Nabeel on Panto

This generous synopsis of my Auckland talk from Nabeel (who has a show on BASE FM – where you might have heard a rant last weekend!):


And I’ve been working like a dawg. Time for an Easter break. I can tell I’m physically and mentally tired when I start to use the word ‘interesting’ too much in a lecture every time I’m trying to introduce a ‘significant’ point. Found myself doing that today when talking about ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the Popular Music on Screen course. I even attempted some defensive drolery about it with the students (about 90 of the 130+ roll), apologizing for using the word too much and then telling them that it was OK in a lecture but not in their essays.

That was today but yesterday I finished powerpointing the Beatletastic images with a few Warhols, then went to a talk by John Hutnyk who does anthropology and cultural studies at Goldsmiths College at the University of Londinium. John was one of the editors of Dis-orienting Rhythms (1997), a book about the new Asian dance music in the UK which I read religiously just after I finished my PhD in 1996 and was thinking about ways in which to rewrite it into a book. DR marked out a space to share knowledge and debate the British Asian peeps pop culture. That’s when ‘TranslAsia’ was as hep as the Nu Asian Kool or the Asian Underground. Well, there’s always a place for a nifty title. I agreed with many of the authors in Dis-orienting Rhythms though I disliked the way some of its politics seemed to ignore issues of musical pleasure and gender and suggested that the only ‘worthwhile’ British Asian music was the stuff that was clearly anti-colonial, anti-racist and on the barricades. It didn’t have many light touches.

I had heard John speak about Asian Dub Foundation and Fun-da-mental in a Calcutta (now Kolkata) 1998 conference about globalization and music and I’ve read a fair bit of his other work. His talk yesterday was called Pantomime Terror and took place in ALR5 in the Architecture Building which is one of the worst designed buildings on our fair campus. John is working toward a way of narrating the ‘war of terror’ and the paranoia in Londinium using the detritus of popular culture and the different inflections of radical chic. Walter Benjamin, Michael Taussig and James Clifford in Adorno dub stylee. Fundamental are in panto mode when they dress up with their keffiyahs and pose for photographs, though they are trying to do something different to Madonna when she dons Che’s beret for a record cover. John suggested a difference but didn’t elaborate how we judge that difference. Is it just a matter of political utility that distinguishes this type of semiotic play/warfare and its value from this or that po-mo articulation? We must choose certain truths and rights, as Johnny Osbourne would sing: “Render your arms and not your garments. The Truth is there for who have eyes to see”. I’d like to believe it but cannot pray to this claim five times a day. It’s true but not true.

John’s powerpoint presentation included images of the July 7 bus after the top of it was blown off, a posed Fun-Da-Mental pic from The Guardian July 2006 that seemed to juggle all the signifiers of the London transport terror like backpacks, the St George’s Cross, rightwing soccer clichés, and the ubiquitous double-decker bus. He screened a rollicking Fun-da-mental video for their Cookbook DIY song about making dirty bombs in an Islamist bedsit and bigger bombs in US military installations. Cher appeared in Che’s beret, Kylie in her Che T-shirt. John’s working on a related project about trinkets and lefty memorabilia like Chairman Maos and the mass reproduction of Che. Motorcycle diarists of the world unite.

John returned to the Arabian Nights and imagined Sheherezad telling her stories night after night because they might save her from torture at Gitmo. This clicked with my own feelings about the absurdities of the current political moment and a hunch that fabulist forms of expression such as surrealism, situationism, science fiction and reworks of populist modes might have some mileage for telling stories that a million documentaries, news and current affairs segments cannot. We are after all living in the age of John Stewart ‘s show, which is proud of its status as the best fake news. I think we can give magic realism a bit of a rest though. But you can’t deny the power of exotica to get people fired up.

All the playlists are my way of working through the craziness of what it means to be ‘Terrormade’ using muzik. To my distant ears Sarf London dubstep captures paranoid Londonistan better than any other music. Donning a rabbit’s head or becoming a comic book terrorist with a pirate eyepatch is a way to talk back to the nonsense. Hollow po-mo irony maybe but if you don’t snigger at it you’re gonna go crazy like Gnarls Barkley, probably. Nothing that new about these fictions and rhetorical tactics. Maybe it’s just that combination of a sense of failure with my academese and the need to use a different voice. The ‘Guantanamo, Here We Come’ essay on the Smiths’ album Strangeways Here We Come was a start for me. Still waiting to hear back on the first draft which still needs a lot of work but has some good bits. At this early stage of a critical-autobiographical Islamopoppy project, it was reassuring to find someone looking for other ways to represent. Ended up enjoying more than a few drinks, vittals and rapping with John and Tara and other post-seminarians at the Mezze Bar. Cheers John.
# posted by nabeel @ 9:09 PM