The Anti-Rockist Protests Too Much

A modest proposal for a New York Times critic who should let pop eat itself

One of the queer theorists who must loom large in Sanneh's legend is Andy Warhol. Sanneh has taken from the worst of Warhol: not the movies and the philosophical tracts, but the late diary entries. Like Warhol snickering up his sleeve at the fatuous über-butch of Jackson Pollock's black T-shirt, Sanneh is a mall-ratty kitsch queen in love with what the cute, popular kids are liking. He so wants to fit in, it could give you a toothache. "The Rap Against Rockism" starts out as an anti-fogey, kick-out-the-jams flamethrower, but ends in a place of profound complacency. His passive-aggressive gibes at the Lone Wolf rockists' bigotry serve as a smoke screen for his schlocky-pop cravings. Sanneh's point is that we don't live in the world of the Tortured Singer-Songwriter. We live in a world where headless cutie-pies are plucked from the food court and given Eternal Life, either via a pop-starlet career or as a suffering face in a group-living situation on reality TV. Why ask for Patti Smith when Jessica Simpson's edible body glitter is right there at your feet? Why look for thoughts and feelings when the anthem for next year's sixth-grade homecoming is already on the air?

To glorify only performers who write their own songs and play their own guitars is to ignorethe marketplace that helps create the music...with its checkbook-chasing superproducers, its audience-obsessed executives and cred-hungry performers. [emphasis mine]

Ahhh, so that's it! At the end of the day, the you-go-girl defense of otherness in combat with smothering white-boyness is a red herring. It's all about how to stop worrying and love...the marketplace. Who needs Elliot Smith and Rufus Wainwright when there's a "checkbook-chasing superproducer" calling the shots? Indeed, give Polly Jean Harvey a permission slip to go home--we've got "audience-obsessed executives" bringing fun snacks to the party. "The Rap Against Rockism" is finally like those blogs I encounter every now and then that begin, "I don't care what people think--I'm starting to think Dick Cheney is hot!" Sanneh is like a Vichy girl who can't believe how fast her heart is beating as she kisses a Luftwaffe colonel--right here in the café, in front of everyone!

This generational screed pretends to "oppose and resist," but is really all about bending over for the "marketplace." Sanneh sees the displacedness and cultural impotence of the rockists and wants no part of that. He'll hang his hat with the red states, thank you very much. He knows la musique de Juicy Couture is here to stay.

No doubt Sanneh wanted to raise hackles and cause many of his fellow--no other word for it, Kelefa!--rock critics to scream in pain. But even allowing for provocateur impishness, "The Rap Against Rockism" is a treasonous polemic, because it's all about giving us permission to surrender to the giggly pleasure of embracing what's bad--and not guilty-cool-disreputable-fun-bad, but bad-bad. It says, "Let's admit there's nothing to the process of making and listening to music but participating in the money machine." Music fans get that message, on average, 23 and a half hours a day. We count on so-called literate music lovers to give us a tiny portion of dissent. Kelefa, take your lunch tray away from the rich kids' table! The losers are much more fun.

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1 comments
davelaronge
davelaronge

Good article.  I think you have summed up the fallacies of the article "The Rap Against Rockism".  Until a student accused of this term, I was aware that such a term exists.  I do like a lot of music from the past, but I have tried very hard to consider the popular music in my age(the 80s)and I just can't find anything to like about it.  I like a broad spectrum of music and styles, but I find the music that exists and has existed to be pretty empty and bad.  It is not that I worship the musicians I love.  I am very critical of the laziness of the Stones work post 73 and have criticized Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan for their bad works.  But I feel that a lot of music that is popular is only there to make money and has no heart and soul.  Many of the musicians of the sixties and other eras had a love of the music and made it for that love.  I can hear when I listen to them.  I have no doubt that there is some good rap(I find much of it not impressive)and that it is possible to make dance music and use synthesizers for emotional effect(I like The The and New Order)but much of their use is so fake.  The one cardinal sin of some popular musicians is the use of lip synching.  If you are going to be a pop artist, at least have the dignity to sing your music.    Cheers.

 
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