Friday, 27 January 2012

Why I Love Spoken Word, But Hate This

Actually, I won't be talking at all about what I like about spoken word, and I don't like using the word hate. But I couldn't resist that title.

I had been about to write a post about something else, but instead I am going to write on this before it loses any timeliness and before I cool off and don't care about it any more.

Those of you who wander the Christian and atheist blogospheres have likely encountered this video already:

When watching this video however many weeks ago it hit the 'sphere, I was somewhat impressed by his spoken word abilities (rhythm and rhyme are hard, yo) and somewhat more impressed by his rhetorical prowess, but not at all impressed by his ability to construct a plausible argument. This has already been hashed over plenty on the Internet, so I won't go there again.

But there was something else that bothered me, something in how he spoke. I couldn't put my finger on it. I knew he must have some skill, since his end-rhyming was pretty impressive, as was his ability to use symmetrical structures. So what bothered me?

Today, someone I know posted this on Facebook:

And then I figured it out. OK, yes, his claims have a few holes (1. non-Christian families, which are not centred around Jesus, seem to fair no worse than Christian ones; 2. coming from a broken home does not really qualify you for marriage advice; 3. suggesting that "centring on Jesus" is a discrete acheivement one must attain before marriage seems to be an impossible prerequisite, since by most accounts that centring is a lifelong process), but that's not what bothered me so much.

No, what bothered me was that, despite his ability to rhyme things (which, as I said before, rhyming well, as opposed to passably, is hard), he's actually not that great of a spoken word poet. If you care to listen to these performances, I suggest you count the number of times he begins clauses (sentences in particular) with the following:

1. "I mean [if] ..."
2. "Like, ..."
3. "I'm [just] sayin' ..."
4. "Don't you see..."
5. "I guess..."
6. "See, ..."

(That last one is his favourite.)

I understand that rhythm is difficult, but if you need to fill it in with these same phrases, you need to do some more work. These transitions are fine once in a while; unfortunately, he's got so many of them that it starts to look like a tic. That's not good art. That just sounds silly. And once something sounds silly, I stop taking it seriously.*

Also, speaking of rhythm, his rhythm isn't always that good after all. Notice that quite a few phrases are rushed to fit them into the line. ("Self-righteousness" in the first video is a good example.) *tch* That's sloppy. I don't expect you to be the master of rhythm and rhyme (if you're bored, start that video at 2:57 and stop at 4:49), but I do expect you to try.

What does it says about me that I care more about the formal concerns than I am about the ideological content. It's not that I care about the content, but the aesthetics bother me far more. In part I continue to wonder why Christians seem incapable of producing great quality of art these days. Maybe we need more Winter Christians in the studio?

(To be fair, there are some great lines in the first video: "a museum for good people v. a hospital for the broken" is an effective image, regardless of the value of its ideological content. And also to be fair, when I found out that his inspiration for the second was Mark Driscoll, any chance he had with me was lost.)


*Of course I'm fully aware that my own writing has particular tics. Beginning clauses with "that is" is one of them; beginning sentences with conjunctions is another. While I'm not much better, I would be quite sure not to use those some habitual phrases in poetry or fiction that I was writing. Why prose is generally less governed by aesthetics? Perhaps because we think it is a transparent medium (which of course it isn't).

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