Wednesday, February 16, 2011
On the Grammys, Jethro Tull, and Those Freaking Canadians
"...no matter how dominant and predictable something might be in your world, it is still a weird, marginal thing to most everyone else."--Nitsuh Abebe, Vulture
A confession: I have trouble letting go of my cultural predilections. I will continue to watch a television show long after it has gone sour,* and I will continue to consume the discography of a decaying rock band if only to complete my collection**. That's the way I am, and I can do nothing to stop it: Once a piece of the culture belongs to me, it belongs to me, and I feel I have an obligation to follow it until the end. I've never understood how the ratings of a serialized show like Lost would ebb and flow: Either you watched it, or you didn't watch it, and there was no in-between. Consumption, in my mind, is a commitment, and I stick to my commitments, and if they fall outside my purview, then I tend to devalue them completely. For two years, I didn't watch Breaking Bad because Bryan Cranston was on Malcolm in the Middle and I never watched Malcolm in the Middle because that little kid always seemed like an obnoxious attempt to manufacture a real-life Bart Simpson. That*** was one of the more stupid decisions of my recent existence.
This, I suppose, is human nature. If it doesn't exist in my world, then it might as well not exist. If I haven't seen an award-winning movie that happens to win an award, then I have to imagine it is not as deserving as the movie I have seen.****And this explains the backlash to the Grammys, an awards show that has always done an unbelievably inept job of attempting to pander to everyone by pandering to no one. Remember when Jethro Tull defeated Metallica for best rock album? Given that my friends were hard-core metalheads, that was an event tantamount to Chernobyl. We were upset, even though it meant nothing, even though the Grammys had long ago marginalized themselves to the point that it was almost better, if you wanted credit as something more than a mainstream pop artist, to not be associated with them. In that way, I assume Metallica's loss was one of the greatest things to happen to that band.*****
Anyway, these are the two points of view that Nitsuh Abebe attempts to reconicle in his excellent piece on New York magazine's culture website, Vulture. It was a moment that pitted people like us--the self-aware Brooklyn hipsters who grew tired of the Arcade Fire hype in 2005--against the masses who tend toward pop music, who measure accomplishment in terms of mainstream fame and feel just as insulted as we do when their views are invalidated.
You might think this is a problem. You might find it bothersome that there are so many people who are angered by an unassuming Canadian rock band winning an award over a pedestrian pseudo-country band, a rapper who did his best work more than a decade ago, a woman who regularly dresses like breakfast and another woman who manages to dispense whipped topping from her cleavage. And maybe it is. Maybe these divergent paradigms explain why half the politicians in America appear to be speaking a completely different language. Maybe it explains why there is so much misunderstanding, and so much hatred. But it also proves that I live in a weird, marginal world, in a borough of a city where the percentage of people who have heard of the Arcade Fire is probably higher than anywhere else south of Windsor. And I happen to like that, just as I'm sure the people who dig Lady Antebellum's vibe happen to believe she (they? it?) got hosed on Sunday night.
The larger problem, as Abebe notes, is not that we believe different things. It's that we have trouble imagining a world that exists beyond our cultural purview. It's a problem I'll admit I've had for years, and finding a solution doesn't mean I have to like your music, or that you have to like mine, or that you have to like my politics, or I have to like yours. It only means that we have to accept that these things exist.
*This explains why I continue to DVR Californication.
**This explains why I briefly had myself convinced that Oasis' Heathen Chemistry was actually not so bad.
***Neglecting Breaking Bad, not Malcolm. Though I've never seen Malcolm, so I have no idea. I know several intelligent people who insist The Big-Bang Theory is funny, too.
****Except in the case of Crash. And Million-Dollar Baby. I saw those movies. They just empirically sucked.
*****And perhaps even prefigured their own turn toward the mainstream.