As ever, I’m honored when a journalist thinks enough of my work to ask for my opinion.  This time, it was for a recent article in the Chicago Tribune on the “trend” of black musicians creating harder, more guitar-based music.  The article cites, as examples, artists such as the band Animals As Leaders (photo above) and blues-rocker Benjamin Booker.

Here’s my first quote:

Both Afropunk’s Morgan and Rob Fields, a journalist and cultural strategist, point to the rise of the black middle class as an important force behind the rise of black rock musicians. Anyone seeking a career as a hip-hop MC will incur little in the way of startup costs, but aspiring rock or metal stars will need money for instruments and often music lessons.

Once committed, Fields says, sites like Myspace and Facebook provide access to a community of like-minded musicians and fans.

“These artists and communities have existed — it’s just that they were disconnected from each other prior to, let’s say 2004, when you saw the advent of Myspace. Now everyone’s kind of a musical omnivore. Even if you’re a hip-hop head, you’re probably still checking out some rock stuff.”

And here I am again on the dominance of hip hop as a cultural force that blunts other forms of expression in the black community:

The question of why black rock movements never last is tough to answer. Fields figures that as long as hip-hop remains the world’s dominant musical force, as long as “guitar players aren’t as swaggy” as rappers, the next generation of aspiring musicians will be slow to emulate them.

A couple of thoughts.

First, this kind of article–“OMG, black people like rock n roll!”–seems to crop up every 7-10 years.  At the very least, we can got back to 2007, when the NY Times contributor Jessica Pressler wrote the infamous “blipster” article, or 2001 when noted rock critic Anthony DeCurtis asked “Is Rock N Roll A White Man’s Game” in Time Magazine.  I guess that’s because every seven years marks the coming of age of a new generation.

From a cultural standpoint, this is a great example of how difficult is can be to change cultural frameworks, especially when race enters the discussion.  It’s 2014, so I’d hoped we wouldn’t see the same discussions being rehashed, despite the evidence that abounds that all of us black alt types aren’t anomalies, but rather a growing cohort within the “black” consumer marketplace.

To quote Kanye West, “And it’s been like that for a minute, Hedi Slimane!”

Even today’s New York Times Style look at the stay-at-home dad phenomenon shows the existence of an equally stubborn frame.  The article cites a University of Toronto study that shows there are still negative perceptions attached to men who are stay-at-home dad or who talk about their families and parenting at work:

While women who talked about their children at work were deemed worse employees but better women (read: taking on their feminine role), men who talked about being a parent at work were viewed as both lesser workers and lesser men.

This attitude persists even though there’s been a big shift it our attitudes about the meaning of parenthood.  I’d venture to guess that the durability of these ingrained attitudes are reinforced by a tenuous job environment, one in which people are fearful of betraying any lack of commitment to their jobs for fear of losing them.  A pretty shitty life, if you ask me.

But back to the matter at hand: frames.  Frames hold all of our assumptions on a particular topic.  They contain a kind of shorthand that everyone can agree on. Why? Because at one particular moment, those assumptions were true.  Remember when it was unusual to see black musicians with guitars or stay-at-home dads?  Those two ideas differed from the “norms” of the times for various reasons.  Wrongly, people were judged based on how far they “deviated” from said accepted norms.

Which is why it’s important to call out these assumptions and make them plain.  Only then can we ask how do these assumptions, biases, and perceptions need to be adjusted.  Once we begin questioning assumptions, we’re able to dig deeper into what’s really at play in world right now.

Old (and out-of-date) frames are lazy.  They have no reason to go anywhere, at least not until we make them.



Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.

  • Indy Neogy

    Sadly, it seems that the more established the media institution, the more out of date the frames are. Grant McCracken has suggested this is because the chain of editors gets older the further you go up. So the final shape of articles is dictated by the people who are least likely to be keeping up with change.