Friday, July 31, 2020

About the 1990s

Intriguing research here about the extent to which the teenagers of today recognise, or don’t, the music of the 1990s. “Song decay” is the term Matt Daniels has coined to describe how a track that’s hugely successful at the time of its release fades away – or, more accurately, never gains traction – in the consciousness of successive generations. That said, looking at the list (Phil Collins, Celine Dion, Ace of Base, et al), I’m a tad envious of Generation Z in their blissful ignorance...

Sunday, July 26, 2020

About columnists

A pretty sound analysis of the significance of opinionated columnists to the ecosystem of a newspaper. It was written in 1968, so some of the practical details have changed, but the essential truth still holds, I reckon.
The columnist’s fenced-in but independent thinking gives the whole paper the aura of independent thinking. The columnist’s outrageousness gives the paper the aura of outrageousness. The columnist’s occasional and courageous expression of unpopular ideas gives the paper the aura of courage to express unpopular ideas. By investing in the columnist’s originality, non-conformism, and independent thinking, the publisher pays for appearances – in order to publish his paper not only for profit, in the sense of the classic definition that the press is a business “that produces empty space for advertising which can be financially offset by an editorial section.” If, on occasion, an advertising contract is cancelled because of the views expressed in a column, this is viewed as proof that the paper is nonconformist.
The only awkwardness derives from the identity of the author: the notorious Ulrike Meinhof, who two years later became a founder member of the Rote Armee Fraktion terrorist group.

Friday, July 24, 2020

About Taylor Swift

On spanking new Times Radio, I opine briefly about Taylor Swift’s even newer, knitwear-obsessed offering and the whole surprise album phenomenon just before the 30-minute mark here. It’s quite good, btw. The album, I mean.

PS: Had I been given a few more minutes, I would have suggested that these surprise launches are, to some extent, operating in the same tradition as Banksy and Marc Quinn; the guerrilla tactics become the art and The Thing (mural, statue, album, etc) is a MacGuffin that runs the risk of fading into the background. As I said, I think Folklore is too good to do that. A more considered view from Carl Wilson at Slate.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

About Madonnas (various)

#BlackLivesMatter has prompted an number of entertainers and groups, including Joey Negro, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks to reconsider the propriety of their adopted names. The latest is the Black Madonna, who now prefers to be known as the Blessed Madonna. The DJ (real name Marea Stamper) takes her name from Catholic and Orthodox icons that present the Virgin and Child with dark skin; no word yet as to whether they’ll be changing their names too.

Nor, indeed, whether Stamper will be Blessed much longer, seeing as how one David Adams has set up a petition complaining that her new name is also offensive, but to Christians this time; indeed, he co-opts the language of the BLM protesters, accusing her of cultural appropriation, although since Stamper chose the name in the first place because of her own Catholic upbringing, I’m not sure how that works.

Still, to give Adams his credit, he’s dogged in his pursuit of musical miscreants:
I have contacted Black Sabbath, Madonna, and the Jesus Lizard, but as of yet have had no response.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Thursday, July 16, 2020

About Banksy and Quinn

Two recent events, independent of each other but thematically linked, have prompted mass chin-stroking with regard to the definition and legitimacy of art.

First, Banksy’s mask-related modification of a Tube carriage came and then went, removed by a cleaning crew unaware of its provenance (or, indeed, of its potential monetary value to cash-strapped Transport For London). It’s a sharp reminder that, despite the mystery graffitist’s claim to be the most famous living artist in the country, a huge swathe of the population has no clue who he is or what he does, and presumably cares even less.

And then Marc Quinn, of blood head fame (although, bearing in mind what happened to Banksy, perhaps “fame” should be enveloped in multiple ironic air quotes) replaced the fallen statue of a long-dead slaver with one of the campaigner Jen Reid.

And then, no sooner was the Reid statue up, it was removed again, albeit by direct order of the local council. One could of course argue that the permanence of Banksy’s and Quinn’s pieces is not the point; their surreptitious installations are the real works of art in both cases. And because they are both working in these guerrilla traditions, the worst thing that could happen would be for the graffiti and the statue to be permitted, condoned, recuperated by the authorities. The twin erasures, accidental and then deliberate, represent not the destruction of the art, but its culmination and validation, proving that the graffiti and the statue are both too dangerous to exist.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

About Parler

The new-ish social media site Parler is, according to who you ask, a) an oasis of free speech and a refuge from the woke cancel culture of Twitter or b) a previously uncharted circle of Hell where people compete to demonstrate how much they love Donald Trump. I hate to rely on hearsay, so I actually went and had a look and let’s just say that this is pretty much the most representative post:

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

About cancel

An open letter warning that a culture of public shaming is stifling debate has attracted more attention for the names attached to it than for its content.

Chief among them is, almost inevitably, JK Rowling, whose descent from hero to zero has been more precipitous than that time John Lennon said something apparently disobliging about Jesus and saw his records being burned in the deep South. But other names – Chomsky, Steinem, Rushdie, Amis – will probably prompt blank looks among the millennials and Gen-Z-ers who are propelling the so-called cancel culture that the letter addresses. They know Margaret Atwood for that TV show.

Some of the responses have matched the spirit of the original letter. Emily VanDerWerff, a trans writer at Vox, expressed her regret that one of the founders of the site had signed the letter, but accepted that he was entitled to his own opinion – a liberal attitude that feels quietly heretical amidst all the shrieking.

By contrast, one of the other signatories, Jennifer Finney Boylan, swiftly recanted her own involvement, not because of the content of the letter, which she describes as “well meaning, if vague”, but because of some of the other people on the list. Which raises two points: first, why add your name in the first place to a “vague” letter on such a contentious issue?;  and then, if it’s the other names only the list, doesn’t that rather reduces the whole argument to the level of a high school popularity contest? That said, a question of who sits next to whom in the cafeteria may resonate more with the target audience than the musings of Noam Chomsky do.

PS: And now Jodie Comer gets it in the neck for, uh, what her boyfriend’s politics may or may not be.

PPS: I actually got round to reading the full list of signatories and notice that it includes two of my cultural favourites, Greil Marcus and John McWhorter. But should that in and of itself encourage me to agree with the letter? Or, conversely, if I don’t like what the letter says, should I burn my copy of Lipstick Traces? It’s so confusing...

PPPS: Another view from Billy Bragg.