Thursday, May 11, 2006

re: this.

The Hopper/EMP debacle is just a case of shitty journalism and distracting from what I actually find interesting about the situation. SFJ's blog posts (including his response to the article, reprinted here) underline a recent mentality in rockcrit that hasn't been challenged except in defensive broadsides like the Slate piece.

Merritt basically has an aesthetic preference, "melody over rhythm," that he discusses eloquently and unapologetically. He's unafraid to acknowledge the racial coding people are likely to infer, and does so with a wry humor I really appreciate. SFJ has decided to describe his comments as "poisonous skeet," which raises the question of what exactly is "poisonous" about what Merritt has said. Is it poisonous to acknowledge one's disinterest in hip-hop? To be dismissive and flip about the evolution of R&B? Annoying, perhaps, depending on your evangelism for the music, but poisonous? Merritt has made withering comments about indie rock (he's said the vocalists on his 6ths albums were chosen mainly for accessibility and subcultural catchet - he's of indie, or was before Broadway called, but not enamored of it) and I have no doubt that he finds metal to be a waste of his time. Would SFJ find those tastes to be poisonous?

The only reason the grumblings of an insular melodist would deserve this kind of ire is if you believe it's culturally or politically irresponsible to not acknowledge the value of R&B/hip-hop culture; that it's a symptom of something sinister. A lot of writers have given funk/hip-hop a certain cultural primacy, suggesting that even if a critic's listening tastes aim towards alt-indie, you have to give lip service to the inherent value and worth of recent "black" music.

Critics who focus on country or metal tend to be exempt, as they're already covering underappreciated subsets of music culture, but if you're part of the pazz & jop honky majority, you're expected to genuflect to the beatmakers - a standard which trickles down to the world outside. Due to my politics and taste in popular music, I'm sympathetic to this demand on cultural critics, but applied outside of consumer guides, it has a tendency to limit discussion more than advance it. I don't like the idea of people feeling defensive because they don't want to listen to crack tales from misogynists, or because they like to hear some stagnant alt-country doyenne mewl about sequoias after a long day at work. I'm not denying that people often dismiss modern black music due to ignorance and racial antipathy, but giving musical genres cultural primacy through this kind of cheap coding, which seems condescending in the face of hip-hop's across-the-board popularity in America today, is much more poisonous than acknowledging the specifics of your tastes the way Merritt does. We don't have to make uncool into a crime.

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