Election, “expensive-sounding” music, more
I came home last night feeling pretty chipper — relieved about being at least slightly caught up with my life, after feeling just about at the end of my rope for most of the day — to find a bunch of my housemates sitting around the living room looking pretty bummed, and I quickly realized that the election results would probably be looking pretty concretely bummerific or non-bummerific as it got close to 1 a.m. I had barely thought about politics since I sent in my absentee ballot, and even then I had just marked the obvious choices and not really given too much thought to the profound implications of this election, because throughout this year I’ve paid very little attention to the campaigns at all. The only TV I watch is serialized sitcoms and dramas on the internet, and pretty much everything I read about on the internet is related to music or pop culture, so only the most prominent political events make it on to my radar, like the “ground zero mosque” or general updates on the economy or Deepwater Horizon or what have you. And even then, it’s more often related to the media’s coverage of these events than the actual politics surrounding them. It’s the same way my general knowledge of sports has dwindled over the course of four years at college…I’ve become more and more submerged in the world of internet music writing, and you can only keep filling your brain with so much stuff every day, you know? I’m so embedded in the music stuff (I listen to about five or six new albums each week for WRMC and constantly keep up with whatever other new releases are coming out) that I’ve even started to feel out of touch with what movies are coming out, something I prided myself on before.
So I saw my housemates’ dismay and felt pretty numb and indifferent about the election results in response. I was thinking that maybe that’s just because of where I am in my life — I’d say it’s a pretty “self-centered” phase, not because I don’t care about the people in my life, but because most of what I think about is trying to find balance in my life and trying to make the most out of my senior year (a mindset that’s probably damaging to my actual enjoyment of it), and figuring out what I’m going to be doing next year and how I should make my life fulfilling and all those things you think about in your early twenties. I wondered if politics and big, important saving-the-world stuff — stuff that might not have a very direct effect on my day to day search for happiness and balance — had stopped mattering to me very much in this “self-centered” period of my life.
Then today, there was a general sourness in the air about the elections (Middlebury College, the people I follow on Twitter, my personal friends on facebook and in the flesh, and the websites I read are all overwhelmingly liberal) and some of the feelings definitely started hitting me. My general disaffection about political change over the past two years was compounded by the feeling that basically no other progressive legislation will be passed at least for the next two years — and in 2012 it will probably only get worse. (And I know the Obama administration has gotten some serious shit done in some seriously shitty times, but like so many, I got all doe-eyed during the Obama campaign about the idea of actual systemic change that would make our political system more functional, which I absolutely do not think has happened.) Leaving college next year and entering the working world definitely makes that “state of our country” stuff feel a little less abstract than ever before.
In the afternoon I was listening to the new Cee Lo album, The Lady Killer, and it’s first and foremost it’s a piece of really extravagant studiocraft, like some seriously big-budget production, blockbuster pop music shit. I think I like it quite a bit but I’m going to have to go back and listen to it again. I think it’ll do very well commercially and have at least another charting hit or two (outside of “Fuck You”, of course…which by the way I think is the most digitally viral pop song ever written, maybe because it was created by behavioral psychologists and music scientists to be the most catchy a song could possibly be). But I’ve been pretty bad at predicting pop success in the past…I thought “Love Lockdown” would be huge but instead it was “Heartless”, and I’m constantly shocked that Robyn is not burning up the U.S. charts right now. Anyway, Cee Lo’s album sounds extremely radio-ready and I have no problem with this, I think he’s an awesome artist and deserves to be a pop star I love well-crafted pop that guns right for my pleasure centers as much as almost any other kind of music out there.
My point is that this music sounds really expensive, and I felt this really odd disconnect between this and the general dismay about the election results and all that state-of-the-economy stuff, which I’d say is around 75% of what this election was about. And a couple of hours ago my friend Ty sent my a link to a leak of the supposed final version of Kanye’s uber-jam “All of the Lights” — which is said to feature at least 15 mega-huge pop singers, but they’re crammed in there so tight it’s hard to even tell — this is another really production heavy, expensive-sounding piece of music, like if it was a movie it would be a Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan or David Fincher movie. I’d say most of the songs Kanye has released as part of G.O.O.D Fridays (like a friggin double-album’s worth at this point), as well as the Rick Ross album, sound like this…hence the whole “Maybach Music” thing. And “Runaway” is easily the most extravagant music video ever made. (Side note: despite how silly I thought a lot of “Runaway” was, I think pretty much every song Kanye has released over the past few months has been an awesome fucking jam, he is on an unrivaled hot streak right now and the buildup to this album is unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime, perhaps one of the most dramatic press campaigns OF ALL TIME.)
Can you see what I mean about this weird discrepancy between music like this (maybe you could say the same about The Social Network or Inception) and the way things are in the world right now? I’m totally in favor of big-budget pop culture, it is uniquely thrilling but I just started to wonder, like, what is the place of this stuff in what’s going on around us? Lots and lots of people can’t find jobs and Kanye, Jay, and Nicki are up there destroying Yankee Stadium. I’m not trying to implicate them, anybody who knows me knows I’ve barely been able to contain my excitement about Kanye West for this entire year, I’m practically obsessed with the guy, but his place in our society is so WEIRD. Earlier today, I read that Bush said that getting called a racist by Kanye was “one of the most disgusting moments of [his] presidency.” What the fuck? (Of course, Kanye responded to this in typical unexpected, fascinating style.) I’m not just trying to call Bush an idiot — I’m kinda over that. There’s just something to be said about a society in which the words of a notoriously crazy, loudmouthed pop star can have that strong an effect on our friggin President. And in that same Pitchfork news item, they report on Clinton being hopeful about Weezy getting out of prison. I found this all just so strange.
(Connections: Taylor Swift was interrupted by Kanye at the VMA’s. I’d say they’ve both bounced back just fine: Kayne is…well, you read what I said earlier, and Taylor’s album just sold over 1,000,000 copies in its first week. That is not an insignificant feat in today’s commercial music environment. The last person to do it was in fact…Weezy! Who did it with Tha Carter III.)
I’m talking too much because I don’t know quite how to articulate how weird all this pop-star-stuff made me feel. Who are these mythical people? What is the place of art, the thing in this world about which I feel the most passionately, in a society where it seems every effort should be devoted to preventing its collapse? Why doesn’t our popular culture mirror to a greater degree the fear that I think a lot of Americans are feeling right now? I suppose, like they always say, it’s “escapism”. And for that sense of dread about the economy, you have to look to musicians who are actually affected by it — i.e. NOT pop stars. The biggest trend in indie music since the economy took a turn for the worse is chillwave and the sounds associated with it — nostalgia; a sort of hazy, muffled, “womblike” quality; words like “memory” getting tossed around in the discussion of this massive wave of new indie acts. pitchforkreviewsreviews, my absolute favorite blog at the moment (seriously, read everything he’s written), wrote a post about this. Ernest Greene a.k.a. Washed Out, creator of chillwave’s manifesto, is pictured above, in typically hazy, nostalgic fashion. So I guess music is not completely divorced from our social realities. But how exactly is it connected? Does it have any “effect” on these situations? Should it? Obviously all art should not have to have political aims in mind, a lot of that stuff is awful (not all of it, of course! early Dylan, Steinbeck, you name it). I feel like I have a very strong personal understanding of the place of art in the world, how it helps us make sense of the infinite, chaotic stimulus of living, and construct/understand the personal “Hero’s Journey” that is our own life, in the work of Joseph Campbell. But today I was just kind of questioning all that. And wondering why I care so, so deeply about art, especially music.
Should I be invested in something that has a more directly “beneficial” effect on the state of our society? There are more overtly political causes that I feel very strongly about, and feel like I can have a real effect on, and am better-informed about than others. These are the ones related to media. The way media functions, on our minds and in our society, is something I understand better and better all the time. Preserving net neautrality, improving copyright law, working to increase the teaching of media literacy in schools, and reforming our news media to act as a better tool for democracy are things I have at least a basic understanding of, and most importantly, they feel like achievable goals. But do they matter if capitalism continues to “fail” (I apologize, I hate saying that, but just let me indulge my dramatic tendencies for a moment), if we keep irrevocably fucking up the environment to the point where it starts having very real, damaging effects on vulnerable populations?
All this just because of some lousy election results? Am I sounding a bit too apocalyptic? This really goes against the type of mind I consider myself to have (level, rational…sometimes to a fault). But it’s hard not to feel sometimes, now, as if things aren’t “coming to a head” in almost every realm of our society, don’t you think? Climate change? Population growth? Technological advancement? Artistic movements? I’ve probably talked about this with some of you who are reading this. Can you understand that feeling? Major, paradigm-shifting events seem to happen with greater and greater frequency over the past century or so — and I don’t think this is just a side effect of living in the present and being more aware of these changes than ones happening, say, 400 years ago. It’s a documented phenomenon in at least technology and art that the rate of changes, shifts, innovations has accelerated quite a bit, and is still doing so. We’ll have to see where things head, the next two years of this new group of people in Washington included.
I sent my friend Shane (one of my “token Republican friends”) a message asking him, honestly, what he thought of the election. We often argue about politics even though we shouldn’t because he studies politics and goes to school in DC so what do I know? But I wanted an actual answer, I wasn’t pissed off enough to be trying to pick a fight. He said some excellent things:
“…In the case of Congress as a whole, I’m going to tentatively say that I think that they will hopefully do some good (for instance, start to address the deficit) and be limited in their ability to do harm.
“However, I am much more inclined to say, “I don’t know.” I am cautiously optimistic, but I will reserve judgment until they actually demonstrate that they can get things done and work with Democrats (a real concern). This was my problem with the Obama craze: Obama winning the presidency did not upset me as much as people taking up the rallying cry “Yes We Did” before he even took office. So in the interest of not being a hypocrite, I’m not going to get too excited until they actually accomplish something.
“Another point: I actually like divided government better. Republicans proved from 2000 to 2006 that they could get nothing done when they controlled Congress and the presidency (possibly excepting the Iraq war, but…yeah), and Democrats proved likewise for the last two years (possibly excepting Obamacare, but they failed to sell it to the American people so thoroughly as a result of infighting—not even anything the GOP did—that it is now likely to be repealed). And my most important issue is term limits—I want ‘em. So anytime a lot of Congressmen get tossed out, that’s usually not a bad thing (GOP deserved it in 2006, Dems deserved it this year). Like I said…I’m cautiously optimistic, and I think most people should be.”
I don’t know whether to agree with or believe this, especially having seen the outpouring of disappointment, frustration, and rage all day from liberal minds that I know and trust, both on the internet and in real life. Honestly I’m too out of touch to make much of an argument either way. But it’s the most rational, relatable thing I’ve heard said about the results thus far, and I don’t think this is just because it calms my feelings of dread. I really do think there’s something to it. Let’s not get all worked up!
New Hampshire, my home state, just elected Kelly Ayotte (you can see her above…she’s the one you don’t recognize), a Republican with some extremely regressive (Palin-esque) social views, to replace former Senator Judd Gregg. She questions the existence of climate change, opposes gay marriage and abortion, etc. I’m sure Congress being filled with types like this will kill any hope of that sweeping, systemic change I mentioned before, and it’ll almost definitely make passing good, progressive legislation somewhat harder. But when it comes to our country’s laws concerning social issues, I think it’s plain that there’s been constant, if sometimes very slow, forward movement over the course of our history, with very few jumps backwards. (And please don’t go all semantic on me here and point out counterexamples — you get my general idea.) At one point women and non-whites couldn’t vote. Now, of course they should be able to vote. I don’t even need to say that our country has loads of issues about gender and race still to deal with, but something like their right to vote is never going to go away. I feel that, in my lifetime, we will see the general majority holding that same opinion about gay marriage. Of course anyone should be able to marry anyone. Duh! Abortion is a trickier one, but at least it’s constantly being debated. Views about at least the basic existence of climate change are more widely accepted than 10 years ago, if not the urgency of it and how we should deal with it. Medical marijuana? Seems like that’ll get pushed through eventually.
I just said so much that I have absolutely no way to sum it up here. Basically I want us to take my friend Shane’s advice and act rational about all this. Wasn’t what that whole Jon Stewart rally was all about? I’m as guilty of thinking apocalyptically about society as anyone (well, maybe not anyone) but…..I dunno. Let’s just chill out and do what seems attainable to us. In the grand scheme of things and in our day to day lives…I suffer from trying to get too much done in a day, and then kicking myself for not succeeding…I need to be more realistic and I will enjoy myself much more. Seriously though, I don’t know how to wrap this up, so I’m just going to leave it at that.
Feist – “Past in Present”
Josh Ritter – “Snow is Gone”