Friday, April 17, 2015

Big Sean vs Marcel Duchamp

Mired in Northern Virginia traffic, a good spring day and car windows are rolled down. I am idling next to a Toyota whose stereo system is blasting, “I ain’t f*cking with you, you little dumb ass bitch.” This is shouted about twenty times by a singer—I use the word loosely—named Big Sean. Big Sean changes the words once or twice to, “I don’t f*ck with you, you li’l stupid ass bitch,” and caps it off with, “You li’l, you li’l Bitch, I don’t give a f*ck about you or anything that you do.” Notice that this rhymes, an accomplishment repeated eight to twelve times. The lyrics are accompanied by the sort of minimalist electronic backbeat favored a decade or so ago by the German group Kraftwerk.

Personally, I’m fascinated by anything that can mix anger, potential violence, illiteracy, misogyny and meaningless cursing so effectively in so few words. I suspect there are a few neat-o dance moves when this is performed live. As they say in my neighborhood, congrats, Big Sean, you da man.

But here’s a thought that crept in as the Toyota pulled away.  I’m wondering if maybe Big Sean is the Marcel Duchamp of our time. You remember Marcel, of the 1917 Fountain sculpture, which was nothing more than a urinal. It caused a sensation and redefined art. Is that what Big Sean is doing? Shocking us into an awareness that all is not as it appears to be?

Nah. Been there, done that. Using the word f*ck gratuitously is nothing new. It’s been overdone in music, literature, and movies, and now seems hopelessly juvenile. In contrast, there was something behind Duchamp’s urinal, a desire to prove that art could be readymade, and that the artist was displaying creativity by choosing, by displaying new thought to select the object shown. In other words, Duchamp moved art from the realm of the never-before-seen-until-conceived to that of the quotidian. Big Sean is cashing in on our weariness for the ugly, the stupid, and inappropriate.

Some of Duchamp’s works will be displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, beginning August 9. On that exact same day, Big Sean will be appearing in Washington as well. Coincidence, or what?

I’m pretty sure I know where I’ll be.



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