Joined: 10 Jul 2006
Location: A false vacuum abiding in ignorance.
|Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2006 4:39 pm Post subject: Rockist vs. Anti Rockist
|It's Not Only Rock 'n' Roll
Putting the squeeze on hypocritical critics. Or, the case against anti-rockism. BY GLENN KENNY
EVERY NOW AND THEN, someone will ask me if I miss writing about music (which I stopped doing regularly about ten years ago). More often than not, I'll answer that I don't, given that I appreciate not having to devote any serious thought to, say, Britney Spears. This is a glib response, I know; and many will recognize it as not just glib, but worse: rockist. I can live with that.
This is kind of odd because, like many of the critics in the anti-rockist camp (the two most prominent being Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times and Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker), I'm against the reflexive privileging of rock over all other genres of popular music. Like them, I believe the "guilty pleasure" is an intellectually bankrupt concept. I've enthusiastically consumed disreputable pop, from Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Kicks" to Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," with no pangs of conscience or even intimations thereof. I don't buy into the mythologizing of musicians or of music"making; I have no truck with weepy selfstyled aesthetes who disdain hip-hop on the grounds that it's "not melodic"; and, regardless of what my wife might tell you, I had no compunction about putting Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" on our wedding reception playlist.
The anti-rockist stance holds that if listeners of the world unite and shake off the chains of socially determined biases pertaining to aesthetic preferences, a whole new world of aural pleasure awaits discovery, and I think that's a salutory idea. But, in a classIc case of the cure being worse than the disease, what I get from most anti-rockism cheerleaders is largely just new varieties of pompous chin-stroking, holier-thanthou sniping, and intellectual double-dealing. Here's a portrait of the archetypal "record nerd," a particularly despised subspecies of the rockist, courtesy of Joshua Clover, an uncommonly deft rhetorician who blogs and frequently publishes under the alias Jane Dark: "[a] melanc- and a1co-holic boor, the ugly white guy whom culture has passed by, but who still manages to feel smug and lash out at everyone who fails to replicate his values." That's harsh, man-harsh enough to make even the most stalwart Stooges fan think twice about ordering that second boilermaker.
But here's Clover deploring what passes for eclecticism on his party circuit: "As [I] can attest from asking strangers 'What kind of music do you like?' reflexively for years, a vast majority of white people from metropolitan areas believe they have eclectic tastes, or enjoy 'everything.' This everything, as it happens, is a curious one: It never includes Too Short or Christina Milian (or, for that matter, Toby Keith or Jessica Simpson)." Wait, did somebody just say "smug"? And given that most of the artists he never hears mentioned are Clover enthusiasms, one may safely conclude that he himself gets a little tetchy when his values aren't replicated. Social constructions being what they are, it's understandable that a grown man might feel a wee defensive about a taste for Jessica Simpson songs (unless that grown man is named Joe Simpson); but the industrious anti-rockist knows the best defense is a good offense. Like OutKast but think their lyrics are sometimes a little childish? You might be a racist. Think that Toby Keith's "put a boot in your ass" jingoism is off-putting? That's your bourgeois elitism talking. Does Celine Dion's quaver make your teeth hurt? Those aren't your teeth-that's your snobbery. Proposing to melt down the golden calf of the rock "canon," anti-rockists arbitrarily elevate their own entirely subjective preferences in an advanced-vocabulary game of "I know you are, but what am I?"
Some anti-rockist lines of inquiry flirt with an absurdness that's unlikely to win any converts outside of academia, such as the idea that while mass taste is worth valorizing, mass slang could use some fixing. "It's hard to get around rockism," Douglas Wolk agonized in The Seattle Weekly, "because it's built into the way people talk informally about whatever kind of popular music interests them. (If Usher or Eliza Carthy or Autechre do something amazing, it rocks.)" True that. However, the usage probably has less to do with aesthetic bias than with the fact that, as a verb, rock is a lot punchier than pop or hop. But never mind-one trait the antirockist shares with his or her natural enemy, the so-called rock snob, is a petulant refusal to "lighten up."
And so, a few ill-advised letters to the editor and e-mails aside, I've been happy to stand on the sidelines in this struggle. I continue to reserve the right to believe that Toby Keith enjoys sexual congress with feral swine, even if persisting in this belief indicates that the culture has passed me by. Years ago, many left-leaning thinkers averred that one needn't be a Stalinist patsy to loathe the excesses of the House Un-American Activities Committee and the subsequent fulminations of Senator Joe McCarthy; they were dubbed "anti-anti-Communists" by some. Not to conflate the Rolling Stones with Stalinism, but antianti-rockism sounds like a good idea to me.
I found this refreshing.
...if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.