Sunday, September 25, 2005

cue the kelly clarkson

in the past week, i have been thinking a lot about music. we discussed Adorno's essays "On the Fetish Character in Music" and "The Form of the Phonograph Record" in one of my classes last week. it is never easy to assimilate Adorno, to integrate his ideas into something useful in my day-to-day. first of all, this is largely because Adorno doesn't want me to. so, okay Wiesengrund, point taken. but yet, at their most oversimplified, i feel like Adorno's essays are trying to tell me something about my musical taste. writes Adorno:

"If the commodity in general combines exchange value and use-value, then the pure use-value, whose illusion the cultural goods must preserve in a completely capitalist society, must be replaced by pure exchange-value, which precisely in its capacity as exchange-value deceptively takes over the function of use value. The specific fetish character of music lies in this quid pro quo. The feelings which go to the exchange-value create the appearance of immediacy at the same time as the absence of a relation to the object belies it. It has its basis in the abstract character of exchange-value. Every 'psychological' aspect, every ersatz satisfaction, depends on such social substitution" (296).

he later continues:

"But the commercial necessity of concealing this identity leads to the manipulation of taste and the official culture's pretense of individualism, which necessarily increases in proportion to the liquidation of the individual" (297).

my read: we justify our taste in music by saying that we somehow identify with songs or genres, but it is a fake identification, i.e, one based not on actual identification ( which would be an indentification with non-existence, something like Adorno's shudder), but rather based on the substitution of the commodity fetish. late capitalism necessitates confusing indentification with consumption, and "individual taste," rather than challenging this confusion, only furthers its trickery. my notes on this idea look something like this:

consumption, the right to consume, poverty of abundance justified by fraudulent identification and by identificatory processes that conceal dis-identification/alienation.

examples: last week in class we listened to some samples from the British grime/hip-hop artist MIA. she's totally cool, but that's not the point. there has been some discussion in online music forums (read, critics and rock-snobs) about the overwhelming response that her music has received. first it was widely embraced and heralded as innovative, etc etc, until the inevitable backlash that led to some really interesting ponderings of pop taste in general. Simon Reynolds wrote on (i think) dissensus (that should be a link, look it up) that "pop is invested in so intensely i think because it's about the right to consume, and in this day and age consumerism, that's one of the few areas of power and agency anyone has." right, except that by exercising this as agency consumers (we) are undermining our own agency. well, yeah, but that's late capitalism (that might actually be post-capitalism). reynolds noted that when he dared criticize MIA for, among other things, the violence she seems to promote in her music, the vitriolic response was surprising:

"the tone of sheer indignation voiced -- 'how DARE you interfere with my pleasure,' how dare you imopse any impediment to my unproblematic enjoyment of this thing.... (subsequently it's been interesting to see how much people are prepared to explain away or jettison in order to cling onto their enjoyment, 'terrorist chic -- no problem!', 'all that "pull up the people, pull up the poor" 3rd world stuff that last week i was so happy to have as a patina of seriousness to my pop? nah, forget about that, the lyrics aren't important.... it's, it's, it's a POP record!')"

this leaves me here: i like MIA, i don't like bombing things. how can i be an educated person when i fully recognize that my right to enjoy the music i enjoy is completely and totally tied to an attitude of "why can't i just like it?" and when i pick and choose my identifications based on what most swiftly and easily justifies what i feel like listening to, even if it promotes and in the worst case actively reproduces the worst aspects of the late capitalist liquidation of the individual? how, for example, can i have a kelly clarkson song on my ipod ("it's really just purely great POP music") while at the same time telling anyone who will listen that American Idol's gift to society of clay aiken can only be seen as heralding the coming apocalypse? how can i listen to irish fight songs for pleasure? this morning, i was listening to internet radio, the "classical" station. that's what it's called (sound of Adorno rolling in grave). there is some cool internet radio, but the kind that comes on my itunes (this is getting more problematic by the minute) is EXACTLY where Adorno was afraid that music was headed. the emergence of "alternative" music as a genre is another perfect example of this.

i'm guessing that Adorno would probably have liked nirvana, because what they were doing they were genuinely doing and doing well. this is, i guess, how i justify kelly clarkson (okay, cliff, ben, and john : i'm dragging you out of the closet with me); she's making pop music. there's nothing there FOR me to agree or disagree with. and the pop music is good, and the only thing she's trying to sell me is her record.and i identify by buying the record (or, in this case, the song from itunes). unlike, say, ani difranco, who, sorry all you fans (and sorry cliff), is trying to sell me a whole shitload of politics and message, but who is pretending that she is giving me these things as a gift, and who, in the end, is really trying to sell me her record. and i think i'm identifying with everything she's saying, but really i'm just buying her record. and then i use these identifications, which i have invented largely as a pretense for buying her record, to justify buying her record. so this is maybe how we should look at MIA. if we're trying to tell people that we're doing something other than consuming her product when we are consuming her product, we'll evetually be exposed as the frauds that we are. and so will she, because as long as we're all trying to pretend that we're not consuming music as a commodity someone's always going to be trying to out-justify the other charade players. and "doing it well" doesn't mean technically well, because after all that's just another form of justification for pretending we're not consuming. "doing it well" means "doing it in a way that i like" so that i may consume without impediment. call it accepting, instead of constantly trying to resolve, the taste/consumption dialectic. my individual taste exists mainly as a result of its liquidation; can i transform consumption into a new kind of individual taste, one conditioned by consumption? this would be a big postmodern project, and i'm not ready to take it on. as Reynolds writes:

"everything that once exploded into public space, becomes interiorized, coralled, quarantined from the world, insulated from ever changing anything... an implosion."

see McLuhan on implosion. Reynolds is right ("pop as solipsism"), but it's going somewhere.

stay tuned for upcoming posts. i will attempt to justify my love of emo.


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10:28 PM  

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