition,
“While her husband, Ronald Reagan, was linking up with Papi to flood the streets with narcotics, Nancy was on TV telling kids to “Say No To Drugs.” Her infamous “anti-drug” phrase encouraged strict laws on drug possession that led to a school-to-prison pipeline we’re still dealing with now. Blacks and Latinos went to jail in droves for possessing drugs her husband gave them. It was an incredible sleight of hand that would make any wannabe Trap Queen hide in shame for her inability to be as diabolical as Nancy. So, to commemorate her contribution to the Trap, we’d love to have Fetty Wap perform “Trap Queen” at Nancy’s funeral. To usher her to a better place…where she’s probably cooking pies with her baby. “