Wednesday, June 04, 2008 by Wow Jones
Here’s an article/profile/interview with Armond White where he talks about his book and his career. Keep in mind that this article was published in 1995. If interested, purchase a new or used copy of The Resistance: Ten Years Of Pop Culture That Shook The World.
“There Oughta Be A Book: City Sun Arts Critic Armond White Pens The Resistance ” by Herb Boyd
The City Sun, November 29-December 5, 1995
Say the name Armond white in New York City’s art, film and music circles and there is an immediate reaction. Either he’s an acerbic, vindictive, iconoclastic misfit whose opinions should be relegated to the puke bucket, or his views are welcomed and relished and he’s lauded for his courage to go against received opinion. There is no gray area. And White would have it no other way.
“I think I stand alone as a critic who is not afraid to look deeply into a work of art“, said White, during a recent interview. “Most critics don’t care as much as I do, and that may be one reason for the kind of reaction I receive.” Among his staunchest supporters are those who realize that his opinions are his own and leave it at that. They also view him as a serious thinker, and one not afraid to stand apart from the herd. “I may be alone, but I am emboldened by friends and relatives and a number of people I meet who offer their encouragement, ” White noted.
Even so, he gets his share of calls and letters from people who strongly differ with his reviews of artistic products by mainstream icons like Spike Lee, Eddie Murphy, Dr. Dre and others.
“Readers should understand that none of this is personal,” White explained. “I try to give a work of art my full consideration, and it makes no difference who the artist is. And that’s a sign of respect. Those who contend that I’m predisposed to pan a film by (Spike) Lee or (Eddie) Murphy are just not aware of my body of work, because there have been times that I have praised them.
“I thought Spike’s Do The Right Thing was a good film and I said so, ” White continued, “But the others have been junk. And Murphy, while his intentions are noble in Harlem Nights and Boomerang, his only good film is Another 48 Hours. Lee, Murphy or anyone else must know that I’m not a shill. I try to be honest to criticism.”
And white takes care to invest his opinions with rigorous thought and concern. “Art means too much for me to look at it superficially,” he said. “Criticism is a form of art, a piece of personal expression that I don’t toss off lightly. When I do my criticism well, I am practicing art, too.”
The conflation of critic and artist is as easy for White as solving major paradoxes that figure so prominently in his own career. While a graduate student in the School of Arts at Columbia University in the early 1980s, White expressed a demand for courses on D.W. Griffith, a racist filmmaker of no significance to most aware Black students.
“Yes, Griffith was a racist,” White asserted, “But that does not obviate the fact that he was a great filmmaker. Artists don’t have to be good people, nor do they have to be smart. And to state that Griffith is great is not to limit it to the various technical innovations for which he’s credited. His film Birth Of A Nation is an insightful study of the conditions facing the white working class. However, when the race issues come up, he goes off. This is the film’s hideous flaw.”
That an artist can be both great and racist is a defining paradox for White and it has continually informed his criticism. His assesment of Dr. Dre’s work is a recent example of how he applies this paradox in the world of rap. “Now there is no way you can dismiss Dr. Dre as a talented artist,” he observed. “He is a genius at conveying Black euphoria. At the same time, he possesses a lot of hatred for Black people. In Natural Born Killers, which he did with Ice Cube, he buys into the demonization of Black youth when he asserts that ‘We are natural born killers…’ The music and technique may be grand, but the lyrics are flawed.”
It may be paradoxical, too, that while Black artists comprise the bulk of the major innovators in popular culture, there is a paucity of Black critics. White succinctly explained this disparity:
“First of all, journalism does not welcome Black expression and opinion, and it certainly does not welcome cultivate Black critics. At the heart of this problem is the racism of the industry and the feeling from too many Blacks that to celebrate our achievements is enough.”
NEVER SETTLE FOR LESS
Never one to rest on his laurels, White had been on a steady course of development since those first literary efforts at Central High School in Detroit in the early ’70s. He is proud of his working-class background, and this, he believes, has been most influential in his outlook as a critic and writer.
“I’ve learned over the years to appreciate my Detroit experience,” he said. “More than anything, this working-class background has taught me to never settle for less. Thus, I’m a hard worker who is not overly grateful for anything.”
At Wayne State University, he joined a number of enlightened students at the school’s paper, which had a national reputation for its radical editorial stances.Was he affected by the Marxist-Leninist fervor that pervaded the campus in those days? “Not in a doctrinaire way,” White replied. “What was most beneficial, I think, was being around so many other Black students who were intelligent and wanted to do something serious about changing the status quo.”
It was a most opportune time, and White witnessed the tail end of a vital period of struggle, participated in some of the critical changes and later took advantage of a larger cultural transition that swept the nation in the mid-1980s.
“I arrived in New York in 1984, after a variety of jobs,” White said. “And once again it was propitious, because this was a time when a confluence of events brought about a dramatic change in popular culture. There had been perturbations before, but this was a massive invasion of the mainstream.”
And White quickly found himself in the thick of things, carving a niche at The City Sun where, for nearly a decade, he has been the Arts editor. It is in this capacity that he has ganered a measure of flak –sometimes accused unfairly of hogging the assignments and giving too much attention to film and rap music, while ignoring dance, theater and jazz. “Anyone who knows me,” he said, “is aware of my diversity when it comes to the arts. I tend to write about things I know, and this is something all critics should do.”
Those readers interested in discovering or revisiting some of White’s best articles and his latest uncompromising opinions on music, film and popular culture can find them under one cover in his book, The Resistance–Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook The World (Overlook Press). The resistance theme of the book, which is scheduled for a January release, was inspired by the Black Panthers and the French Resistance during World War II. But, White extends the concept.
“I am only obliquely referring to the Panthers and the French underground movement, ” said White, elaborating on his thesis. “My main contention is that we must resist the hype and received opinion, and offer our own considered response to the advertisment so inextricably tied to market forces.
“Popular culture is created by advertising,” he explained further, “and does not reflect a true response to anything. If I go up against these forces, it is because I’m compelled to keep counsel with my conscience, my sanity. And in doing this, mind you, I’m not trying to tell people what to like and not to like–but to go and think about it.”