For the last week now, I have been hear all this stuff about John Mayer and his now infamous Playboy interview.
I am not a big fan of his music, so I don’t really pay much attention to anything about him. That changed like a car wreck in January when I read the Rolling Stone Interview by writer Erik Hedegaard called “The Dirty Mind and Lonely Heart of John Mayer,” with the subtitle, “He has everything a 32-year-old man could want. So why can’t rock’s biggest playboy shut up and enjoy?”
This interview had the insight of John Mayers stream-of-consciousness ranting, in which we all learned that the singer has a $20 million watch collection, owns a bulletproof vest, can’t resist “poop Twitters,” believes he has “masturbated [himself] out of serious problems” in his life and describes how even in his sex dreams, he has to stop his virtual mate from grinding on him because he’s distracted by a phantom paparazzo. These were all very personal, TMI-style utterances that the average guarded modern pop star would never reveal. His he real, uncontrolled or just plain stupid?
The new big deal the the Mayer interview with Playboy. The Playboy interview was done by Rob Tannenbaum (former music editor of Blender magazine), and is a good detailed interview that has been portrayed as something it may not be – revelations that Mayer is racist and sexist – both may or may not be the case depending on your beliefs.
My favorite little tidbit is how Us Magazine.com published excerpts from the lengthy interview that will be in the March issue of Playboy. Their headline, “John Mayer: Jessica Simpson Was ‘Crazy’ in Bed,” was a distorted and softly sensationalist distillation: Mayer said of the relationship, ‘Sexually it was crazy.’ Now even a blind bat can see how Us Magazine twisted the meaning and molded it to fit the shape of celebrity.
Now multiply that effect by a million or so. Because among many, many things that flew out of his mouth, Mayer also claimed to have “a David Duke cock” and used the word “nigger” [I don’t know if with the over use of the word in music and culture if the rule still exists if only African Americans are allowed to use this word…]
The Interview with Mayer is a 6,870 word article, but it was quickly reduced to something 140 characters or less: Mayer is a racist. Just because he said ‘nigger’ he is a racist? In the interview Mayer used the word, in imaginary italics or finger quotes, to make a point: As a white musician who has worked extensively with black musicians, he was discussing the paradox and impossibility of a “hood pass” (the notion that some whites are more authentically ‘black’ than others), and demonstrated the paradox by embodying it via an N bomb. Commenting on white privilege, he stepped right in it.
On Twitter, writer and hip-hop activist Harry Allen described Mayer’s refutation of a ‘hood pass’ as a powerful, pointed statement. It’s also a tough way to prove a point. To put it in Twitter argot, “The word > the point.”
I understand the point, but maybe someone more nuanced could have done a better job of getting it across. By the way, if you are half white, or part Mexican, or Asian, can you still use the word without being a racist?
So, the next big poo pile Mayer stepped in was when he made the David Duke reference in self-reproach to his own sexual history: Among his relationships, none have been with women of color, which is ordinary enough but puzzled him and prompted him to reflect, in a joke, about the discrepancy between his taste and his experiences. Mayer named three black women he is attracted to; one of them, actress Holly Robinson Peete, blogged that Mayer had “foolishly picked a fight with a demographic you don’t wanna mess with: African-American women.” Many of the jokes these women made online, at Mayer’s expense, were explosively funny. But Mayer’s description of his sexual history was quickly altered and relayed as “John Mayer won’t date black women.” How does hasn’t turn into won’t?
The Internet has loosened the definition of writing, and now the online world is a limitless, unstable fiction. Tweets and blogs translate every link, adding ideology in the guise of summation. The reaction to Mayer contains many truths about race and celebrity, though nothing that fits in 140 characters.
The Web is a series of filters, many of which narrow a story until it’s a negligible number of bytes. Few people in America are willing to discuss race in public, and this reminds us why. Harry Allen hoped Mayer would “keep speaking as intelligently as he clearly can against racism/white supremacy.” That’s not going to happen. During a concert in Nashville that night, Mayer apologized for using a profane word and announced he was done doing interviews.
So, the 140 word summary:
The Internet and social media takes long nuanced conversation and reduces them down to inaccurate, sensationalized, celebritized, bastardized 140 word sound bits that completely change the meaning of what was said.