I’ve been in a funk lately. A writing funk, a general happiness funk… basically I’ve been a walking avatar for a certain James Brown song.
Duke’s Saturday overtime loss to Syracuse — a symphony of raised and dashed hopes — can be blamed for a portion of this malaise, but my blog block dates all the way back to Grammy night. It started with a simple mistake — following along on Twitter. What I saw was as disheartening as it was difficult to detach myself from, this strange and sad parade of cynicism that was chuckle-worthy one minute, homophobic the next, and mean all the way through. I can’t imagine last year was all smiles and kittens, and I enjoyed the jokes about Pharrell’s hat as much as anyone else, but something felt different this time.
One difference is clear — I had an emotional stake in one of the groups that drew the sharpest criticism. I’ve been a fan of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis since October of 2012, when I discovered “Thrift Shop” via Reddit. I loved it for all the reasons listed here. It was fun and clever, with a message that rang true for me (“$50 for a t-shirt…”). Then I heard “Same Love,” and my respect for the duo grew. I think people of the same sex should be able to marry one another, and I saw the group’s participation in the campaign to sway Washington’s referendum on marriage equality as admirable. Doing the right thing. The song never seemed perfect, but it felt profoundly good to me, in the way that certain people or actions strike you as a net positive in/to/for the world. As a result, I watched the duo’s rise in notoriety with glee, like I was watching close friends succeed at the thing they’re most passionate about. Now, I’m watching with despair as their names and music are maligned in all sorts of ways.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this, because there’s a lot to say, and it’s not the easiest subject matter to wade through. Race. Sexual orientation. Cultural appropriation. This is swampy stuff, and I have to admit to feeling a little out of my depth. I don’t have advanced degrees in any related fields, and my familiarity with the term “cultural appropriation” dates only as far back as the release of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” video. I’m also biased in a way that I have to acknowledge and account for. Like Macklemore, I am white, male, straight and strongly in favor of marriage equality. Throw in a fervent love for crate digging at thrift shops and I may be the most biased person in this situation whose name isn’t Ben Haggerty or Ryan Lewis.
That said, there are a few things I have to say or I’ll be mad at myself for not saying them. You can decide how much weight they carry, based on the disclaimers I provided in the previous paragraph. I apologize in advance for how sanctimonious some of them are.