Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) was a dick. Yes, his name unfortunately has the nickname “Dick” in some cultures, but I’m not talking about that. There was a lot wrong with this asshole.
For starters, his music is exhaustingly long-winded. If you make it through all 15 hours of his Der Ring des Nibelungen, there are moments of brilliance, it’s true… but you need to suffer a lot of annoying crap before you get there.
I know, that’s my opinion. Taste is somewhat subjective. The real reason he’s a dick is because he was a fierce anti-semite. One of his contemporaries was Felix Mendelssohn. Felix was the most popular composer of the day – this burned Wagner up because he worked so hard on his ridiculously long pieces… No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t compete. What’s a filthy old anti-semite to do? Oh yeah, write a hit piece after Mendelssohn dies.
Felix Mendelssohn died in 1847, he was only 38. Rotten Wagner, three years after Mendelssohn’s death, published an anonymous piece entitled “Judaism in Music” in which he asserted that Jews weren’t intelligent enough to create great music. The sad part was that many Germans believed it.
Why is it that bigots can’t win unless they play dirty tricks? Remember when you ever hear any of his music, and you’ll probably only ever hear this one, that it was written by an ignorant bigot.
Yesterday morning, I was listening to a somewhat local classic rock station – something that I rarely do for many reasons. The number one reason is that morning radio is always terrible. It’s a black hole of sad, tasteless, humorless talk (though they think they’re funny…) mixed with music that is at least 15 or so years old and was on the top 40 charts (which doesn’t mean it’s good! I’ll get back to this one later.). I realized some things while suffering through this ordeal.
First of all, the DJs are total idiots. They relayed a news story about a man with “dark, pock-marked skin” who robbed the CVS pharmacy of prescription painkillers at gunpoint. A story about a broken man who, when caught, will spend time in jail paying for his crime instead of being healed of the affliction that would cause a person to commit the crime. The DJs, who are both white, proceeded to use the story to be funny… They failed. The two turned on their best caricature voices of black gangsters and with the remarkably unfunny radio play that followed they accomplished two things. First, they made me want to destroy my radio. Second, they perpetrated a negative stereotype that erroneously places black culture beneath white culture. Granted, they are so stupid, they could never understand that, and if you ever called them racist, I imagine they would argue that you were just overreacting, they’re complete idiots…
The fact remains that in our society, there is rampant oppression, and episodes like this only serve to strengthen it while downplaying its importance. I don’t believe, however, that it’s only people of color, people of different religions, women, or the LGBT community that are oppressed. Though that is just about everyone (!), I think it’s a little bigger than that, and without realizing it, the white men on the radio are also oppressed. Because they enjoy more benefits from the system of oppression itself, they allow themselves to be used as tools to carry out this oppression. Our schools are part of the problem. The system we have in place right now perpetrates the same oppression and racism. We need a critical pedagogy to address the oppression directly, not just for those of us who are oppressed, but also for the perceived oppressor. As an oppressed class, the “oppressor” needs to be freed as well or the seeds of oppression won’t die.
To learn more about critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire is a great place to start. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a brilliant work which “attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate.”