Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Janelle Monáe and Millennials on the Tightrope

Janelle Monae appreciation week continues on! Monae draws on the source code (Little Richard, James Brown, Michael Jackson) in her biggest hit so far, "Tightrope" -- I'm setting aside fun's smash "We Are Young," in which she is "featured" (in the sense of criminally underutilized). Big Boi is all over this song, and it rhythmically evokes Bombs Over Baghdad and other Outkast hits as well. This isn't my favorite Monae track, though you would have to be dead not to be moved by its groove, but it is interesting that even her dance hits are invested with Monae's android/insurrection mythology and unabashed political themes. The actual "Tightrope" dance draws on the hydraulic movements of the proliferating variations in street performance on the robot and the moonwalk -- for which one would naturally expect Afrofuturist Monae to have affinities -- but the metaphor has been transposed from the digital to the analog here. The "tightrope" captures, I think, the extreme precarity in which Monae's millennial generation has been forced to live by the criminal irresponsibility and recklessness and looting and selfishness of the Boomer and X generations (which I straddle myself, America's Worst Generations). Of course, my peers like to deride the "narcissism" of millennials as they struggle to cope and create in this charred moonscape of joblessness, debt, failed institutions, and climate catastrophe we made for them while indulging in our neoliberal and neoconservative corporate-military adventures. I teach millennials, of course, and I for one am struck over and over again by their energy, effort, and earnestness. Like Janelle Monae they give me hope that humanity won't get what we deserve in the end after all.

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