So begins a review of Thom Yorke’s solo album which I stumbled upon here:
We’ve come a long way from a time when Plato warned that changes in music could shake the very foundations of a state. Nowadays, most music critics, particularly those writing in newspapers, seem content with the situation, happily closing their articles with non-criticism in the form of statements such as “it’s nothing if not hugely entertaining” or “one could pontificate…but it’s simpler just to say that in all senses this was a captivating show”, as if to do so would somehow be self-indulgent and sermonising. It would be neither of those things – what it would be is substantially more difficult, as acknowledged by the latter critic, who shall remain nameless. That critic seems perfectly content to resign themselves to the road of least resistance, to the dogma of music’s ‘uselessness’ with a level of transparency and complacency that borders on pathetic. Music deserves more than this.
Joory suggests that Yorke’s open proclamations of his politics, which just so happen to include relatively common stances, are irrelevant and (I think this is the unfortunate corollary of what he is suggesting) ‘uncool’ as a result of that very fact. This is a non sequitur. In fact, the following quote is quite astoundingly lacking in logic:
“These views may seem palatable enough to most (anti-war, anti-Blair), but so does mainstream pop-music; must we listen to it? Surely Yorke’s integrity was galvanised by his unremitting disdain for the conventional? Now he self-consciously chimes with common sentiment. Should he not be anxious about that, and attempt to reject it?”
Why should common sentiment be rejected for the very reason that it is common?! Another common sentiment might be that a society is based on trust. I trust that when I get into a taxi I will not be driven to an isolated location and raped. Should we reject this sentiment too? After all it has the very characteristic for which Joory holds such disdain. It’s common. Joory’s review is yet another affirmation of a culture whose bizarre value system implicitly dictates (often with much more articulate opacity and obfuscation than the writer in question seems capable of mustering) the notion that value, integrity and credibility can be found solely in esoteric phenomena. A moment’s reflection on that notion reveals its nonsensical nature. Joory’s adherence to it also reveals the implicitly political nature of his review which attempts to create a hierarchy of value based on the premises discussed, despite the fact that, on the face of it, engaging with and displaying political behaviour seems far more distasteful to him than stuffing his own head in the sand in blissful ignorance. With wishful aplomb the article closes as follows:“This writer believes he should leave simply his politics aside from his art.”
Firstly, this is quite simply impossible, because art is inherently political, whether we like it or not. Secondly, “this writer” doesn’t seem to be much of a writer at all. John Gerassi sums up the vocation of writing beautifully succinctly when he says that if you write, you want to change the world – and yourself – since “Writing is an act. It is commitment” – qualities which this review abjectly fails to embody. By denying any political potential of the music discussed, a maintenance of the status quo is expressed through the very exclusion of politics. The desire to keep Yorke’s music and politics wholly separate reeks of 19th century conservative and elitist aesthetics obsessed with the autonomy of the artwork, which resulted in an almost complete depoliticisation of art, particularly music, in the works of the German critic Eduard Hanslick. Much twentieth and twenty first century art and music, and yes that includes ‘popular’ artforms, are an attempt to reclaim art’s critical potential from the neutralising effects of markets, industry and contemporary forms of popular criticism. The job of the critic is to attempt to curb that process, not to exacerbate it.
Facebook is a mediating force. It gives a sense of actualisation to the user, an impression of actualisation, and a painfully false one, through friend numbers (actualisation of popularity), profile picture selection (actualisation of beauty), becoming a fan of bands (actualisation of coolness), and all of the other “activities” involved in “creating a profile”. This is understandable in as much as people tend not to believe things are real until they see it, even if in this case, they create what they see, therefore falling for their own illusion. Through facebook then, they can sometimes realise an identity which they may feel escapes them in reality. Those who run the thing seem to be quite aware of the fact. The first misnomer is the use of the term create, implying the invention of the profile rather than a record of that profile (which is closer to existing) in an, admittedly, subjective reality. Even more bizarre is the language used in those apparently unassuming explanations that appear upon hovering a mouse over certain things. Take the “like button”. The explanation is as follows: “click here to like this item”. The corollary of which is “in order to like this thing, you must press this, so that the record can be made in visible format”. Striking is users’ campaign for the addition of a “dislike button”. Facebook thus becomes the mediator for the action of liking or disliking the thing, since the reality of liking or disliking the thing is achieved through the visible record, through its becoming an object, which seems, nowadays, to mean it is real. A sideways and paranoid way of looking at the ubiquity of action through machines, perhaps, yet even in that arena purporting to resent the rise of the machine more resiliently than any other, the scholar’s world, evidence of the mediating machine is inescapable in the misery of the powerpoint presentation.