The disastrous surprise concert by Macklemore at EMP Friday night has social media all abuzz. The rest of the world is rightly saying WTF. Most Seattleites are either avoiding the subject, or they are predictably fuming with righteous indignation, posting and re-posting “call-outs” of an individual and his supporters without discussing the larger problems at hand. The truth is, the gross display makes a certain kind of horrible sense in the context of Seattle, where it is almost inevitable.
But how? Isn’t Seattle such a PC place? That’s what some blogs are saying, but spend enough time here and you’ll quickly realize that Seattle wants SO badly to be about the right thing, but like a rebellious teenager it has yet to figure itself out, let alone what “the right thing” is. The more it tries to be about the right thing the more it can mess it up, and it can be painful to witness.
Cases in point: Seattle wants you to know that it is “down with the swirl,” so white women will hoot and whistle at black models during trunk shows and not for a moment consider that fetishizing black sexuality is problematic. Walking out of said trunk show, you might get the side eye, or even a lecture on how terrible and shallow the fashion industry is, from a guy in polar fleece, which will probably still be biodegrading when humans are extinct. Exasperated, you’ll go into a cafe and overhear a conversation about how pluralistic and wonderful our world would be if such-and-such religion went away. The contradictions pile on as the conversation turns to partisan politics, and you realize that as literate and active and cosmopolitan as Seattle wants to be about a lot of important issues, it is just as duped by facile sound bites and polarized political positions as any other place. What’s worse is that it is utterly oblivious to this fact.
And the Hipster contingent? Even worse. When Macklemore’s Thrift Shop came out, some of us thought for a shining moment that he was lampooning that culture, only to quickly realize that he (and so much of the population here) is so in it that they can’t see how damn silly, arbitrary and lacking in substance it all is. It was disturbing in some ways because Macklemore comes across as nothing but earnest and sincere…but the culture he is championing rather than lampooning is founded on insincerity, an abdication from self-awareness. It is sincerely oblivious yet somehow self-assured that it is acting rightly, and that is dangerous.
Which is why I actually buy it that he is SO RIDICULOUSLY, HORRIFYINGLY OBLIVIOUS to Jewish stereotypes that he could dress as one and blithely march on stage and think nothing of it. I am guessing a lot of Seattle is. Part of the reason is that we are a really WASPy city and Jewish people are somewhat invisible here. If you saw local film darling Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely…well, first off, I’m sorry you went through that. For those who didn’t, it inexplicably featured a Woody Allen-esque New York Jew stereotype who ostensibly grew up in the neighborhood of Wallingford. How WASPy is Wallingford? Dave Matthews lives there. It is not the sort of place where anything remotely resembling a Jewish stereotype could develop, so despite that film’s suggestion that such a type exists here, let me set the record straight: It doesn’t. We are a culture so oblivious to our own culture that we are unconsciously importing others to make up for the gaps in understanding. The lack of context turns into absurdity at best and an offensive mess at worst.
But it gets worse: The mid-east is always a hot topic, and indignation about the Palestinian occupation fosters staunch anti-Zionism that occasionally spills into anti-Semitism. (A former landlord, a Jewish woman, once told me that Israel should just be obliterated. That is the gentlest paraphrase I can make of the original statement.) So despite the obliviousness to Jewish people and Jewishness and minorities in general, there is actually real reason for concern. In spite of its liberalism and a few extremely diverse neighborhoods on the south end (quickly becoming less so as gentrifcation marches on), Seattle has a pathetic track record in terms of race relations. It wants to be better than it is, but the ugly truth is that it ends up dissembling that it is better than everyone else. Such a teenager…
Hence, one side will jump to crucify Macklemore to prove they are righteous. Another side will stand in awkward silence on the sidelines, hoping no one notices. And neither side is going to get to the bottom of the issue, because this culture of call-outs and permissive silence and no real dialog requires more guts and maturity than a rebellious teenager can muster.
So, rest of the world, that is at least part of the reason why Macklemore dressed up like a bad Jewish stereotype. Being oblivious doesn’t for a minute excuse him or his equally offensive non-apology. Washington State Representative Ruben Carlyle (D – 36th district) is a Macklemore fan and wants to make it a teaching moment; I agree, but the problem is that it isn’t just Macklemore who needs to learn a lesson here. We all need to take a step back and evaluate our whole culture. Seattle alone isn’t on the hook here. This is a national issue…a human issue.
Or, ya know…just go pop some tags, cause it’s whatever, man.