Walk into any Best Buy. Compare their inventory of, say, Shostakovich or Stravinsky or even Bach (!) to that of, say, Lady Gaga. They’ll likely have more copies of one LG album than they will CDs in their entire stock of the other three artists.
How does this happen? How does such a disparity between superficial, throwaway “art” and intelligent, meaningful content come to be? Obviously, Joe Consumer plays a large role here. I’m often sickened by what we, society, make possible with the benediction of our dollars. The casual listeners (who vastly outnumber those who take music seriously) are more influenced by peer pressure than by honest evaluation of content. I include even those who suppose they’re being “different” in that assessment. They listen to what they suppose is countercultural because they’ve been told that’s what you listen to if you want to be countercultural!
But fools and their money are only part of the problem. More than a few stitches in the monster that is Lady Gaga and her ilk have been sewn by those who would identify as part of the minority that takes music seriously. These people dizzily fall all over themselves spinning post hoc rationalizations for the eructations of the Lady Gagas and the Marilyn Mansons of the world.
Why do they do this? In part, it’s a frantic attempt to be seen as open-minded. In the current arts climate, which is shot through with postmodernism, nothing sounds so much like a death knell as an accusation of dogmatism – whether or not that accusation is well-founded.
Another reason is that they suppose they’re demonstrating their own cleverness by inventing those rationalizations. “You think there’s not much to this pop tune? Deep down I’m not particularly moved by it, either. But take a look at my grandiose exegesis (read: castle in the sky) of it and you’ll understand just how clever I really am!”
Lucubrations like this are the result. Another example is the piece by Edward Docx I wrote about a few posts ago. In it, he attempts to elucidate the alleged profundity of purposely strange art, such as might be produced by Gaga, or David Byrne. In the Frere-Jones, she makes this bewildering statement: “Some of pop’s most delightful figures endure exactly because we can’t figure out what they are up to.” So we’re throwing all our money and admiration at people and products we can’t figure out? That seems very sensible. Not. The fact that there’s no perceptible logic at work in “what they’re up to” would suggest to me the inferiority of what they’re up to; that even the “artists” don’t really know what they’re doing. The reason Bach always pops up in “best composers” lists is because we can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes his music superior.
The real effect of these monuments to pseudo-intellectual onanism is that legitimacy is conferred to that which doesn’t deserve it.