a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories

Thursday

The supremacy of porn

I'm a fan of the arts, having been educated to think so.  One of the quirks of western culture is the very high value placed on art - you can easily imagine an educational system that valorizes literacy without making language arts the major timesuck they are in our secondary schools. Most kids in high school in the U.S. spend more time in English than they do taking science, for better or worse; language arts plus social studies creams science plus math; and most fluff courses are centered around papers and presentations i.e. argument/rhetoric, not anything to do with proof, hypothesis-testing, logic, etc.  There are good reasons for the evolution of this and valid if complex reasons justifying it today but you probably wouldn't object too much to experimental schools which devalued literature a bit in order to push thinking skills on the non-fuzzy end.  Instead of teaching literacy through reading stories, and teaching math by teaching dry math, you could teach math through money management, science through human health, and teach literacy by teaching dry literacy, and see what happens.
 
But yeah, art plays a big part in my life - I read a lot, I'm always looking for music, I pore through art books from the library and photocopy them for my walls, I have very specific tastes in film and television, I have a pet theory that goes sculpture:buildings::female:male, etc.  One thing I'm starting to notice is that music is easy.  So much so that I think you can argue it's a more powerful tool for the transmission of one's feeling/s than the other arts.
 
Basically, as time wears on, there is no end to the process of unearthing excellent musical recordings from the past that almost no-one knew existed.  The beloved obscurities known only to hipsters are constantly being dragged forth to wider exposure.  1960s or 70s curiosities from exotic locales are rediscovered and are favorably compared with the most famous British and American records of their time.  Seemingly endless wellsprings of blistering funk by unemployed midwesterners and spacy experimentalism on homemade machines which promptly fell apart are issued every month on boutique labels, decades after they were recorded, many of which were never released at all.  Early pop music and eerie folk wails from before the 1920s continue to be sought after, and compiled in ever-improving sound quality.  You may not buy any of these kinds of reissues, but I assure you, you will hear it in commercials, in films & tv shows; it will seep into the culture the way Nick Drake did, the way Robert Johnson did before him (he recorded in the mid '30s, was unknown until the mid-60s, became a touchstone for Clapton & Richards but was still very obscure, then went platinum in the 90s after a new reissue, and suddenly was famous as the greatest bluesman ever.)
 
There is, quite simply, no comparison for this phenomenon with any other art form.  One reason for this is that music is more typically purchased with the expectation of repeated replay, as opposed to archival film & literature.  People buy more cds than they do dvds or books, and use them more: the market's thus much bigger.  The corollary is that the pool of enthusiasts who obsess over music is bigger, and they accomplish more than the people who comb through old issues of magazines that emulated Harper's in search of overlooked short stories.
 
But I think there's something else: unknown music is just more interesting than unknown literature, art and film.  A piece of music you've never heard from 1947 has a decent chance of holding your attention, whereas a poem will likely not, a painting will likely not, a dramatic scene from a movie will likely not, etc.  And that's because, seems to me, music's easier to do.  Painting an interesting painting is incredibly difficult; writing good dialog is too.  Writing a song about your dog is easy.  Singing it is easy.  We have a low standard for quality in music, because it's packed with information about the singer, and it's usually reminding us of some other song we like because we all love songs with every set of chord changes and all types of melodies.  We have a musical culture in that sense, though very few people bother to learn how to play an instrument or carry a tune well anymore.
 
It's been said that film/tv is currently replacing the novel, which replaced poetry before it.  That big changes like this just happen, for a million different reasons which interact.  I've always thought that pop music is the current incarnation of poetry, and film is replacing symphonic music and theatre, and tv replaced conversation, bible reading and game-playing, but tv's hopefully on its way out.  So I like to think about what will replace pop music.  I figure it will be the perfect integration of some sort of rock/dance hybrid with comedic pornography, in 3-D with taser-like electroshock stimulation of the pleasure centers and carbonation, and very very catchy.
 

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