Straight Outta Compton, Afro-Americans, Euro-Americans and Perypateticism


A little behind as usual, but I finally managed to see Straight Outta Compton last weekend.

The film touches on some of the greatest strengths for potential dissidents of pragmatism. It also handled a few issues quite well - stereotypes, discipline, intellect and (perhaps oddly) the irrelevance of money to an individual pursuing his passion, and the ability to forgive.

The portrayal of Andre Romelle Young (Dr. Dre) and O'Seah Jackson (Ice Cube) was in its essence particularly good. On a superficial level, in all the cursing, women, guns and general chaos, a viewer might be distracted from what were surely some of the main reasons for NWA's ability to define the genre of so-called gangsta rap and G-funk: intellect and dedication.

At the very start, Jackson is shown with a notebook, on a school bus, quiet. Both he and others refer to the lyrics he has written for multiple songs at various points throughout the movie. Young is interested in nothing but music. We meet him listening to music on the floor of his room; this is followed by his attempts to form a group, his djaying in a club and the formation of the Ruthless label. Unfortunately, the story about the beginning of the group NWA prior to their success is cut very short. You gain the impression that this was a rags-to-riches dream that happened overnight, more or less right after high school, and due to sheer luck. While I do not know the truth, it is highly unlikely that this was the case. Even if it did not take long and they did get lucky, the film offered the perfect opportunity to draw out the amount of time, work and effort that went into composing the lyrics, testing out different beats, mixing forms, gaining inspiration from other areas, etc. This should have been coupled with the infuriating experiences with police officers, other forms of discrimination and injustice, to show a gradual rise to fame.

What the film captured nearly perfectly was Young's dedication to music. At no point does he seriously espouse an interest in money. On the first NWA tour, he is shown calmly tolerating the preferential treatment shown to Eric Wright (Eazy-E), later he abandons Death Row Records without laying claim to anything. In another scene, Young is depicted as the committed producer working with a new artist (Tupac) while others on the label are partying in the studio. Coupled with Jackson's justified fury at begin exploited and lied to, the two artists demonstrate appropriate responses to challenging positions: relentless pursuit and aggressive confrontation.

I mention this topic because it is particularly relevant at a time when romantics across the board and pragmatists with any sort of romantic inclinations hold particularly weak cards, are generally taken advantage of, fractured and confused due to a hyper-pragmatic culture. I also mention it because a number of people wondered and probably still wonder why Euro-Americans (white people) listen(ed) to gangsta rap and helped contribute to its popularity.

My colleague Angelika has defined romantics as having these core characteristics:
The romantics can be said to accept fate, view life as a process, not worry about the future (but have a more pessimistic outlook), disregard education, success, achievements and money, be less open to strangers (not in the sense of immigrants, but rather people outside of their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances), have a sense of humor, relax, rest and enjoy their leisure time, have polarized minds (swinging from very active to complete lethargy), love freedom, live existentially, produce and work.
and pragmatics as having these:

The pragmatists shape their fate, are focused on the end of the process rather than the process itself, are optimistic about the future, consider education to be critical, success and achievements as proof of self-importance, are frugal and cautious with money, network and are basically moralists with no sense of humor, work constantly, are tired, mentally slow, but consistent, never relax or enjoy a break, chain themselves to (primarily social and financial) obligations, embrace materialism, consume and manage.

One of the best ways for romantics to survive in a largely pragmatic-based culture such as ours in America is to adopt a mindset similar to Young's (at least as it is portrayed in the movie - although there is nothing about his real life (filtered through the media) that suggests otherwise). Not only dedication and intellect play a central role here. In particular, Young's simple act of production is critical. He produced music, which may seem somewhat glamorous, but the act of producing music or art or a repaired car or refurbished house or even something smaller such as an object resulting from a hobby consistently pursued will have a very similar psychological effect on a romantic. In many cases, in fact, the less attention-grabbing the artefact is the more you can enjoy it personally without having to deal with potential business connected to it. If the production involves multiple people, dispute is inevitable. Although romantics do not have to be poor or less well-off by definition, this is often a consequence of their lifestyle. In such cases, material hardship can exacerbate tension. In a culture defined by pragmatists, one of the central values is also to always be happy - if you are not happy at all times in a situation or with people, then that situation or those people must be eliminated. Dispute means an end forever. This is a strange worldview by any standard, but it does not apply at all to romantics. Nonetheless, they are inundated with such a conception due to their surrounding culture. The ability of Young, Jackson and Wright to reconcile before Wright's death also offers an example of how the counterculture should perceive of their relationships.

The reason why Euro-Americans, predominantly adolescents and young adults, listened to gangsta rap is directly related to this issue of romanticism and pragmatism. Euro-Americans in circles buying such rap albums are predominantly the scions of pragmatists. Their education and upbringing is defined by the values of pragmatists described above, and - although they don't realize it - one thing about their childhood makes them unconsciously nauseous: morality. They receive one lesson after another. Not in terms of school lessons. Yes, they have those too. But everything is good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. The pragmatist's mind does not perceive of things as simply different, comparable, or as just existing, present. This overdose of morality, coupled with a few other more commonly known aspects that need to be discussed elsewhere (lack of education, overactivity, rebellion) drive teenagers and young adults to crave something different, something so contrary to what they experience that Young, Jackson and Wright's music captures their spirit.

Text by Henry Whittlesey
Photos by Lea Winkler
October 2015

Further reading

Friedrich, Angelika. Romantics and Pragmatists in the West. January 2015
Friedrich, Angelika. Romantics in Russia. January 2015
Friedrich, Angelika. Romantics in 19th Century Russia. January 2015
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