I am loath to even broach a topic that Damon Young nearly mastered and that everyone else tediously exhausted, except that it gives me another chance to return to the well that is Tim Tebow. That topic is Macklemore’s “White Privilege II,” your new favorite punching bag.
Let me get the obvious out of the way: “White Privilege II” is a clumsy, stilted mess. At nine minutes long, it is an overwrought exploration of Macklemore’s place in this country as a white male rapper. It is painfully earnest. It is frustratingly redundant. It is comically artless. I want Macklemore to churn out 15 more in the same vein and call it “Trapped in the Pantry,” because debacles and outrage happen to be my top two entertainment genres.
It is honestly a pitiful listen, because you suspect Macklemore is being as genuine as he can muster. It is overly apologetic to the point of awkwardness. “White Privilege II” should be buoyed by the aw-shucks tuba theme from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And yet the track is absolutely infuriating to a large group of people already infuriated at Macklemore in general. The core of that frustration is the hype that continues to follow the Seattle artist. That is why I believe Tim Tebow has finally found his perfect double in Ben Haggerty, AKA Macklemore.
As you probably know, Tim Tebow is a very decorated football player who was not quite good enough to be a reliable NFL quarterback. He won two national college championships and one NFL postseason game armed with nothing but good leadership and a goofy arm. By all accounts, he is nothing but a quality dude, a really hard worker who doesn’t quite have the stuff for the pros.
And yet for about two years, you couldn’t find a more polarizing NFL figure. He was outrageously overestimated by fans who swore by the twin banners of useless intangibility: “leadership” and “athleticism.” Skip Bayless used Tebow’s name as a brand new bucket of shit to sling all over sports punditry. And fans in Denver and New York chanted for him to be brought off the bench.
Real football fans and sharp football minds were confounded and incensed. They knew Tebow couldn’t play, yet they faced an indomitable wall of hype. Tim Tebow became their whipping boy. The uninformed or sometimes just plain mischievous aggrandized him, but Tebow himself that became the direct object of ire. He became the face of football ignorance.
Macklemore, also, probably doesn’t deserve to be on the stages he occupies. He probably doesn’t deserve the four Grammys on his mantle. And devoted hip hop fans are confounded and incensed. Add to that the cultural and racial identification of the hip hop genre and you’re not only upsetting a system of meritocracy, you’re also grinding down on the bare nerve of racial tragedy in the United States of America.
Let’s put aside the stupidity of all arts award shows or the fact that subjectivity eliminates any possibility of a meritocratic music scene. Macklemore’s profile, career earnings and continued presence present a perpetual irritant to critics and discerning fans. But whose fault is that except a sea of faceless, nameless consumers? You can strike back against generalities, but critics and much of the public have found it easier to make Macklemore their scapegoat.
That’s not true of all critics. Many acknowledge Macklemore’s failed earnestness on “White Privilege II” and point toward both its ironic reinforcement of Mr. Haggerty’s privilege and its sincere attempt to start the right kind of conversations. Mostly it serves as a way for writers to get some needed mileage during slow days. I know I am. Through it all, a picture of Macklemore serves as the backdrop, an effigy we can use to work out our frustrations about racial divides, white rappers and social injustice.
This will continue until Macklemore is no longer popular. That will surely happen within five years. Critics have made other suggestions, including that Macklemore just quit making music. But those border on the absurd, demanding a self-awareness and sacrifice of someone that you would never demand of yourself. When was the last time someone asked you to give up a well-paid opportunity doing something about which you were ostensibly passionate? No, this will just work itself out in Macklemore’s case. And we’ll move onto the next scapegoat and the next until we finally find one that can bear the awful weight of this country’s inhumanity.