Just Ludacris Enough — Outline for my IASPM talk Friday 3/14/14

I’m giving a talk Friday 3/14/14 at the IASPM-US conference in Chapel Hill. Here is the outline from which I’ll be speaking. You can use it to follow along if you’re there, or to peek at some ongoing research if you can’t attend.

Here’s the abstract/intro: 

I use the image of the cresting wave, which is repeatedly featured in Ludacris’s 2012 video “Rest of My Life” and in DVBBS/Bourgeous/Tinie Tempah’s 2014 “Tsunami”, as a metaphor for unpacking the neoliberal ethos elaborated in the song’s lyrics: living life on the edge, transgressing just enough but not too much. This ethos is, I argue, an updated version of the ancient Greek concept of harmony as sophrosyneBoth ancient Greeks and neoliberals organize society harmonically; however, they each understand “harmony” differently: for the ancient Greeks, harmony is measured geometrically, as proportion; for the neoliberals, harmony is measured acoustically, as a wave-form. Ancient Greek sophrosyne (aka moderation or self-mastery) was a practice of keeping one’s mind and one’s body in proportion, of making the mind the master of the body. Neoliberal sophrosyne (moderation, self-mastery) is a technique for maintaining peak accelerationism—that is, for pushing everything as far as it can go before crashing down to the point of diminishing returns. It’s a method for “riding the crest of burnout” (as I put it in my article in The New Inquiry.)

After I flesh out the differences between ancient Greek and neoliberal concepts of harmony, I will use a reading of Ludacris’s video—and, if I have time, DVBBS/Borgeous/Tinie Tempah’s “Tsunami”—to translate between neoliberal concepts of harmony into political practices and ideals. Acoustic concepts of “balance” ground neoliberal concepts of both subjectivity and the state; the latter, I argue, works like an audio equalizer, constantly regulating dynamic flows of noise/signal. Part of this involves inciting individual subjects to go “just Ludacris enough,” or “just Gaga enough”—making enough noise to require re-balancing, but not so much that it blows the speakers, so to speak. The “Rest of My Life” video suggests that race, or rather, whiteness, determines the line between enough and too much: only the noises that can be filtered through whiteness can be re-balanced into signal, because a mix is balanced when it produces peak white supremacy.