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Saturday, December 27, 2003
Got hepped to this Nick Southall post by Luke, and you'd think I'd agree with it, given my whole thing about art-under-repression facsimiles. But eh, I don't. Of course, I don't agree particularly with the thing he's arguing against, either (even I can't swallow lines like "This is where Will Young becomes genuinely politically important..."), but I usually think English people look silly when they argue about class and start casually throwing around Marxist terms. So the Carmody thing doesn't really need a response from little old me, as Southall seems to have covered that pretty well already, but I think it's worth taking a few pokes at Southall's.

The difference between what I'm complaining about and what he's complaining about is that mine involves painting the culture you're already in as a repressed one and his involves taking on the trappings of an actually repressed culture, and the difference between those two is that mine you can get away with and his is just clearly fucking stupid. Very few people would read that Kula Shaker quote--"people in India may be poor but they're happy"--without thinking "wow, what a stupid cunt," and if they didn't think that, then there's not much you're going to be able to do to talk them out of it, since when educated people get illogical ideas in their head it's already gotten past all their "this contradicts all evidence" blockades to go straight to their "I like this" center. (An interesting problem in politics, but never mind.)

But similarly, I don't think anyone can read the Gallagher quote, er paraphrase--if Coldplay weren't in a band they'd have good careers as solicitors or something; I'd have been working in a factory. It doesn't seem fair that they're denying an escape route to some other kids out there who need it--without also thinking, "wow, what a stupid cunt," unless you just violently hate Coldplay. (Cough, cough.) It's especially incongruous to espouse if, like Mr. Southall, you've said a few sentences ago that:

Keeping it so real that you get shot is not a positive message to be sending out. Interpolating yourself within a culture in which many young people fnd themselves trapped, therefore perpetuating that entrapment for others, is not a good thing. Choosing to ignore your own heritage in favour of a parodical fetishisation of someone else's, especially a less privileged heritage, smacks of the worst kind of cultural tourism.

Now, I agree with the first sentence, but look, we can all see that there's a big difference between promoting gangsta-ism and promoting, um, singer-songwrita-ism, right? The difference between the two things (follow along now) is: one is identified with a particular class, and one is not. Being a pop musician most emphatically is not. True, many of the musical traditions and styles used in pop music are, but the whole point of turning those actually folk musics into pop music is that it becomes commercialized and thus disassociated with the class the styles came from. You can complain about it at the point that the appropriation takes place, I suppose (though I certainly wouldn't), but at the point where it's already become the pop mainstream the whole fucking point is that it's available to anyone.

Even the specific argument being made by that Noel paraphrase is ludicrous. Coldplay is successful not because of their position but because of their talent and their image and all that other bullshit, and can we please drop the demonstrably untrue idea that record labels can push stuff no one actually likes down their throat? Coldplay did, your tastes aside, succeed because some people like the songs they sing and the way they sing them. Moreover, if Chris Martin was dead, that doesn't mean that hot "LC" pop group The Sons of Factory Workers would magically achieve success, because pop music is not a fungible product. Yes, if Kellogg's were to no longer exist, all the other cereal companies would see a roughly proportional increase in sales, because people need cereal and they don't care all that much, ultimately, about the brand. But no one needs to buy pop music--in a year where there were no records produced that people liked, very very few records would get sold. So saying that Coldplay is evil because they block the prospects of some other, less fortunate group of musicians is just a weak attempt to justify your Coldplay hatred by appealing to leftist political norms. Trust me, the record companies would love to have a working-class Chris Martin in addition to, or even instead of, the actual Chris Martin, if for no other reason than he'd have less experience with money and would be easier to exploit. But talent is not a democratic thing, and talent, on a certain level, is what pop music is all about. You can't buy talent, and you can't give it away, and not exercising it isn't an act of mercy on some other poor unfortunate (and smacks of paternalism just a wee bit this theory, eh?) but just a denial of what you have to offer. And you can do that--that's fine. But it's hardly an act of charity.

So should some radio presenter who is white pretend to be black? Of course not, if only for the reason that you look like a twat. But that doesn't mean that we all have to stay inside our own rigidly proscribed cultural classes. Do I like people who fetishize India? No, but I don't think that means they shouldn't be able to use Indian musical styles, although it would be even better if they engaged in political activism to use their privileged Western position to cure specifically Indian injustices. (In other words, you gotta read the news, Poncho.) I can certainly prefer that people approach their genre-melding a certain way, but I also, personally, have a hard time arguing against the product if it's good. ("Ooh, he called it 'the product,' he's embracing it as an end-result of the industrial process of exploitation and..." Yes, yes.) And, honestly, I have a hard time getting as riled up about "cultural tourism" as most people; the only one that really bothers me is when idiots pretend to be artists, and all their idiot friends pretend along, and then a newspaper writes a story about them, and it's all very funny and they're having a good time except you're a shitty artist, dingbat! But (ahem) anyway, yes, most other forms of it just don't concern me that much. Are trust fund kids wearing trucker hats idiots? Sure, but while we've got foreign nationals being held at Guantanamo I just can't see myself getting too bothered by it. Know what I mean? There's a separation between the cultural and the political ultimately, no matter what people want to claim, and the political matters and the cultural doesn't. Simple as that.

I need to write a bit more about this, specifically about the middle class as a new cultural ideal, but right now I need to go bake a pie, and this'll do for a while.