Friday, May 12, 2006
Poptomism v. Rockism For Dummies
One of the great things about going to another country for several days is not being caught up in the noise that is North American popular culture. Yaddadamean?
No urban shockjocks trying to increase market value. No Bush TIA surveillance. No EMP-inspired frothing on rockism and racism.
The last topic inspired this and this in Slate, which line up Slaters John Cook and Jody Rosen against the likes of the mighty Sasha Frere-Jones, Jessica Hopper, and Jane Dark/Josh Clover. (Not a fair fight, if you ask me, but Rosen does get a few punches in, keep reading.)
I have a few things to say, although all you reactionaries can put your knives away, because I have no interest in going back to the Da Capo/Nik Cohn thing. All you funboys and ILMers can relive that circus in cyberspace without me.
For background's sake, I was on the initial EMP Conference planning committee for this year, before bowing out due to ridiculous tour responsibilities. I voted for something having vaguely to do (I think I thought) with the flooding of New Orleans, the looting of Iraq and fighting for and preserving popular music.
Of course, boring earnest old colored me was WAAAY in the minority. It's cool, I was born that way.
Folks chose instead to go with "Guilty Pleasures", which as Rosen nails above, was a topic supercharged to continue this popism vs. rockism critical correction that we've all been living through over the past 5 years or so.
This is an obscure fucking debate, to be sure. So for those of you who want the backstory to O-dub's post, here's your Cliff Notes.
Rockism is the idea that Important Popular Music is created by an elite of Big Statement-Making Heroes who mostly strum guitars, can sing loudly (and/or softly and sometimes for a very looong time), can (quite often) be quite smelly and ugly, and are by definition, mostly white, loved usually by only an elite few, except when they are loved by many, in which case Art has triumphed.
Popism is the idea that Important Popular Music is created by pretty much anyone who manages to get on the Top 40, who may or may not strum guitars, may or may not sing (loudly, softly, or well), can (quite often) be very nice to look at, and are by definition, mostly not white, loved by the masses, except when they are not, in which case their promotional/payola budgets haven't kicked in yet.
How race came into it is when hip-hop started taking over both critical and popular discourse in the mid-90s. Before that, Rockists didn't like rap. That was the Black music that didn't deserve to be taken seriously, just like all the other Black musics before it. Then Rockists figured out that there were rappers who might really be Rockers, in the sense that they were really Important, like, say, Public Enemy. Afterwards rappers could be Rockists too.
But then there was a backlash, especially when rap became really Popular. Then a whole buncha Cultural Studies-trained critics could argue that Popularity was what made music Important. And the road to taking Britney Spears seriously now looked like the 405--jammed with much excessive honking and several bloody accidents.
So now that the Poptomists have triumphed (K. Sanneh at the Times, Sasha at the New Yorker, and Blender Magazine surely denote triumph, yes?), Rockism is becoming the new Anti-Rockism.
Here John Cook represents the old folks that want their Rock back. Sad breed, them. They missed the levelling postmodern and multiculturalist critiques of the 80s, apparently. It's gut-check time for them, and sadly, Kurt Cobain is dead, the Alarm broke up a long time ago, and the White Stripes may be about to, too. (But seriously though, que viva Billy Bragg.)
Jody Rosen represents the Pop folks who think they might want their Rock back. Confused and mostly unemployed, they are. iPods killed the album stars, and as for the folks who want to write about all that? Well, we've all been downsized by New Times to 50-words or less, nice work if you can get it.
Will the EMP do "Cohesive 60+ Minute Statements" or "Come On Guys, Please, Rockism Isn't Racist We Promise" next year as another correction? Will music journalists continue to be laughably out of touch with the real world, both in terms of interests and representation?
You can stay tuned. I don't care.
-Gallery of Rockism by Scott Woods
-Origins of Totalitarianism by Josh Clover
posted by Zentronix @ 12:11 PM
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