Source Material: The Week in Arguments, From Whitney to Sleigh Bells

Source Material: The Week in Arguments, From Whitney to Sleigh Bells
Whitney Houston performs during her "Nothing But Love" tour, 2010
(Courtesy Getty Images)

We spend our week listening to arguments about culture as they’re made across media, and occasionally weigh in ourselves. This digest offers some highlights. And to reward you for laboring through it, we offer some “lighter fare” — what we’ll call Ephemera — at the end.

Good Grief
Whitney Houston
inspired numberless tributes after her death — so many that we didn’t have a unique one of our own to offer. We did, however, feel compelled to respond to Megan Graber, writing in the Atlantic, and Liel Liebovitz, in Tablet, who suggested, in different but related ways, that this outpouring was not, in essence, good mourning. “Impatience is becoming the dominant emotion of the discursive Internet,” Garber wrote. Liebovitz, citing Jewish teachings, actually said that we should all somehow pause before marking a celebrity’s passing: “[U]ntil we can figure out how to speak about Whitney Houston’s death with distance and depth and insight, let us observe this period of aninut and say nothing more.” What they both missed, we thought, was the very nature of the response to Houston’s death: It wasn’t that people were mourning. They were sharing — videos, memories, ideas — the way they always do online. It’s just that this week, they seized an opportunity to share in something they believed everyone else would understand.

After the Grammys, we remarked on acceptance speeches by the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, both, as we made sure to point out, white men. Vernon, we thought (to borrow a bit of webspeak as awful as the tendency it describes), humble-bragged. Grohl, we suggested, high-mindedly dismissed all music that was not, as his last album was, recorded in a rich man’s garage.  We also said that he himself might be paranoid that he is not actually human, but a robot. “Don't bother speaking for this white man,” wrote the commenter FooFender. “You are so pitifully off base on this you're not even in the same zip code as the ballpark.”

Dave Grohl later issued a charming statement about his speech (“not the Gettysburg Address, but hey … I’m a drummer, remember?”), part of which goes: 

Well, me and my big mouth. Never has a 33 second acceptance rant evoked such caps-lock postboard rage as my lil' ode to analog recording has. OK....maybe Kanye has me on this one, but....Imma let you finish....just wanted to clarify something...

I love music. I love ALL kinds of music. From Kyuss to Kraftwerk, Pinetop Perkins to Prodigy, Dead Kennedys to Deadmau5.....I love music. Electronic or acoustic, it doesn't matter to me. The simple act of creating music is a beautiful gift that ALL human beings are blessed with. And the diversity of one musician's personality to the next is what makes music so exciting and.....human. 

The white man can indeed speak for himself.

Sleigh Blahs
Need an excuse to dismiss Sleigh Bells, the Brooklyn band whose “buzz” translated this week into a New York Times feature? We gave you seven. But they weren’t real reasons. Or at least, not reasons we agree with. Just reasons that people seem to have. We don’t need a reason not to like the band. Which is why we don’t count ourselves as part of the backlash.


Ephemera (Chronologically)


C.K.’s Gratitude for Grammy [Vulture]

Dark Video From Taylor Swift, Horribly-Named Band [EW]

Denial of Documentary Golden Age? [Slate]

Sexy de le Huerta Drama [IndieWire]

Bin Laden and Whitney the New Qaddafi and Condi? [NME]

Buy Oldman’s “Tinker” Glasses [Movie Line]

T-Pain’s “Heath Ledger” Mixtape [Vulture]

Willow Smith Loves Tyler, the Creator [Rap-Up]

Rihanna’s Stupid Birthday Cake [Vulture]

Good Dumb Rap Video [Nah Right