The acoustics in Akko's old city are something else. Next time I go home to Israel, I'm going to make a recording of a British friend with a thick cockney accent reciting T.S. Eliot poems, in Hebrew, inside.
You know you're starting to feel old when, in the space of one month, three films about three dead musicians hit the theaters, and you can still remember when their very first records came out. Such was the case when, watching the previews before the new Anton Corbijn biopic about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, I saw plugs for new feature films about The Clash's Joe Strummer and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.
Two down, one to go, so far, Control is the winner. Casting Ian Curtis as the unstable, miserable genius that he was, the black and white feature debut by the famous Dutch photographer has a truly literary feel to it, eschewing Curtis' star quality for an up-close study of a talented young man totally falling apart. Julien Temple's homage to Strummer, The Future is Unwritten is Control's polar opposite.
A documentary portrait of an equally brilliant middle aged rock star burdened with enormous regrets, Future is best summed up in the highly critical words of my wife, who published her own terrific take on the film last night. Check it out. If you haven't read the Bionic Farmer blog yet, this is the perfect introduction.
Speaking of Al Jazeera English, if you get the chance, check outRoger Cohen's excellent op-ed on the Qatari broadcaster in today's New York Times.
Discussing the difficulties that the service has had trying to find national distribution from America's cable and satellite providers, the Times' International-Writer-at-Large extols the network's virtues, noting, in reference to the same polarized context invoked in Friday's posting, that Al Jazeera is carried (by Yes) in Israel, where it replaced the BBC last winter.
Incidentally (and much discussed as of late) Al Jazeera English was also slated to replace CNN on Israel's largest cable service, Hot, but was outbid at the last minute by Fox News.
His curiosity piqued by a recent article in Haaretz discussing the relative merits of the New York Times' coverage of Israel, a colleague asked me if I could point him to what I think are the best studies of Western media reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict. For those who understand the subtext of such inquiries, the editor couldn't have asked a more loaded question. To make such a request in today's environment means that you first have to ask why the question is important, and second, for whom.
Since September 11th, domestic coverage of the Middle East has obviously become more significant. Not just because the attacks on New York and Washington signaled the beginning of a conflict between America and West Asian Islamists. But, also because of how it placed far more editorial requirements on a news media already struggling - and, in the US, largely failing - to meet the complex cultural demands already required of Mideast coverage by the country's Jewish and Muslim Diaspora communities.
US news agencies haven't done the best job of striking this balance yet either. However, there is more English-language, Mideast-based media to rely on than ever before to make up for it. Take for example, Israeli publications like the English edition of Haaretz on the one hand, and Al Jazeera's English broadcasting service on the other, not to mention all of the translated editions of regional sources in between. Americans now have every opportunity to read news that's potentially more informative.
Though "local" is not always a synonym for "better", irrespective of partisanship and the limitations international media inevitably find themselves subject to, in comparison, few domestic sources, including the ethnic press, deliver the same quality goods. Does that mean that American periodicals should hang up their hats? No. Because of this country's obvious ties to the region - economic, cultural, and military, to name a few - US news outlets are morally obligated to continue reporting on the Mideast.
The question is how. Obviously, one answer would be to create content that was complementary with a foreign reporting that is better privileged for information. Another angle would be to concentrate on commissioning work on the numerous ways in which Americans deliberate about their involvement in a particular country's affairs. Thus, you emphasize domestic political discussions at, say the State Department, or, amongst Americans with cultural ties to said state, instead of the other way around.
As many editors at American news periodicals will tell you, the two biggest complaints about Mideast coverage are always that its either anti-Semitic, or similarly compromised by a desire to satisfy special interest groups. The problem with such criticisms is that they're not only frequently incorrect. But, most importantly, that they help divert editorial attention away from very real ethical problems, like learning how to properly tailor international news for a cosmopolitan, multicultural readership - during wartime.
Oh No's new American take on Middle Eastern hip-hop is not without similarly single-minded precedents. In terms of actual full-lengths, Mutamassik's 2005 LP, Definitive Works, is of equally subversive significance. For anyone familiar with post-war Egyptian pop, from the sampled string sections to the galloping percussion, the influence of Om Kholtum's band looms large on this Brooklyn DJ's debut album.
Listening to Definitive last weekend, like a lot of records of its kind, I was struck by the ways in which Mutamassik almost plays with Western clichés of oriental music. Particularly the popularity of specific types of orchestral arrangements, and belly dance signifiers popular during the early '60s, when cities like Los Angeles boasted of a number of Arab-themed club bands.
I don't mean to suggest that this album intentionally stakes out a critical position in relation to these long forgotten artists. However, if you're hip to the phenomenon (think guitar-driven mini-orchestras with fez-wearing, Arab-American and Armenian band leaders, not shriners), its hard not to place the new engagement with Mideast music in American hip-hop in relationship to them.
I own a number of out-of-print recordings by several of these groups, but they're hidden somewhere deep inside my office closet. This weekend, I'm going to do some serious excavation work, and slap them straight back onto my turntable. I imagine that I'll find them a bit more ideologically complex than I did before.
One of the most pronounced themes in my book is an expressed concern with the way Israel gets 'constructed' by its proponents in America. Without explicitly specifying it as such, I continually press against the versions of Israel I encounter here, as though there is something alien about them, continuously wondering whether they have anything to do with me, or are merely the stuff of fantasy. I feel oppressed by this experience, oftentimes suffocated, to the point of wondering whether this was the country my family failed to create. As though they were admonishing us, new pioneers have come to conjure something different, something that ignores 'the natives', in much the same way that the original settlers saw Ottoman Palestine as a wild and empty place.
Thus, I was reminded, as I listened to a sixty something New Yorker explain the good he thought Israel had achieved through its seizure of Arab lands in June 1967. The Six Day War improved the lot of American Jewry, he argued, because it completed the process of Jewish integration, helping us secure the truly remarkable level of equality we live with in this country today. Suggesting that the war's fruits outweighed its failings, this gentleman's argument was truly curious, as though he were inferring that it's social achievements in the US were sincerely worth the last four decades worth of displacement and terrorism the occupation has gifted both Israelis and Palestinians. Though I did not ask the guy whether he believed that the occupation ought to continue for said purpose, I still ask myself whether he might believe such.
It is for reasons like these that I am increasingly uneasy about the ways in which fellow progressives tend to rationalize ongoing Diaspora support for the occupation. Traditionally inclined to see such dispositions as being products of a fundamentalist or reactionary approach to Judaism, I am concerned that such arguments have obscured the prevalence of equally common secular positions like these. Specifically, in terms of whether one can ascribe right-wing Diaspora support to the present Israeli status quo on the grounds that it's never-ending violence is the only guarantee of Jewish equality in multiethnic societies. If that is truly the case, no wonder it feels as though Israel is continuously ignored. Because it's not Israel that matters in the end, but the Diaspora.