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Drunk in Jerusalem

A couple of days ago I came across this article about a recent press junket in Israel. Apparently ten reporters from magazines like Stuff, Paper, and Urb, and websites like MTV Urge, were flown to Israel to experience Jerusalem’s pop culture firsthand. The idea was to generate some positive publicity for the country, and, in the words of one of the trip’s organizers, to build an image of the region that is “not just conflict related.” As such, American reporters were invited to dine out, drink at trendy hot spots in Tel Aviv, check out performing arts centers, rub elbows with Israel reality TV stars, and get up on Israeli hip-hop.

Obviously, as with all junkets, this trip catered to a specific agenda and was engineered to produce a specific type of experience.

What’s interesting to me about this junket is the belief that it’s based on—one it seems the journos weren’t buying, by the way—that a country’s pop culture can exist in isolation from its political landscape.

This is a basic public relations/tourism strategy that’s employed in all sorts of different contexts, and isn’t remarkable in itself. What makes it worth talking about is that the premise runs counter to how global music and culture is currently covered in the mainstream North American press.

The general consensus in international music reporting (and hip-hop in particular) is to explore the country’s music solely through the lens of its politics. Pretty much every article ever written on international hip-hop trots out the same tired-ass cliché that hip-hop outside the U.S. is inherently serious and political.

As if international hip-hop has to be the soundtrack to pain and suffering. As if people who are struggling can’t be complex human beings; as if they don’t have any other facets to their lives. As if people in volatile societies never make music to get their flirt on to, or get down to, or get stupid drunk to. As if all songs ever recorded abroad have to mean something important.

In my view, the media has got to find some middle ground here. There has got to be a way of exploring global music without either focusing relentlessly on its ties to politics or sweeping harsh realities under the rug.

There’s got to be a way to view culture outside North America in all of its complexity—allowing for the everyday as well as the extraordinary, the personal as well as the political, the joy as well as the tragedy. Something beyond either fetishizing political music or pretending music is totally divorced from politics.

It’ll be interesting to see how the reporters on this particular junket navigate that terrain.

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