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When Preaching to the Choir Isn’t Enough

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So, there’s a big deal being made over this Norwegian rap group, Gatas Parliament.

Basically, IFILM has posted what claims to be a music video the Norwegian government has banned for advocating direct violent action against the George Bush. Evidentially these fellows have been trying to raise money to hire a hitman to assassinate the president. They’ve had a bunch of Web sites devoted to the project and have been rather outspoken in the Scandinavian press regarding their disdain for Bush.

In any case, I checked out the video, which I will get to later. First, a bit about the band.

The following is my own poor (it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been around det norske spraaket) English translation of Gatas Parlament’s biography, as posted on their Web site (I have added parenthetical translations for several names):

Gatas Parlament (or Street Parliament) is a revolutionary Norwegian-language rap group from Oslo’s Eastside consisting of Elling Batman Zedong, Aslak and Don Martin. But it wasn’t always so.

Well, to be precise, it began in about the same way.

Once, in 1993, Elling had rapped a bit for himself, but grew tired of not having anybody to perform for so he got his brother Aslak to join in. After they grew tired of listening to each other, they decided to start a band. The band was called Kveldens Hoedepunkt (or The Evening’s High Point). In about ten minutes.

Then Elling and Aslak realized that they also needed a DJ. Don Martin was the natural choice. Don Martin didn’t actually want to, but said yes when they promised to get rid of the idiotic name Kveldens Høydepunkt.

The next day the three young gentlemen got together in a plaza in Oslo’s east side to throw eggs and rotten tomatoes at Carl I. Hagen, who was trying to hold a speech. After having taken in enough rotten vegetables, Hagan said that it was the Street Parliament that controlled the country. With that, the name was set. The first Gatas Parlament release was called Autobahn til Union and lamented the fact that Norway refused to join the E.U.

Things went smoothly after that. Autobahn til Union was initially slated to be produced by a longhaired, though nice, gentleman named Dr. Akbar. But after the disk was finished, the Gatas-gentlemen learned that Akbar had a couple of reservations, both aesthetic and religious in nature, so collaboration was impossible.

As a wounded and depressed man with a rejection in hand, Dr. Akbar saw no other way out than to begin making films about the evil in the world. At this point, he started the film club Spis De Rike (or Eat the Rich) (the observant reader will discover here that fate called again a little later, but out of consideration for the rest of our story, we’ll have to cool it with that).

Thus, the record was on the free agent market again. Don Martin wanted to produce a bit, but out of fear of becoming a monopoly, they had to find someone else. One beautiful autumn evening in Kongsvinger, while Olympic trial runs went on outside (it’s a fact!), they found Jester. He was rather wack, as he rapped with an American accent instead of in English, which was unheard of at the time. But anyway. He showed that he could both produce and rap and, furthermore, could do sound and drink cocoa, so he had to join.

Jester’s first contribution in gatas-history was on the EP, Slaa Tilbake (or Fight Back), which was released in 1996. He produced a bit while getting contacts that could get the band into a very religious studio which wasn’t a place unknown to the brothers Elling and Aslak. Harald not only resembled Jesus, he could also do sound like a god. In fact, Slaa Tilbake is a damn good disk that everyone with respect for Norwegian hip-hop history should listen to all day while they send us money. All this time, Gatas Parlament used to play insane gigs around Norway. SOS Racisme’s many local chapters, especially, got the honor of our regular visits and for no money, but Roed Ungdom (Red Youth), Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) and a bunch of recreation clubs and the like had hundreds of shows. Natur og Ungdom proved to be so fond of Gatas that they wanted to release our stuff. A single called Naturkraft (Naturepower) was released and quickly slashed (our first TV news coverage, yo). Everyone was happy, especially because of the B-side of the single, namely the classic Nesevise.

After that, everyone began making Norwegian rap. Ayayay.

So, that’s more or less the tone the band chooses to present itself in. It is a flawed translation, but it should serve its purpose for non-Norwegian speakers reading up on the band.

Anyway, it would seem to me that the band has a tongue or two firmly planted in a cheek or two. Secondly, they say absolutely nothing new. I mean it’s a really dumbed-down version of Michael Moore, who is himself a dumbed-down version of Jello Biafra who is, in turn, something of a dumbed down version of Noam Chomsky.

Honestly, just how much influence can a Norwegian-language rap band have? I mean, even if we include all of Scandinavia and several million foreigners with knowledge of the languages spoken there, we barely have, what, 20 million or so people who could possibly understand the lyrics, let alone care about them.

Furthermore, who hasn’t heard complaints about American cultural and political imperialism? Seriously, most Americans hate it too. It’s not like Fahrenheit 9/11 didn’t say the same stuff.

So, what’s disturbing about the video, in the end, is that its music that could theoretically influence young, impressionable Norwegians to rise up against Americans, right? That it advocates shooting a political leader? That it says people should dance when the U.S. flag burns? I mean, really, if you watch CNN long enough you’ll see a U.S. flag on fire with a cabal of anti-Americans dancing around the flaming Stars and Stripes. Does it make it okay?

Well, I don’t know. But here’s the thing: anybody who takes Gatas Parlament seriously probably wouldn’t have the brains to actually do anything even remotely threatening to Bush. If anything, the controversy banning the video has sparked is more damaging than a bunch of buffoons prancing about Old Kristiania as if it were Compton.

Now, did anyone try to kill the Swedish royal family after listening to Ebba Gron’s “Bevapna Er”? No. Why not? Because anyone who would do such a thing wouldn’t need music to tell them to do so.

Seriously, bands have been saying shit like this for years. From “Cop Killer” to MDC and on and on.

Regardless, I think what Gatas says is pretty damn stupid. I also think that’s why they say what they do – it’s an attention-getting deal.

Really, pop-anti-Americanism is so ubiquitous right now that anyone liable to agree with Gatas, in all likelihood, already thinks what they do. I mean, seriously, all they really say in the video is “America invades lots of countries. We hate them for that. Stupid old men run the country.” Basically the sort of thing Mother Jones says.

Now, the obvious sticking point is the whole crosshairs on the president thing. Okay. I see why that would piss people off. I mean, advocating the murder of anyone is horrible, but, as I have already said, consider the source. I mean, you can’t make rappers any less relevant than Gatas Parlament. They speak to an exceptionally small population, the vast majority of whom live thousands of miles away from the U.S.

And here’s the thing. Is a Norwegian rap group advocating the assasination of a world leader truly scarier than Ike backing the murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo? Really, which do you think had more clout?

Basically, the video isn’t pleasant. I totally understand why people would be bothered by it, but I think people should also recognize that giving the band the publicity it has been getting is a bigger problem. Stale anti-Americanism will do nothing; if left alone Gatas Parlament will fade into oblivion, played once in a while and promptly forgotten. However, giving them the attention they’re receiving as a result of a vapid music video does highlight their disturbing image, giving the band a currency it never would have had otherwise. Honestly, if we stop paying attention, Paris Hilton, the Olson Twins, Gatas Parlament, and other such crap will fade away. Think, what happened to Andrew Dice Clay when people stopped blushing at dick jokes?

Gatas Parlament isn’t the problem. They’re self-important people with a very, very old message. Nothing they say, including the murder-for-hire bit, hasn’t been said a thousand times before by considerably more eloquent people. They’re little more than an annoying curio.

If anyone is moved to action by something as petty and immature as the Gatas video, they were well on the path already. If someone is angry or unbalanced enough to do anything remotely like what Gatas (supposedly) advocates, a music video won’t set them over the edge.

Now, one big issue this raises is this: U.S. foreign policy has fucked some things up pretty badly and people are pissed. Gatas Parlament, then, does little more than translate into rythmic Norwegian what many people around the world have been saying for years: Iraq is a war of aggression. The Americans overstepped boundaries and W. spearheaded a lot of it.

It comes down to free speech again. Does Gatas’s message really pose a threat? No. There’s certainly more threat from certain religious and political groups saying the same thing. If there’s anything history has taught us, though, it is that the repression of an artist often backfires, even if the artist happens to be completely unoriginal and devoid of taste.

Gatas Parlament advocates an ugly thing. I think most people would see what they say as extreme, silly, or both and leave it at that. Certainly, many people will agree, on some level, that U.S. government and foreign policy has been pretty bad and many will feel that the president has a lot to do with the direction things have gone. These people will nod or smirk at the video and leave it at that.

The video is annoying. It promotes prejudicial hatred towards an entire nation, but this, too, is nothing new. And I think most people will understand that.

I think it’s more a matter of better-left-unsaid. Gatas Parlament should have had the good sense to keep their mouths shut; catchy though the song may be, they reveal that they are little more than boogie boarders on the wave of anti-Americanism. Before we worry about the doggie-paddling Gatas boys, let’s worry about the cause of that tsunami.


Originally published at www.sobriquetmagazine.com.

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  • Erik,

    I posted your news to Advance.net which collectively is read by hundreds of thousands per week. The link there is just to the Cleveland site.