For the Record: Denouncing a Boneheaded Idea About Pop Music

An unfortunate, lingering side-effect of the persistent remnants of high-culture arrogance 30 years ago was the following “reasoning”:

Theater and classical music were Serious Art best explained by serious writers for a serious, intelligent audience.

Films and jazz had earned a seat at the lower end of the Serious table, but they had a essential commercial streak that made denouncing big hits something to avoid.

Popular music was garbage and nothing but commerce. So a serious writer who took on pop was a fool. Writing for a tiny audience of other fools. The correct move was dumb writing for dumb people, which would attract a huge audience.

Of course this never worked in practice. (Pointing out that those who read about pop music were already the intellectual fans didn’t seem to make any difference.) So the nonsense has fallen out of favor.

What has replaced it is the notion that gossip and celebrity-drooling will make a lot more bucks than serious discussion. And that, sadly, is hard to deny.

There’s Not a Riot Going On

This is the piece that put a huge crack in the foundation of my reverence for Malcolm Gladwell (yes, it’s about school shootings). I’m not sure Winkler’s recommendations at the end of the piece add up to much, either, but there’s no question she’s right about the flaws in comparing school shootings to riots. Since reading this, I’ve noticed Gladwell often has the fatal structure of superficially compelling argument based on a messed-up premise. Of course, the New Yorker goes ahead and reprints his essay about school shootings as though nobody had said nothing.

Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Pervert?

As I noted recently, comics after Jonathan Winters are off my screen. [Male ones, anyway, I know, if anything, even less about female stand-ups, but don’t have the same specific objections to them.] Nobody’s ever accused me of being humorless, so I don’t feel bad about this outlook at all. What surprises me is how much reinforcement my attitude has gotten over the years. I thought The Sophisticates was a huge indictment of all the stand-up society. When I first moved to Boston in the late ’70s, comedy clubs were undergoing quite the boom. So I went to a show, I don’t remember who. I found the atmosphere relentlessly icky. Making members of the audience uncomfortable and encouraging those who were yukking it up to look down on them was a clear component of the act. It was a divisive collective experience the opposite of what I enjoyed about music performances. The final conclusion I came to is that far too many comedians are like what I consider the utter worst kind of fiction writer — those who create feuds and disasters in their own life to use as raw material.

The Disney Menace

Aw. c’mon — menace is over the top innit? I donno — when we visited Anaheim recently I thought it had the weirdest company-town vibe imaginable. Felt like you had to wear a Mouseketeer hat to live there. Non-Disney places felt like escape havens. Now it turns out Disney is doing something really, really shitty — banning LA Times critics from advance screenings because the paper is reporting on the freaky conquest of the town by the company. The only pleasure I take from any of this is that the shivery feeling I had out there was based in reality.

 

UPDATE: the ban is lifted after backlash that any non-arrogant non-bonehead could have seen coming.

 

The Flaws I Picked

I like to imagine that, before I was born, I was presented with a list of physical shortcomings and told I had to take several with me into life. I must have picked “Weak Eyes — with persistent stressful interludes,” but also, “Great Difficulty Tying Knots.” I was the last one in Kindergarten to learn how to tie my shoes. That bow knot was flat incomprehensible to me. But at least the knots on the extra garbage bags today were good enough.

Newspapers in Trouble; Likewise Newspaper Delivery

We’ve had more screw-ups with a Sunday Only Times this year than ever before by a huge margin. Today was a beaut — fractions of the Globe and NY Times scrambled together.

As I’ve said before, no young’un could ever imagine what a glorious medium newspaper comics were once upon a time if all they had to look at was today’s examples. Only “Mother Goose & Grimm” made me smile — and it got a slightly grotesque joke right. Other strips trying to be “edgy” were more strange and crude. And some are so sloppy and slight with the artwork as to sicken me. Like I say, if you want a prime example of an extinct form …