Riffing off of politics again for a moment, I truly hope it is redundant for me to point out that everyone who is worried about the nature of political discourse in this country should be reading Glenn Greenwald over at Salon every day. He is a brilliant researcher and fiercely relentless critic of mainstream media news coverage who has forced some of the worst offenders at Time and the New York Times to modify their rhetoric and admit mistakes. His column today is especially gratifying, as it takes up the use of the epithet “serious,” the term that habitual Bush-supporters use these days to distinguish themselves from Democrats and liberal commentators. Dick Cheney and Joe Klein at Time, in this usage, are Very Very Serious because, while they’ll take issue with the President here and there, they understand the basic rightness of what he’s doing; Nancy Pelosi and Michael Moore aren’t serious, because, even though they were right a million times where the Neocons were always wrong, they were never on the Bandwagon to begin with.
The thing I love about it is, of course, that “serious” has also long been the word that High Modernist composers use to distinguish themselves from composers who try to appeal to the audience, who think about accessibility, who are influenced by pop music, who don’t build up dramatic climaxes, who appreciate Erik Satie and Virgil Thomson, who don’t try to impress each other with the sophistication of their techniques. “Serious” is a condescending but tolerant-seeming word that connotes, well, yes, these postminimalists are composers too, and amateurs may find in them a certain entertainment value, but we must not forget, of course, who the really serious composers are. I’ve long speculated that, if artists are, as they are called, the “antennae of the race,” that trends we hear in music may subsequently filter through the rest of society; and that, since we had a generation of composers who were so in love with their own power within the profession that they didn’t feel they had to give a damn about the audience, we now have a generation of politicians so in love with Beltway power that doing good for society no longer even occurs to them. In short, Neocon ideology may be more or less the 12-tone music of politics. By this analogy, of course, the lightening up of music in the last 20 years may presage a similar lightening up and return to sane reality in politics. The analogy may well be totally misplaced, but it does allow me a certain optimism.