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Thursday, March 24, 2005
Oh my gods, peoples, there are so many things I've got to say to you I'm like breathless. But here, lemme throw you one little tidbit, about the Pitchfork review of Ted's Kelly cover:

Some might say Leo's surrendering his ethics here by covering Kelly Clarkson; I'd say he's putting himself ahead of the pack.

That sound you hear is me banging my head against the cubicle wall, over and over and over again. Christ almighty.

Now, my response to this over at Hillary's involved the phrase "naked cultural capitalism." This is sort of interesting, at least to me, and I wanted to explain it a bit.

I think that at this point in history, all cultural production (which is to say, creativity intended for an audience) is involved in the game of cultural capitalism; even the old "we don't care about cred" line is, of course, just another stock option in the great cultural capitalism game. If there's a simple explanation for why we're attracted to "outsider artists," it's this; Henry Darger, no matter what you want to say about him, had at most a miniscule stake in the battle for reputation. It wasn't even that he didn't care, because not-caring is at least an acknowledgment of the existence of that marketplace and a conscious shying away from it.

The simple reality of the situation is that the creative impulse reconciles perfectly with the battle for reputation, status, perceived worth, k-rating, whatever the fuck you want to call it, because the more of that you have (and the kind, of course), the more people will be interested in what you're producing, which will not only give you the satisfaction of having an audience, but the economic ability and outside impetus to engage in more cultural production.

To put that in less abstract terms, while it might seem silly to be concerned with the reputation of a label or the hipness of a DJ, the fact is that if you're on the wrong label or the wrong kind of people listen to your music, it decreases your cultural capital and means that people's impression will be that you're something to actively not listen to, whereas being on a label with a good rep can get people to listen who might otherwise know nothing about you. The cycle of cultural capitalism is interest because at first there are all these little intangibles that will get you noticed and then broken, and then for a while the main factor is the size of your audience, and then once you reach a certain point all these other factors come into play.

So what I'm saying is that it's totally OK for you to play this game as a creative person; although you might dislike the term "cultural capitalism," that's basically the game you're playing, even if you're a socialist collective. You're trying to accrue a certain amount of cultural capital so you can do the things you want to do, and while that level you're trying to reach may be different for everyone, it's always greater than zero. This is what we do, in ways large and small, and it can actually be immensely rewarding and interesting--certainly watching certain popstars do it (Madonna, Britney, etc.) has been a great game for all of us, and there are certain other popstars, Eminem probably first and foremost, whose best art is precisely about this game; "Without Me" is like the best real-time salespitch you'll ever hear.

But critics like to do this thing where they take artistic gestures where maximizing cultural capital is probably an ancilliary concern and making it central, which is fine as a line of inquiry, but the assumption is that this was also the intention of the creator, which as we know, is a no-no.

I'm willing to give Ted the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really did this because he loves the song and thought his cover sounded good and wanted to expose more people to the original. And this is coming from someone who hates the damn thing! So to assess it as a horserace move, to try and pin down the skillful planning behind it, seems disingenuous. Not everything that touches pop has to be calculated, and in the final analysis, even the calculated nature of pop itself stems from a series of heartfelt, illogical gestures on the part of the artists and producers involved. At some point, whoever wrote "Since U Been Gone" just sat down with a guitar and whanged out that thing and thought, "Hot damn, that's good." To lose that particular moment in all our attempts to dissect indie-rock cred maneuverings--that moment when a secret turns into something beautiful, if you'll forgive me--is to lose sight, I think, of why we write about music. Cultural capital works in much more subtle and interesting ways than this.