On aspiration, or what RMR can teach us about the fine line between humour and horror.

On aspiration, kicking off with my boy Tyler Cowen interviewing my new favourite lady, Agnes Callard:i

Cowen: You give an example of a parent maybe having an aspiration in a particular way, but a gangster cannot have an aspiration in a similar way?
Callard: […] Sometimes people value things that aren’t valuable. People make mistakes in valuing. I thought if aspiration is the acquisition of value, you could acquire false values as well as true ones, and we want to tell the story of how you do that. But as I was writing [Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming] and I tried to tell that story, I kept on not being able to tell it. I tried to use the example of the gangster, someone who aspires to become a gangster. And the problem that I ran into was that when I would describe the process of the person becoming a gangster, I couldn’t find a way to specify that what was going on there was aspiration as opposed to a phenomenon I wanted to distinguish from aspiration called ambition. When you’re ambitious, you’re not trying to come to value something new. You’re just trying to satisfy desires or values you already have but that are maybe large in scale. Every time I’d tell the story of the aspiring gangster, I found that it could equally well be read as the story of the ambitious gangster, and there was no way to specify the difference, whereas I didn’t have that kind of problem when I talked about the aspiring student. […] Let me put it this way: If we see someone, we only count them as aspiring if we think that the thing they’re moving towards is, in fact, good. We wouldn’t call it aspiration otherwise. […] It’s part of my view that people can’t aspire to something without knowing that they aspire to it. Aspiration has to be as transparent as it can be, given that you only have a partial grasp. […] I think that aspiration is mimetic, but I don’t think it’s crudely. I just think it is mimetic. […] Aspiration is itself a theory of change, and of how we become someone. But that theory is in a way secondary. The primary theory is going to have to be like, “What’s it like to be someone? What’s the theory of the endpoint of aspiration?” That’s what I haven’t given, though there are many theories of that that are incompatible with aspiration. Those theories, I’ve refuted, I think.

Which brings us neatly to one of the “scariest” new players on the hip-hop/rap country-trap scene. In some ways an endarkened, ski-masked version of fellow genre-busting musician Water Malone, with all of the same adorably self-depricating sense of humour, if somewhat less of a knack for self-promotion, RMR is a fascinatingly Margielian figure, keen to keep his name, age, and background a mystery so that his art can speak for itself.

So what’s RMR’s message, you ask? What’s he conveying in so many twangy, tenored bars? “Fuck12” is a big part of it. Racism is another. Anonymity too. The beauty of juxtaposition, of course. That country music can be other than a complete yawn-fest isn’t to be ignored either.ii And yet when I showed “RASCAL” to The Girl, she thought he was “scary,”iii whereas I couldn’t stop laughing, smiling, watching, and rewatching this video. Now, she’s not as well versed in thug lyf as I am, seeing mostly the odd glimmers that I obtusely project, but her blinders also missed a young man with aspirations, if not ambitions.

But why not ambitions, like the gangster he portrays? Because RMR clearly has no has no idea where the fuck he’s going but he knows he’s going up. That, as Callard so eloquently points out, is exactly the difference. Aspiration is directional, not specific. RMR is therefore more like Ye and less like Fiddy, meaning the country-trapper might even be a Trojan Horse. He’s certainly looking strong out of the gates.iv

RMR, then, isn’t a gangster at all, and certainly isn’t anything to recoil from. He’s just not that kind of spring. And that’s something to celebrate.

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  1. Interview archived. It’s worth listening to the audio recording. I love the way Agnes speaks. Super intelligent, whip quick, laser precise, but with plenty of youthful affectation (ums, like, etc.), which I find actually enhances her appeal whereas it detracts from almost every other single fucking person who talks like they never graduated from suburban high school. But when you’re smart enough to pick apart and rip apart Eric Weinstein, and she is, you can talk however the fuck you want and get away with it.
  2. This point about the generally humdrum nature of country music is a low-key coup-de-grâce that most critics will miss but I certainly can’t, being that I live in country-music-country and have never found the lackadaisical genre useful for anything other than auditory tinsel and social lubricant at Calgary Stampede.
  3. Not as in “scary because he’s black and has gold teeth” but more “scary like an ISIS fighter,” which I can see, but is still a disappointing reaction for such a disruptive and delightful artist. But hey, de gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum!  
  4. Not unlike Rich Chigga. Even though RC weakly changed his name to “Rich Brian” like two months after my blog post. Go figure.

2 thoughts on “On aspiration, or what RMR can teach us about the fine line between humour and horror.

  1. Mitchell Callahan says:

    Lmao, that RMR video is epic. It’s been on repeat since you shared it!

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