Off to Minneapolis

Phil Ford

A grab bag of things today:

1. A fascinating article in TNR on the dissonance between Burkean conservatism and movement conservatism in American politics by Sam Tanenhaus, whose biography on Whittaker Chambers is one of the best books on cold war politics ever written.  

2. Maybe I'm the only person who reads The Onion's AV Club more regularly than The Onion itself. I love the smart thinking and writing on pop culture that finds a home there — the kind of writing that, at its best, treats contemporary pop culture as an immensely rich, endlessly absorbing total system of meaning and reference. (Which is exactly what it is.) Every now and then they have a kind of symposium on some question of cultural import, the most recent of which is, What are your pop-culture "sacred cows"? This elicited one of my favorite pop-cult-crit paragraphs from Tasha Robinson:

But what I absolutely can't stand, and what puts me into a fighting mood faster than anything else, is people blanket-dismissing an entire genre or subculture or area of effort, especially with the always, always, always-uninformed "I'm not interested in that stuff because it's all the same." So here's my pop-culture sacred-cow statement: Every genre is deep, nuanced, complicated, and diverse to its knowledgeable fans. That doesn't mean every genre is for all tastes. You don't have to like industrial or classical or conscious rap or Chicago blues or Beat poetry or fantasy novels or reality TV or whatever else. You aren't even obligated to try them, much less to make the effort to immerse yourself in them enough to tell the classics and the keepers from the trash. Life is short, the world is big and full, and there's nothing wrong with walking away from things that don't speak to you. But people who get snotty or self-righteous about it, as though their personal tastes reflect some sort of immutable reality, steam the hell out of me. Ignorance isn't attractive, but saying "I've never really gotten into [Westerns, opera, FPS games, whatever], and I'm not really interested" isn't nearly as ignorant as lumping together every example of a genre as unnuanced and unworthy. People who do sound exactly like caricatures of '50s parents, squawking about how Elvis and The Beatles are all just stupid noise.

3. I'm doing a talk as a part of the University of Minnesota School of Music academic area convocation this weekend. It's a new version of my Holmes acetates talk (another version of which I did at AMS this year). 

There it is. See you when I get back.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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5 Responses to Off to Minneapolis

  1. Wrongshore says:

    Re: #2., you are not the only person.

  2. Ben Wolfson says:

    Especially of late.

  3. MJ says:

    That Chambers bio is one of my favorite books — next to Witness.

  4. Ralph Locke says:

    I love that paragraph from Tasha Robinson. I would add that there is a particular tendency among many middle-agers (I turn 60 in a month, and am wondering when middle age ends!) to be particularly derisive about the popular music of today. Our lodestar is, of course, the popular music of our own young years–the very music (in my case Elvis, the Beatles, and so on) that our parents thought could not hold a candle to the popular music of _their_ youth.
    But, yes, there is an increasing tendency to claim that “it all sounds the same”–which was not, as I recall, a particular mantra of our parents when dismissing “Hound Dog” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
    That remark about sounding the same was often heard when a Westerner would encounter, say, gagaku, or (I’m told) when certain non-Westerners would encounter Western classical music. (Someone from India, the story went, thought that a whole concert of orchestral music sounded like nothing but marches, because the rhythm and phrase structure were so square.) But I find it sad that such a comment has become quasi-normative _within_ North America, as if our various streams of music making are becoming mutually incomprehensible to their respective publics.
    Our parents never claimed (as I recall) that they couldn’t understand Elvis or the Beatles nor (as I said) that they couldn’t tell one song from another. They understood the songs all right! They felt threatened by them, feared the impact of the music and works on their children. The music was understood as being absolutely part of their culture, but a part that they abhorred and resisted.
    Today we tend to feel free to just lop something off and say it’s worthless (and undifferentiated). This is trivializing and, on an intellectual level, cowardly, and, as Tasha and Phil point out, willfully ignorant.

  5. Jonathan says:

    A friend, a musicologist I respect deeply, once archly responded this way to a comment I made about writing an article about a rock genre (Raga Rock): “Well, if you can tell any difference between the stuff . . . ” I recall the same from my parents’ generation–not only that it was undifferentiated noise but that it was “caterwauling” (my own parents, in that case). I am particularly sensitive when I feel myself beginning to make similar remarks, and cork them. We all mouth variations on de gustibus non est disputandum, but scratch our surfaces and we feel self-righteous about our own tastes. The human condition, probably.

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