LETTER OF THE WEEK
What’s happening to the once great Village Voice that I grew up with? Admittedly, the decline set in many years before the current regime came in, but it’s been mightily accelerated over the past year. It’s not just that the paper’s cultural and political muscle has turned flabby, it’s that there is so little substance at a time when monumental changes are happening all around us. Surely there are writers and editors in the city with ideas that could turn the paper around. Why is there so little writing about Iraq, Bush, media issues, new technology, health and spiritual issues, and corporate corruption, etc.? The Voice was best when it was a muckraking, populist publication instead of the corporate, sophomoric rag it’s become. Wake up. Make a serious search and spend the money for the talent that can make you more than just a clone of Time Out and New York magazine.
Looking at this week’s cover of the Voice, I see a caricature of Bob Dylan in an electric mobility scooter, running over Kyp Malone, guitarist/vocalist of the band TV on the Radio. The drawing, I imagine, was supposed to comically illustrate Dylan’s new record edging out TVOTR’s “Return to Cookie Mountain,” in the paper’s 34th Annual Pazz & Jop poll [February 7–13]. This drawing is racist, unfunny, mean-spirited, and inaccurate.
Even in the post-Chappelle era of it being hip and edgy to discuss and portray ideas about race, there are still wrong, tasteless ways and this was one of them. Nowhere in the consciousness of Voice editors or illustrator David O’Keefe can we find memories of James Byrd, a black man who was dragged behind a truck to his death by white racists in Jasper, Texas, in 1998, or Arthur “J.R.” Warren, who was run over four times and killed for being black and gay in West Virginia in 2000, and all the other lynchings that happened in the U.S. before and since. These events are still fresh in the minds of black people, as well as in the hearts and minds of the rest of us who may not be directly victimized by these particular lynchings but who are nonetheless endangered by racism and committed to social justice and healing America of its sick racist condition.
O’Keefe and his colleagues may not have meant to intentionally be racist. They probably meant to be funny, like the University of Texas law students, Clemson University undergrads, or white college students nationwide who plan and publicize their blackface or “ghetto parties,” then act surprised that people find their actions offensive and unacceptable. That this picture could be drawn and not questioned or vetoed by any of the people who saw it prior to publication shows the level of ignorance and racism that persists in leftist institutions like the Voice that continue to posture as hip and progressive. It reveals that among decision-makers at the paper there is not one single person with any sort of racial consciousness or sensitivity who had the power or courage to send that picture back to the drawing board.
Racism aside, the drawing is snarky and simpleminded. Where is the love? Why such a nasty way to portray two fantastic musical entities who made award-winning records last year? Why only portray Kyp, when TV on the Radio is composed of four other equally talented core members plus a small army of extended family (including myself) who have contributed to the indescribably ecstatic sound of TVOTR onstage and on record. We struggle defiantly to collaborate and work in non-hierarchical, positive environments and this portrayal of one of our people strikes a blow against our collective dignity.
Every time our likenesses are used outside of our control—especially in stupid ways like this—it fosters false perceptions of who we are. We struggle on a daily basis (those of us with high media exposure much more than others) to be our true selves and not what the media creates of us. Inevitably, Kyp will have to respond to an endless stream of questions about this cover from scores of journalists over the next week when he’d probably rather be doing something else.
Intentionally or not, this cover sends the all-too-familiar message to people of color: Make something too unique, make something outside of your assigned place-role, and get run over by a white man. I could go on about it, about how wrong it is to create false competition between musicians; the headline “Blood on the Tracks!” gives the very false impression that there is serious beef with Dylan and TVOTR. I could complain about how you drew Kyp outfitted like the Nutty Professor rather than his true fly stylish self. All other criticism, however, would draw attention away from the more serious and sinister latent racism present that makes this cover possible to begin with. I pray that you will wise up and check yourself and get some people with some sense and sensitivity among your editorial staff.
Baritone saxophone, flutes
Antibalas/TV on the Radio
Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn
BOBBIN’ TO THE BEAT
Greg Tate’s essay on Bob Dylan [“King of Wreck,” February 7–13]
was the only enjoyable aspect of this year’s Pazz & Jop poll. Perhaps it’s because it was actually about the quality of an artist’s work rather than the continual frag- mentation of music into sub-genres most people don’t care about. I agree: 2006 was a lousy year for music. I only wish “Modern Times” had won out of genuine respect for Dylan’s artistry, and not a grudging acknowledgement of it coupled with a “why doesn’t he just die already?” tone of resentment. If this is the best you guys can do, maybe Pazz & Jop is obsolete.
Tate’s appraisal of Dylan’s ongoing artistry ought to be the welcome last word on the subject’s age. It won’t be, of course. It’s the lazy angle and cheap laugh for hack writers everywhere. Hack illustrators, too, if the issue’s cover is any indication.
Tate did a wonderful job on the Dylan essay. I’ve often wondered why no rapper or hip-hopper ever sampled Bob’s great second verse in “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” especially (in the bootlegged series version) when he runs together “Maggie says that many say they must bust in early May.”
NO BONES ABOUT IT
The answer to Lenora Todaro’s question, “What should we eat?”
[“Meat Puppets,” February 7–13] is not all that complicated. Here’s a simple answer: Eating animal products is unnecessary, unhealthy, and unethical. A vegan diet, based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, is nutritious, humane, and environmentally friendly.
I think the column “Married, Not Dead“ should be changed to “Have Kids, Not Getting Any.” Why are you giving marriage the kiss of death, when both women described having small children who suck up all their sexual energy? It’s the kids, not the marriage. Plenty of married people and couples in long relationships choose not to do the spawn thing.
Are you really trying to pander to the middle? That’s all I can assume considering the fact that you replaced Rachel Kramer Bussel with two whiny upper-middle-class sexless women. Their columns are going to get old very fast. This is my final straw with the Voice. It’s no wonder you guys can’t entice quality journalists anymore. The writing community knows you’re lame. The rest of your readers will find out soon.
The Village Voice has an immediate opening for a managing editor. This position requires writing, editing, and management skills. The managing editor must be able to guide both experienced and beginning staff writers in producing superior magazine-style stories as well as help supervise the day-to-day operations of the editorial department. The ideal candidate will have a solid background in news. The most promising applicants will be asked to take an extensive editing test. The Voice offers competitive salaries and benefits. Qualified candidates should send a cover letter, a résumé, and clips to the address below.
STAFF WRITERS WANTED
The Village Voice has openings for staff writers with experience in political reporting. We’re looking for passionate, energetic journalists with well-developed narrative-writing
skills and lots of story ideas. Please send cover letter, résumé, and clips to:
Editor in Chief, The Village Voice
36 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 6, 2007