Friday, July 01, 2005

Product seeders

This article about twentysomethings who have sold out their generation and with it the idea of a culture independent from marketing (which Victor Ozols thoughtfully forwarded to me) is truly disturbing. Though its old news that ads and so-called indie culture have thoroughly intertwined in recent years, and bands once thought to be the preserve of rock cognoscenti (new bands and old ones, like the Sonics, the Stooges, the 60s-era Kinks) are now routinely providing the music for car commercials and the like. But it's still repugnant and vulgar to see the sell-outs gloat about it, and about how much leverage they have and how much money they are all making and how that somehow equates to cultural relevance or social change. These idiots don't seem to understand that once you allow your culture to be used commercially, it no longer belongs to you or can represent anything other than the the fact that all things are for sale. The higher visibility for the things you cherish only ruins their significance, even if it earns their makers a few bucks. And it corrupts them as well, changing their sense of what their artistic purpose is by professionalizing them, injecting them into the business world, where decisions are made by a vastly different set of criteria, where the aesthetically unreasonable is rationalized by a variety of spreadsheets and market analyses.

But what this article made clear to me is how we have all failed, failed to make a stink when bands sell out, failed to repudiate those bands who sell out.
It helps that bands and audiences within a formerly contemptuous subculture now sing along. Fifteen or 20 years ago, Brickman's job couldn't have existed. A once-ubiquitous bumper sticker from a noted underground record label bluntly declared: "Corporate Rock Still Sucks." Back then, bands that cozied up to advertisers "were often ridiculed and hung out to dry," says Gerard Cosloy, co-president of New York-based Matador Records. "It's a different world now."

Doesn't that make you sick? We've caved to the logic that we should be happy for them and the money they've made -- as if money really is the arbiter of taste, the only legitimate reward for all types of effort. Well guess what: happy bands means crappy music. Bands make better music when they think no one is paying attention. And for the old bands who are now cashing in, their legacy is undermined and their music becomes threatened with disappearing altogether -- once it has been ingested by the commercial machine and digested by the consumer public, it retains no use value for anyone. First it hits a car ad, then it vanishes totally forgotten, another piece of marketing detritus. Who wants to save records full of advertising jingles? The actual jingles from bygone eras actually become more compelling than the actual music of their time that's currently being used by Madison Avenue -- the old jingles have sociological import, they are a nostalgic view into something past and concrete; the co-opted pop though offers only a view into the minds of the sycophants and quislings like the woman interviewed in this article and how they are trying to tap into the inner vacuous hipster in all of us, that inner adolescent still cowering in fear of having nowhere to sit at the cool table in the cafeteria.

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