David Hepworth: Why the revolution in digital distribution has made delivery of news, music and entertainment more significant than the content
This is almost total horseshit - a lot of third-hand observations about social media, some of which are sometimes true about some things, wrapped around a really TERRIBLE example, a record that was the subject of passionate, sustained conversation among its main audience, with major ripples beyond. And maybe - just maybe - a 50something British white guy isn’t part of that audience, isn’t the best placed to judge how much “impact” the record had or how “important” it was to people. (Though simply by virtue of being on Tumblr this 40something BWG managed to twig that SOMETHING was up.)
No, the problem here - and I’m not even talking about Hepworth here, bad as the article is it’s a symptom, a symptom of something I suffer from too. An open letter to me, then.
The problem is that you hit a certain age and you stop doing the work. You assume that if conversation’s not happening amongst your ossifying set of professional contacts, it’s not happening anywhere. You imagine that your contributions are such that you will know what’s up by right, by licking a finger and sticking it into the air and sitting back down on your arse and re-typing something you once read about the internet.
Though, OK, “The revolution happened in distribution”, that’s a fair starting point. You can work from there. You can think about what that means for how stars present themselves, for how people become stars, for whether “singles and albums” are the best way of thinking about what a pop star does, about the art, the presence, “the content”. Though in this record’s case, there is content to spare. Maybe get specific and talk about how Beyoncé in particular is a really fascinating figure in this shift, coming up in the CD boom heyday and adapting (unlike almost any of her peers) partly by trying new things out.
What does it mean - just looking at the simplest, most public facts - that musicians dominate Facebook and Twitter fan scorecards, that music is so enormous on YouTube? You could take the analytic route - try and work out what the half-life of a song, or a video, is these days. Or you could take the journalistic route, find the people who Beyoncé means something to - something bad, something wonderful - and bloody ask them.
It’s not just lazy. It’s fine to get lazy. I can’t keep up any more, that’s just a fact. You don’t stop being useful - I hope! - you become more of a historian, turning your eye on the past a little more. Maybe use your experience as a scalpel on the times you lived through, not as a weapon against the present? No, fine, you don’t have to do that at all, if the present sucks people should say so. But not so ahistorically. When distribution shifts, exciting things happen. We can look at the history of radio, Dansette record players, sheet music, MTV, as evidence for that. Look for what’s changing. People aren’t mugs, or no more than they ever were. Look at why they care. Don’t trust yourself so much.
Better yet, you can read this. (And bravo to Tom.)
I have read your open letter to me and appreciate that it is considerably more thoughtful than many of the comments below my original story, left by people who clearly didn’t read my piece very closely. Unfortunately, I don’t think you read it very closely, either.
In the email to which you attached your letter, sent to Nashville Scene editor Jim Ridley and freelance contributor Chris Chamberlain — but not to me — you wrote, “Steve raised some interesting issues about this business, but he also said some pretty harsh things about me and my team.”
"Pretty harsh things."
What did I say that was harsh? Here’s what I said the only time I referenced you and your team by name: “The owners of Two Ten Jack, Patrick Burke of Seed Hospitality and chef Jason McConnell, are white. Executive chef Jessica Benefield is white.” Apart from that, I noted that the entire staff of your “authentic” Japanese restaurant seemed to be white, I described a bartender crushing ice and mentioned a maitre d’ telling me a table was ready. I counted the number of minutes it took for my party to be seated. If you find these words to be “harsh,” then I doubt you’d last a week in this country with a face and eyes that look like mine.
But let’s return to your letter.
"I obviously can’t completely empathize with you, Steve, or anyone else from a minority group who’s experienced prejudice,” you say. “But that shouldn’t stop me from working to share a love of Japanese cuisine with others. Should it?”
I never said it should. I never said that.
And that is what’s so disheartening about your letter, Mr. Burke. In my piece, I write, “To be clear: I have no problem with white people making Japanese food.”
That is literally what I said. So why ask me a rhetorical question when I’ve already answered it?
Elsewhere in your letter, you say, “The lesson Gary instilled in me was that ethnicity didn’t matter — anyone could make quality Japanese cuisine if they studied and worked hard enough.”
Again, if you’d read my piece carefully, you might have noticed the part where I say, “Food is culture. It’s transmittable.”
That is literally what I said.
My larger point was that yes, ethnicity shouldn’t matter — but for some of us, despite our best efforts, it does. We are despised, belittled, poked at. But I suppose I can’t expect you to engage with my larger point when you don’t seem to have noticed even the most basic ones.
There’s a word among people of color for when our views are disregarded and then told back to us as if we’d never considered them: whitesplaining. Oh, it’s a silly term, but you get the idea.
In your email you also wrote, “I’m hopeful my passion for the business I’m in is evident.” You know who else has a lot of “passion”? People who are … not well-intentioned. Let’s leave it at that.
I called for no boycotts in my article. I proposed no legislation. The only request I made of anyone was this: “Before you play the authenticity card, don’t forget who still has to live with the negatives.”
Don’t forget. That’s all I asked.
And in asking, I hoped you would consider how, in a city that is both booming and becoming increasingly unequal, presenting your restaurant as “authentic” and “the real izakaya experience” — the real experience — might be perceived by people who are despised, mocked and marginalized. I hoped you would consider what “the real Asian American experience” is like, and how your claims might sound a little discordant in that context. I asked you to check your privilege, but I didn’t ask you to wreck it.
So what, then, was your response, that you asked the editor of the Nashville Scene to print for all to see?
Your response, in essence, was to post a selfie.
For sure, Japan is quite conspicuous in the background, as are your non-white associates over the years. I especially enjoyed the story you told of the late Gary Flood, the African American sushi chef who was your first mentor. He seemed like a fascinating guy, and I wanted to know more about him.
But the real hero of your letter, of course, is you.
“One characteristic of Mr. Guralnick’s work, on display in the video content as well as the books, is that he likes to talk not just to the stars, but also to the people that work with them behind the scenes: sidemen, producers, songwriters, managers and even, in the case of the singer Bobby (Blue) Bland, his valet and driver. That is an approach increasingly rare in an era obsessed with celebrity and seemingly bored by process.”—
Good, interesting piece (and certainly congruent with my own work right now), but I have to roll my eyes at this assertion. Funny—every seriously weighted music history and biography I’ve read in recent years (by Dan Charnas, Will Hermes, Jesse Jarnow, Preston Lauterbach, Craig Marks & Rob Tannenbaum, R.J. Smith, and Mark Yarm, among others) does precisely this kind of deep interviewing. (Needless to say, my forthcoming book does too.) Furthermore, so are the majority of longreads and oral histories that proliferate in magazines and on websites. (And many of them are, in fact, about nuts-and-bolts processes: cf. Sean Howe on the making of Madonna, or Phillip Mlynar on the first Wu-Tang album.) Mistaking gossip blogs and clickbait with real journalism is throwing the carts in with the horses, and makes a fool of everyone who does it.
“That’s the thing about Insane Clown Posse. Like when people get mad about the Gatherings of the Juggalos, I’m almost like, I’m happy that they’ve been gathered in one place. I actually like that. Rather, what would you prefer? The scattering of the Juggalos all over the place? That’s a good thing that’s happening. They’re being contained in a small place. “No, I want them everywhere.” Well, I don’t.”—Christopher R. Weingarten, “How Patton Oswalt Learned to Stop Hating and Accept Justin Bieber" (Rolling Stone)
Audio for what appears to be the complete party, both rooms, from the 2000 Miami Winter Music Conference, in eight parts. As I learned the hard way (hahaha “hard way”), the download links for parts 4-8 are just repeats of part 3. So do this: open the audio files in another tab, then copy-paste the URL somewhere you can right-click and save. Then change the last numeral in the URL to 4, 5, 6, etc. Then right-click to save. Voila!
Um, nah. I mean, what’s there to say? That piece is incredibly stupid and very pull-your-head-out-of-your-ass embattled old white man type shit. This Jeremy Gordon post here pretty much nails why it’s dumb and clueless.
About the only thing I’d add to this discussion: A big fuck you to Austerlitz for trying to temper what is so clearly a white male perspective on popular music by nodding to some non-white male artists he digs like Speedy Ortiz and Ka. To me, that kind of cloying pseudo-inclusionary attitude just makes his flimsy argument worse (cherry picking a female and black artist he likes to bolster his credibility while promoting a very exclusionary vision of popular music that is known to dismiss female and black artists is fucking gross!!!) and kinda says to me that he realizes he’s full of it, you know?
“Who are these upstarts, anyway? Do they really call underground rock fans ‘elitists’? Where, exactly, have they done this? Are there really critics out there who dogmatically privilege only music that they consider inauthentic and that features guitars the act didn’t play or lyrics the act didn’t write, and who look down on all music by important artists considered part of the historical canon? Or might such critics more likely be figments of somebody’s imagination? And beyond all that, what exactly are today’s alleged poptimist youngsters doing that, oh I dunno, Chuck Eddy and Frank Kogan and Rob Tannenbaum and Ted Cox and Ken Tucker and Tom Smucker and James Hunter and Carol Cooper and Michael Freedberg [a/k/a J Michael Here] and Deborah Frost and John Leland and Barry Walters and Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer and Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh and Robert Christgau, say, hadn’t?…”Look, there is no poptimism,” an exasperated Kogan wrote in 2009. “Unless by poptimism you mean every interesting rock critic ever.””—Chuck Eddy on “poptimism.” Which, by the way, means having faith that there is always something interesting to be found going on in pop music (of whatever type and from whatever background), NOT blanket approval of all of it.
For the last few days I’ve been unable* to escape the heated discussion about an op-ed that appeared in the New York Times about poptimism, and why it’s bad. Whatever salient points the author may have had are obscured by a bunch of easily deflated arguments, so I won’t go into it. But there’s…
Read to end. (FWIW, Vince Lawrence, who actually was ushering at Comiskey Park the day of the Demolition Derby, is pretty definite that the crowd was mostly racists from the north side.)
“Silicon Valley is a meritocracy in the same way that the Ivy League schools are: it helps to be smart, but it helps just as much or more to have the right connections. The game is rigged. The pathology of Silicon Valley is that the winners have so much ego invested in pretending that it isn’t. It’s hard for people who pride themselves on their exceptional smartness to acknowledge the fact that they are much luckier than they are smart.”—Rachel Chalmers (via katherinestasaph)
Jeff Mills: [In the Sixties and Seventies, science fiction] was everywhere. NASA was active at that time. There had been a few really successful movies like 2001. It was an industry that was very much embedded into the American psyche, or already ingrained.”
RA: Do you think all that sci-fi stuff had an element of escapism that was particularly appealing to the situation of growing up in Detroit?
Mills: I think it was pretty much all over the country. I found an encyclopedia of science fiction writers from pulp fiction all the way to comics. [It said] where the people were from. If you look at that you see that it was very much in the Midwest, a few on the West Coast, of course—in San Francisco, northern California. Many in New Jersey, many in New York; some in Boston; and a few spread out in other places. Some were women disguising themselves as men so they could get their stories published. America has a very interesting background for fantasy/science fiction writing. These weren’t their primary jobs. They were accountants; they were waitresses; they were people from all sectors of the workforce. They had the opportunity to write these stories because this is what they felt they were contributing to in terms of the future, I suppose. This has been going on for quite some time. If you go back and look at the history of science fiction writing, it’s been a hundred years of constant accumulation of writings about and projections about the future and space and humans’ relationship to it. By the Sixties and Seventies it had really been manifesting in Americans. Most of these magazines and periodicals were read while people were catching the train, or in transit in cities—big hubs like Chicago had a large amount of readers. Detroit also was a big hub for trains and that type of rail travel. Those places had the most active readers, which could explain why comics are so popular in Chicago. There’s a very strong connection between this genre and our American societies.
“The event’s final rave party, slated to take place Sunday night, was aborted. ‘They should have had the rave so we could use up all our energy,’ said Steve Blackwell, 25, of Ocean City, Md., as he sat on the ground and watched the drummers. ‘Look at this. This is the people’s concert.’”—Alona Wartofsky, “Woodstock ‘99 Goes Up in Smoke” (Washington Post, July 27, 1999, p. A1)
you seem to get angry when other people like things
This is such a ridiculous misread of what I do that it makes me want to quit forever. But I get it. I’m dealing with people who have been taught to define themselves by the things they consume. So they interpret any dismissal of something that they’ve enjoyed as a personal attack. And if you think someone is attacking you then yes the natural conclusion would be that this person is angry. At you. For liking something. I can assure you that this not the case. Your taste in things does not define your person and I almost certainly do not care about either.
“Is Beyoncé a feminist? Is she a womanist? I don’t know. To me she is a cyborg. “Cyborg writing,” Donna Haraway tells us, “is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.” What I appreciate about Beyoncé is that I understand and recognize the tools seized. This is not to say that these aspects in Beyoncé align neatly — they are indeed confusing — but they demand a right that is so often denied black women: the right to be a human, a character with many identities, many aspects, attitudes, vulnerabilities, joys, heartbreaks and realities.”—Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You: The BeyHive" (NPR’s The Record)