But All My Friends Loved It Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-04-02 14:00:00 No comments

Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting - The Daily Beast

Even statements that appear, at first glance, to address musical issues are often lifestyle statements in disguise. I’ve learned this the hard way, by getting into detailed discussions over musical tastes, and discovering that if you force pop culture insiders to be as precise as possible in articulating the reasons why they favor a band or a singer, it almost always boils down to: “I like [fill in the name] because they make me feel good about my lifestyle.” Most disputes about music in the current day are actually disagreements about lifestyle masquerading as critical judgments.

Why stop at music? In fact, why stop at any cultural artifact at all? I propose a thought experiment: replace the word "music" in the above formula with the words "movies", "books", "TV shows", "comics", "video games", and most every other cultural product we can attach a discrete label to. I'd bet you the whole of my next month's savings account interest accrual (OK, it's not much, but hey, it's money) that there will be no discernible change in meaning.

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Not long ago my default position on this whole question was that the majority of people who read / listen / watch / play only casually are not interested in music / books / TV / comics / video games / what-have-you as such. It reminded me of Lester Bangs's dismayed certainty that all the people around him who owned copies of the first Velvet Underground album never actually played the damn thing even once.

I had to refine my view a bit, though, because I've found such people are interested in doing those things because of what they can tell other people, or hear from other people, about those things -- in short, water-cooler-isms. And that this is not a bad thing. It means most people are interested in such things as an adjunct to being social, and not because they have some unearned contempt for the cultural items in question. It's not done out of malice. Right?

But there are people who do adopt such lifestyle-centric stances out of malice, and not even conscious malice, but the sort of malice that one adopts when he feels his way of life is under attack. Whether or not it is under attack is not the point; what matters is he feels that way. And unfortunately we have a very familiar term for such people: fanboys.

I use that word here in its most derogatory sense possible -- the person who, whether or not he realizes it, can only have his fun when someone else doesn't. Most disputes about fandom are really just lifestyle criticisms writ small. They are arguments, in disguise, about how we ought to live. And the smaller the stakes, the more bloodthirsty the competition, as anyone who's escaped from academia can attest.

Here's the funny thing. I'd bet you most any fanboy -- self- or other-described -- would never believe in a million and six years that they were copping the stances they were because they didn't want their union card confiscated and burnt. But it isn't just about what they like or don't like -- it's about what they percieve as being worthy of attention. Hence the thermonuclear across-the-board rage evoked by bronies: the Average White Fan sees that stuff as worthy of nothing but contempt, and the idea of even living in a world where people find such a thing acceptable or (gasp, shock, smelling salts) GOOD is even worse. And so they get angry, and get into vein-popping arguments, because they aren't comfortable with the idea of the things they have given so much time and attention to losing out to something, well, stupid.

Isn't that nothing more than the dismal echo of a parent screaming at his comic-reading kid about how that garbage will rot his mind?

Tags: culture fandom lifestyle