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Is Popular Culture Stupid? (2014)

Popular Culture MC3577 Cardiff University
by

Paul Bowman

on 2 October 2015

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Transcript of Is Popular Culture Stupid? (2014)

Liberation is not the same as transformation. Temporary escape is not the same thing as political change. (162)
‘when we get back from the party, have we just left all those structures as intact as they were before?’ (162)
Carnival as no threat to the social order.
However: Carnival as potential initiation of social and political agitation.
Might dance culture merely be a safety-valve?
POLITICS AFTER THE FESTIVAL?
Music is Gendered.
Rock is male.
Ambient? Ambient as feminine music.
Rock, Punk, Hardcore Gabber, Donk, Heavy Metal, etc: homosocial.
What musics are gendered feminine?
Certain musics may be regarded as “queer”, as in “transgressive/transformative”. Disco? Dance?
MUSIQUE FEMININE?
‘[The Western] tradition tends to demand of music that it – as far as possible – be meaningful, that even where it does not have words, it should offer itself up as an object of intellectual contemplation’ (42).


The counterpart of this tradition is that of devaluing the pleasures of the body (dance).
MUSIC AND MEANING
EMOTIONS AND “MASOCHISTIC ADJUSTMENT”
“The necessary correlate of musical standardization is pseudo-individualization. By pseudo-individualization we mean endowing cultural mass production with the halo of free choice or open market on the basis of standardization itself. Standardization of song hits keeps the customers in line by doing their listening for them, as it were. Pseudo-individualization, for its part, keeps them in line by making them forget that what they listen to is already listened to for them, or “pre-digested”.”
PSEUDO-INDIVIDUALISATION

Plato’s Republic: Socrates wants only simple, functional, militaristic music. Not revelry. Music must be tied down to and by words. (40)


Rousseau’s Essay on the Origins of Language. Distinguishes between music as affect (body) and music as source of meaning (intellect).


Kant. Hated ‘Tafelmusik’ – table music, not designed for contemplation. (41)


Adorno saw the critical potential of music, but was opposed to the bourgeois dance music of his day.
PHILOSOPHISING MUSIC

‘It is perhaps not surprising, then, that these institutions should have given their enthusiastic support to a project which, in reasserting a very traditional notion of British identity, tried to re-imagine just that condition of cultural homogeneity which they so missed.’ (170)
BRITPOP: REACTION TO RAVE

‘Rave music and direct-action politics therefore threatened an entire set of values which underpinned not just the culture of the home counties, but of the Labour Party and the Melody Maker as well, and the reaction to the threat came from a number of not unrelated areas.’ (169)


The indie press responded by championing Britpop.
MOMENTARY OR MOMENTOUS POLITICS?

In 1988, rave appeared. This was about something very different to ‘politics’. It was about the championing of the moment.
POLITICIZED MUSIC FROM 1976-88
Bands like the Smiths have an assumed faith in the politics of representation:
‘For just what is the point in complaining about how alienated you are, how poor you are, how bored you are, unless you believe that someone out there might be listening and that they might actually do something about it?’ (165)
Hence, this is all about representation:
‘In culture, as in parliament, we all had our chosen representatives, whose sincerity and realism could comfort us, assuring us that we were not alone, and whose eloquence would doubtless, someday, bring the misery to an end.’ (165)
‘POLITICIZED’ MUSIC’S FAITH IN THE POLITICS OF REPRESENTATION

Dance culture did challenge hegemony in lots of ways.
DANCE AS ‘DISTRACTION’?
Glamour is about wealth.
Individual aspirations. No encouragement to collective action which might make it possible for everyone to enjoy wealth.
Clothes? Women. The male gaze.
(Ironic gay performance of clothes is closer to anti-glamour than normalizing fashion.)
RAVE AS SUBVERSIVE OF GENDER
(AND CLASS?)
Dance is the opposite of work: aimless, fun, etc.
Gender Relations are often encoded in Dances:
The Waltz embodies gender relations.
Often, ‘real men don’t dance’. However:
Rave dancing as liberation from structures of gender
Being ecstatic as new ‘mode of being’ (older ones involved being angry, being tough, etc.)
DANCE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY
ONE DISCOURSE OF MUSIC:
CAPITALIST MODERNITY AND THE LEGACY OF PURITANISM
Materiality and physical effects of music problematise a mind-body binary.

Judith Butler: ‘discursive production’ & ‘performativity of identity’ (Bodies that Matter)

Michel Foucault.

‘Discourse’ (Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe).
MIND AND BODY
Physicality of sound – music is felt by the body. (44)
‘music – like all sound – is registered on a fundamentally different level to language or modes of visual communication’ (44)
‘music can be said to, as Robert Walser suggests, “hail the body directly”’ (46).
Scholarly work has been neglectful of the relationship between music and dance. (47)
BODY MUSIC:
THE MATERIALITY OF SOUND

This dominant tradition is what Derrida called “metaphysical” (55)
THE METAPHYSICS OF MUSIC
MUSIC: AFFECTS AND EFFECTS
This “freezing” of standards is socially enforced upon the agencies themselves. Popular music must simultaneously meet two demands. One is for stimuli that provoke the listener’s attention. The other is for the material to fall within the category of what the musically untrained listener would call “natural” music: that is, the sum total of all the conventions and material formulas in music to which he is accustomed and which he regards as the inherent, simple language of music itself, no matter how late the development might be which produced this natural language.
THE FREEZING OF STANDARDS
Pre-digested: “The composition hears for the listener. This is how popular music divests the listener of his spontaneity and promotes conditioned reflexes. Not only does it not require his effort to follow its concrete stream; it actually gives him models under which anything concrete still remaining may be subsumed. The schematic buildup dictates the way in which he must listen while, at the same time, it makes any effort in listening unnecessary. Popular music is “pre-digested” in a way strongly resembling the fad of “digests” of printed material. It is this structure of contemporary popular music which in the last analysis, accounts for those changes of listening habits which we shall later discuss.”
PRE-DIGESTED MUSIC & PREDICTABLE RESPONSES
Structural standardization aims at standard reactions. Listening to popular music is manipulated not only by its promoters but, as it were by the inherent nature of this music itself, into a system of response mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society. This has nothing to do with simplicity and complexity.


“The details themselves are standardized no less than the form, and a whole terminology exists for them such as break, blue chords, dirty notes.”


“The primary effect of this relation between the framework and the detail is that the listener becomes prone to evince stronger reactions to the part than to the whole. His grasp of the whole does not lie in the living experience of this one concrete piece of music he has followed. The whole is pre-given and pre-accepted, even before the actual experience of the music starts...”
THE PROBLEM:
STANDARDISED RESPONSES
… the difference between popular and serious music can be grasped in more precise terms than those referring to musical levels such as “lowbrow and highbrow”, “simple and complex”, “naive and sophisticated”. For example, the difference between the spheres cannot be adequately expressed in terms of complexity and simplicity. All works of the earlier Viennese classicism are, without exception, rhythmically simpler than stock arrangements of jazz. … Harmonically, the supply of chords of the so-called classics is invariably more limited than that of any current Tin Pan Alley composer who draws from Debussy, Ravel, and even later sources. Standardization and non-standardization are the key contrasting terms for the difference.
STANDARDIZATION

“Standardization extends from the most general features to the most specific ones. … Most important of all, the harmonic cornerstones of each hit — the beginning and the end of each part — must beat out the standard scheme.”


“This inexorable device guarantees that regardless of what aberrations occur, the hit will lead back to the same familiar experience, and nothing fundamentally novel will be introduced.”
ADORNO ON POPULAR MUSIC
What is music?

How does music work?
What is the nature of music’s effects?
How are these effects achieved?

‘[The] non-verbal aspect of music’s effectivity has given rise to its strange status in western thought’ (Gilbert & Pearson 1999)

The difference between “meanings” and “affects”
WORDS AND MUSIC
What was rave expected to achieve?
It changed a lot to do with social and cultural life. 24 hour partying?
‘These aren’t small changes. In 1987, the 17 year old probably had little else to do but get drunk at his/her local pub…’ (180)
‘If Ecstasy and house music have even slightly displaced drunkenness and violence as the common culture of young men in Britain, then Britain can only be a better place for it.’ (182)
Community. New forms?
WEIGHING IT UP

This political ‘nostalgia’ (for monocultural ‘Britishness’) also relates to Oasis’s sound.


Consider the difference of all of this from multicultural musics, from Spice Girls to Techno.
THE POLITICS OF SOUND

Bands like the Smiths have an assumed faith in ‘the politics of representation’.
HISTORICIZING DANCE CULTURE
The Rock Voice
The rock voice complies with the demands of metaphysical discourse.
It is also definitively masculine.
Even female rock vocal style takes on masculine characteristics.
Aggression, authenticity, meaning.
WORDS AND MUSIC:
THE VOICE OF GENDER
But why do they want this stuff? In our present society the masses themselves are kneaded by the same mode of production as the arti-craft material foisted upon them. The customers of musical entertainment are themselves objects or, indeed, products of the same mechanisms which determine the production of popular music. Their spare time serves only to reproduce their working capacity. It is a means instead of an end. The power of the process of production extends over the time intervals which on the surface appear to be “free”. They want standardized goods and pseudo-individualization, because their leisure is an escape from work and at the same time is molded after those psychological attitudes to which their workaday world exclusively habituates them. Popular music is for the masses a perpetual bus man’s holiday. Thus, there is justification for speaking of a pre-established harmony today between production and consumption of popular music. The people clamor for what they are going to get anyhow.
THE LISTENERS
is popular
culture
stupid?
MC3577
Popular Culture
Paul Bowman
Cardiff University
BowmanP@cf.ac.uk
They consume music in order to be allowed to weep. They are taken in by the musical expression of frustration rather than by that of happiness. …. The so-called releasing element of music is simply the opportunity to feel something. But the actual content of this emotion can only be frustration. … It is catharsis for the masses, but catharsis which keeps them all the more firmly in line. One who weeps does not resist any more than one who marches. Music that permits its listeners the confession of their unhappiness reconciles them, by means of this “release”, to their social dependence.

“They are most susceptible to a process of masochistic adjustment to authoritarian collectivism.”
The ‘policing’ of the body: Puritan modernity: Protestantism and Self-control.
Historical “problem” with intoxication, frivolity and drugs.
NB: The Criminal Justice Act: Explicitly aimed at suppressing certain aspects of alternative culture: Squatting, direct action, occupation of land, hunt sabs and outdoor free parties. (150)
This was passed without opposition. Arguably it is part of the history of the repression of the pleasures of the body.
We still live within the discourse of ‘puritanism and prohibition’
Other discourses involve gender, culture, and class.
This lecture is about this
Every Kanye Sample Ever (apparently)
A song made up entirely of samples...
in a way I think that this lecture is all about this...
I was going to include loads of clips of boy bands from The Monkees through New Kids to Take That and Boyzone all the way to One Direction, but I couldn't willingly subject myself to it. Please forgive me.
I was going to include loads of clips of boy bands from The Monkees through New Kids to Take That and Boyzone all the way to One Direction, but I couldn't willingly subject myself to it. Please forgive me.
This is not the most relevant, but I HAVE to show it
This is much more appropriate
and this
Hans Zimmer Cliches
Full transcript