Monday, July 11, 2005

iPodization of identity

A reader actually responded to my most recent PopMatters column (very gratifying!) and amplified some of the idea there, positing that we're invited to compose our identity via pop-culture product but to see ourselves as true originals (and derivative conformists) because of how we "remix" the cultural detritus we select to fixate on. This seems totally accurate, and it explains certain phenomena: the existence of Sprite Remix, for example, and the suddenly popular and mainstream idea that Djs are somehow artists in their own right. But the cultural object that symbolizes this zeitgeist best is, of course, the ubiquitous iPod, ownership of which has from the beginning far transcended its actual functionality. Why the iPod became a phenomenon when other technological gizmos haven't has to do with its application to the sort of identity now being promoted by consumer culture. The iPod is the culmination (and now, the furthering agent) of conceiving personal identity as a random shuffle of our favorite cultural touchstones or as a specially contrived playlist. This lets us think that having an iPod makes us spectacular unique at the same time it makes us perfectly cool and enviable at the same time we conform perfectly to the promulgated ideal of cutting-edge consumption. It makes the contradiction of "conforming by trying hard to be unique" cohere.


  1. I'll admit that iPods do resonate on other cultural and semiotic levels, but from a purely practical sense, I think they are a great invention, a way to bring music and radio shows and interviews along with you in the subway, especially. And while they're probably overpriced, and made out to be uber-trendy by all the advertising, they are something that has allowed me to appreciate recorded sound during a time of the day when I might not otherwise have the chance. And if there were a way for me to listen without letting anyone else know, I'd do it, because having that nearby is more important to me than showing off that I have it. While corporate marketing, etc. makes the consumption of music much more complicated morally and ethically, it shouldn't prevent us from getting enjoyment out of it if we choose.

  2. Claiming that the ownership of an iPod far transcends its functionality just shows how far your head is up your arse. Being able to put your entire music collection into something the size of a deck of cards far transcends any feelings that accompany iPod ownership.

    I do not own an iPod (or any portable digital music player) because I do need one. If I had one that allowed me to create random playlists, I would use that function to break up the monotony of hearing songs in the same order, and NOT to be unique.

    In closing, stop overanalyzing things that need not be overanalyzed, start your entries in some other manner than "in the Wall Street Journal today...", and try to go out and get laid.

    I look forward to reading your crappy future entries.

  3. When my Journal subscription lapses, you can look forward to every entry beginning, "In this week's Economist..."