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Anat Ben-David

Virtual Leisure

(Chicks on Speed; US: 8 Jul 2008; UK: 2 Jun 2008)

Yes, you have a sense of humor, no?

Like any good performance artist, Anat Ben-David likes to put it in your face. She makes music that confronts the listener on a number of levels. She spews venomous lyrics in a variety of absurd accents and loud inflections. The electronic accompaniment veers from metal on metal noise to quasi-classical bombast. Even the cover art demands attention. She pulls up her shirt, sticks out her tits, and writes the title in marker on her naked chest.


Ben-David also has a great sense of humor. Consider the title of this disc. The notion of virtual leisure deserves self-reflexive pondering. As we spend more and more time in an electronically mediated existence (aren’t you reading this on the internet?), what do concepts like “sitting in my brain”, as Ben-David puts it in the song “Ikea”, mean? We kind of know and normalize these concepts, as we accept the irony inherent in any kind of virtual leisure. It’s the real thing, not, umm, yes?


The song “Virtual Leisure” begins with what sounds like a church choir singing over a pounding drum beat and then turns into a prayer of despair about the dark, empty space that exists between the actual and virtual worlds. So many of the connections people make suffer from the ephemeral nature of communication over distances. Ben-David also comments about the violent pleasures that many get online, machine guns that only kill things on a screen, and so on. Everything in life becomes a game, which doesn’t lessen the emotional impact it may have on us.


Ben-David uses parody to make her points, so it’s hard to know what she takes seriously. She gleefully takes on middle-class food consumption, lesbian bikers, city life, having fun, modern art, and other disparate subjects with her tongue in cheek. Her values are reactionary in the sense that she criticizes what exists, rather than praise much of the rest or propose solutions.  There’s merit in identifying problems that we may not even recognize exist. For example, Ben-David deliciously probes the inherent dangers of eating healthily in “Poor R Fat”: certain types of behaviours create class differences and lead to critical differences between those who can afford certain diets and those who can’t. “It’s not insane. It’s you or them,” she rants. The way to get more out of life is to blame others for their problems.


And there’s the dilemma when “We’re Having a Good Time”, as hooking up requires mindless hedonism. There’s always danger when we stop using our brain, but would you rather think than party? Having fun becomes an excuse to be stupid: drink, dance, take drugs, and pet the dog.  Beneath her critique, Ben-David knows that an inherent sweetness causes us to take chances. Let’s face it. It would be easy for her to smarmily say pet the pussy and go for a cheap double entendre, but Ben-David knows that having a good time is a good thing, even as she criticizes the conventional way people go about it at bars and dance clubs.


Anat Ben-David’s stridency may seem offputting at first, but her goals are clear. She wants to create a community by pointing out what separates us from getting together as human beings. Her creative efforts may be shocking, but sometimes that’s what it takes to make us realize our shared humanity.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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