Last week, Dick Cheney, Robert Mueller, Donald Rumsfeld, and,
for all I know, Willard Scott once again warned of modern-day threats to
America. Meanwhile, a piece by the Washington Post's David Segal
inadvertently reminded us of a time when our primary foe was communism and
not a few journalists were oblivious to the wretched nature of this
Segal, who covers pop music and really oughtn't wander far from
that genre, earned his Useful Idiot Award with a May 22 article that dealt
cluelessly and flippantly with Oakland-based communist rapper Raymond
(Boots) Riley, who leads an outfit called the Coup. Plenty of critics, Segal
among them, chose the Coup's "Party Music" as one of last year's best
Riley is politically noxious. He refers to this country as the
"United Snakes," believes that "the American flag ... stands for oppression,
slavery and murder," and asserts that before the state-controlled economic
system he desires is achieved, "there's going to be a fight from the people
who traditionally maintain profits, and it's not only going to be a fight of
words ... It's going to be a fight where people are attacked."
A year ago, Riley intended the cover for "Party Music" to depict
him setting off an explosion and fire at the World Trade Center as "a
metaphor for destroying capitalism -- where the music is making capitalist
towers blow up." The artwork was shelved in the wake of the Sept. 11
atrocities, a bow in favor of sensitivity but an act of hypocrisy
nonetheless. The terrorists behind 9/11 shared Riley's hatred for the
American system, only their actions showed the real-life consequences of
Yet Segal repeatedly declares that he finds Riley's work
amusing. He calls the WTC cover art "jokey" and a bit later describes a
track called "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO" as "tongue-in-cheek." In his
most elaborate encomium to Riley's supposed wit, Segal states, "Most
radicals are insufferably dull and humorless. Riley, on the other hand,
sells communism not just as a way to seize the means of production but also
as a shortcut to the all-night dance bash of your dreams ... Riley thinks
Bolshevism can be a hoot, and even if you consider that cockamamie, his
attempts at persuasion are wry and winningly subversive."
Suggested summer reading for Mr. Segal: "The Gulag Archipelago."
"Genuine pariahs are now a rarity in pop music," Segal
salivates, "and the Coup is among the very last ... If nothing else,
[Riley's] agitprop rap expands the surprisingly narrow bandwidth of what is
deemed outrageous these days, which is what pop at its tweaking best often
In truth, Riley is anything
but a pariah,
what with critics like Segal lauding him. And only someone thoroughly
ignorant on the subject could suggest that communism "tweaks." It doesn't.
It brutalizes, with tens of millions of its murdered victims its global
"'Party Music' looks like it will be one of those peculiar
triumph-fiascoes of art in the tradition of 'Citizen Kane,'" prophesizes
Segal, "a work hailed by critics that failed in the marketplace and then
vanished from sight, at least for a while."
Thank God the public isn't as jaw-droppingly naive as Segal, who
took part in a chat on the Post's Web site on the day his story ran, and I'm
happy to report that he faced some tough questioning about his enthusiasm
for Riley and the Coup. To someone who sensibly enough noted that both
communism and Nazism are "disgusting," Segal replied, "I see a big
difference between an ideology, like Nazism, which was explicitly genocidal,
and communism, which is not."
In another answer, Segal claimed, "The politics of ['Party
Music'] aren't all that interesting to me," even though downplaying politics
in a discussion of Riley would be equivalent to downplaying food in a
discussion of Julia Child, which is why Segal didn't.
Finally, after someone posted a rundown of death tolls under
Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al and added, "Check out 'The Black Book of
Communism' for the story of communism and its inherent link to genocide,"
Segal wrote, "To be clear, I wouldn't recommend communism for anyone,
Actually, I doubt that many readers thought the piece endorsed
Riley's politics. But in a sense, that would have been preferable to Segal's
elitist, arrogant, too-clever-by-at-least-half approach: It would have
acknowledged that communism matters . One simply cannot
treat as trivial, as "a hoot," this blight on history that remains a malign
and menacing, if diminished, force.
Riley can hang out on the ash heap of history all he wants, but
that doesn't mean Segal should visit him there and make it sound like a
holiday in the sun.