FlyOver: August 2007 Archives
Howdy folks, long time since I chimed in here. It's been a crazy month in and out of Montana for me. The first week of the month found me heading off to a family reunion in Kentucky, where I indulged in old ham and fried catfish, caught some bluegill, and generally lazed around by a lake. I returned to discover my adopted state on fire. Friends were evacuated from their homes, Missoula was smothered in a dense pillow of smoke, my four-month old baby was grumpy from breathing the lousy air, and half my co-workers were on vacation, leaving me with double my normal workload. Crazy times.
Fortunately, some things didn't fall apart in my absence, notably Flyover, which has seemed on fire in its own way, what with spirited discussions of generational issues and interesting analysis of intellectual hoity-toityness and so on. I feel almost intimidated to wade back in.
So I thought I'd share a personal experience that I thought some here might appreciate. A couple of weeks ago, at a neighborhood barbecue, I had one of those surprising conversations that only happen once in awhile -- where out of the blue, in an unexpected place, you bond with someone over an insight.
It began with my neighbor complaining about what he perceived as a dearth of great political music today. Gone are the days, he argued, when bands like U2 and the Beatles and Neil Young (his personal favorite) unleashed battle cries for the politically motivated and musically engaged youth, cries that rallied masses of people out of complacency and into political action.
"But it just doesn't seem like that music is really making a difference," he complained. "It's not what everybody is listening to."
"But," I pointed out, "it's only really been during the 20th century that 'everybody' could listen to one particular song and use it as a form of cultural currency. That was as much a result of the concentration of media power and the entertainment industry as it was about the importance of that music. What you're seeing is just a return to the natural state of culture, where not everybody listens to the same thing because tastes are increasingly localized and dispersed. The only difference is that, today, 'local' means something different."
Our conversation veered farther afield, but I will stop there because I'm curious: Am I the only person who believes that we'll never see another mass cultural phenomenon like the Beatles or the Stones? In a world where music by my band is theoretically as easy to access as music by 50 Cent or the greatest recording ever of Mahler's Second Symphony, and where the influence and presumed authority of a handful of critics at the New York Times and Rolling Stone is being undermined by tens of thousands of bloggers, isn't it now a given that tribalism and taste dispersion is the new cultural paradigm?
And if so, how should that affect what we do as journalists and critics?