Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Unrealistic Expectations

I don't generally do Quote of the Day posts but this is just too good to ignore:

“We used to want our artists to be cigarette-smoking bohemian outsiders who were gonna take risks that the rest of us wouldn’t. Now there’s this desire, especially online, for them to be liberal academics.”

Matty Healy - The 1975

I have never paid much attention to The 1975 but I might have to start. Matty Healy's take seemed so on the money for a sixties burnout, I wondered for a moment if he might be from a different generation than I thought but I checked and he's a solid thirty-three years old, which makes him a card-carrying Millennial.

I won't have much truck with inter-generational name-calling but it would be self-defeating to pretend life and the culture don't both move in clades. Particular outlooks become attached to specific groups and the whole "Offended by being offended" thing has been assigned an age range by the media, precisely because, that way, it can feed off the artificial controversy it generates.

Socio-culturally, I believe the origins lie in American academia, where these kinds of rituals once formed some part of the arcane struggle for precedence and tenure, maybe still do, so the call-back has more than just figurative value. I remember first reading about the phenomenon as a potential breakout point maybe as much as fifteen years ago but it has some ancestry even as far back as when I was in college, when the arguments were framed around the posturings of various, mostly French, linguists and philosophers.

I have to say I loved it, then. I still do, provided it stays safely siloed in the hallowed halls of academe. When it turns up in my music feeds, not so much.

At this point I probably should make it clear that, by and large, I'm on Team Shut The Fuck Up. If you're planning on saying or doing something for the precise purpose of getting someone else's back up or ruining their day than just back off. Go and do something useful instead or if you can't manage that, something useless. Just so long as you do it where no-one can hear you.

If you have a point to make then, sure, make it forcefully but understand that being right doesn't give you a pass on being an asshole. I'm one hundred per cent behind not sitting back and letting people get away with shit but know the difference between calling someone on their privelige or whatever and just acting like a jerk.

Equally, if people do bad things they need to be brought to book, whether by the relevant authorities, their peer groups and contemporaries or, in the case of actors, musicians and entertainers of all stripes, by their audiences and fans. Getting away with that kind of stuff may have been an option when all you had to do was make it to the Transit next morning and on to the next nowhere town but not any more.

All that Global Village garbage the hippies were peddling back in the seventies turned out to be true, only not the way they told it. Now it's more like an actual village - all Neighborhood Watch, cctv and notes through your door if you put your bins out five minutes before the appointed hour.

So, yeah, do the right thing and all that but maybe don't expect the world to change overnight just because it needs to. We're in a transitional period. There will be overlap. Don't freak.

All that stuff with Marilyn Manson, for a start. The guy turns out to be just what he said he was and people are surprised? What's that all about? Now he claims it was all pretend but so did Alice Cooper. Okay, bad example. Iggy, then. Sorry, another.

My favorite, by which I mean the one I was most gobsmacked by, has to be the sorry tale of Burger Records. Who'd have imagined "an indie label that made its reputation selling $6 limited-run cassette tapes of bands such as Diarrhea Planet and the Vomettes" would have turned out to have such low standards?

As anyone who's delved into the history of any strand of popular music - or popular culture for that matter - will know all too well, these things happen. That's not an endorsement. It's a description. There was another great quote I read the other day regarding the rock memoir industry, currently booming like never before. Wait a sec... I think I can find it...

... No I can't. Bummer. I'll paraphrase. It was Peter Hook, talking about how much he'd had to cut out of each of his three memoirs because lawyers. Anything you hear, he was suggesting, no matter how bad it sounds, the reality was way, way worse.

Does that mean we need to get back to Lana's freedom land? Nah. Time rolls forward despite that undertow. We're going in the right direction, even if it's three steps forward, two steps back. And always remember you can only break taboos the one time. Once they're broken it's done. Anything after that is a lifestyle choice.

The days when we needed young men in leather jackets to tell us what to rebel against are long, long gone. We're all our own Brandos now, or should be. Being a rockstar doesn't mean what it did. There's no going back to the fifties or the sixties or, as I read people suggesting, with not the slightest hint of irony, the 2000s.

Matty Healy isn't suggesting we look back to a golden age of bad behavior and no regrets. He's saying we shouldn't be lurching away from one smoking train-wreck of a cliche right into another. Yes, I'm of an age to read "cigarette-smoking bohemian outsiders" as code for "aspirational role models" but honestly, I got over myself about the rock 'n' roll myth a couple of decades ago. It's a fun game but don't try it for real.

Expecting creative artists to behave like post-doctoral research fellows hoping to win tenure in some small-town college, though? That's never going to fly. Is it?

I guess where I do show my age is in hoping not. And even then I'm not entirely sure. I mean, I never subscribed to the whole Romantic laudanum dream of having to be miserable to prove your genius, so maybe I don't have such a problem with expecting even those wacky art types to live up to current conventional mores.

Be a bit boring if they did, though, wouldn't it? Either way, I don't think there's much chance of it happening.


  1. He's saying we shouldn't be lurching away from one smoking train-wreck of a cliche right into another. Yes, I'm of an age to read "cigarette-smoking bohemian outsiders" as code for "aspirational role models" but honestly, I got over myself about the rock 'n' roll myth a couple of decades ago.

    Berke Breathed, back in the 80s in his original incarnation of the Bloom County comic, had a comment about that. This was when it was hip to have bands be all for social justice when social justice primarily meant stopping world hunger (Live Aid, anyone?) and ending Apartheid in South Africa, and Berke's comic mused on how conflicted bands who built their reputation in that manner must feel when they finally hit it rich. The last panel shows one of the comic strips main characters, Bill the Cat, in a hot tub with two women in bikinis, but he's sighing in a melancholy manner above a "Save the Whales" bumper sticker attached to the side of the hot tub.

    It seems that every decade or two the music/entertainment industry goes through these cycles of self reflection, being socially aware, and then inevitably rejecting the social justice crowd in favor of pure hedonism. Which in turn leads to cynicism, then the cycle repeats in a bizarre Robert Jordan Wheel of Time fashion. Once you've gone through one of these cycles you kind of shrug and just move along, but it takes wisdom and experience to have observed the cycle

    Just like how Boomers thought they invented sex when the 1920s Jazz Age generation is sitting in their lawn chairs saying "Ahem!!"

    1. All popular culture seems to go in cycles but I'm a bit hazy on how far back you can take the "for the good of the people" aspect. I can see 60s protest songs>80s fundraising>20-teens awareness with some smaller or more localised moments (Rock against Racism/Red Wedge in the UK for example) popping up along the way but my knowledge doesn't extend far enough backwards to know if there were similar episodes in the 50s/20s/1890s (The usual suspects.) If I had to bet though, I'd go with yes.

      At the same time, every one of those periods also has something of a rep for hedonism or at least partying. Maybe the two go hand in hand.


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