Thursday, November 03, 2005
Madonna does not deserve our contempt.
There's an invitation to the first Meet-up on their blog. I think it's a super-excellent idea, and I hope I can make it.
The previous entry on their blog is a post by the founder of Pandora. I really respect Tim's way of thinking, and this post is a great example of it.

My brother and my dad are horribly snobby about music (I had to be in the closet about liking pop music growing up, so as not to be persecuted). I wish I had had Tim's presence of mind during arguments about the "intellectual quality" of music. What comes into my head during these "discussions" is retorts like "fuck you, shut up." That doesn't work quite as well as a well-thought-out treatise.

My brother and I regularly argue about the importance (or lack thereof) of Madonna. Seriously, it comes up semi-regularly. I don't enjoy arguing. I don't even really like Madonna. I do like some of her music; it's fun. And I don't think that she can be discounted as an artist because she's not serious enough or existential enough or non-sell-out enough. My dad and brother are perfectly willing to say her name with utter contempt, as though it's a swear word. I may be wrong, but I think there may even a little misogyny within that contempt. If she were a man who intellectual snobs considered a sell-out, I don't think she would illicit quite the contempt that she does as a woman.

My brother outed me to my parents as someone who enjoyed listening to Madonna in high school. We were at brunch, of all things. (we never ate out, but when we did, there had to be a fight, I guess.) I was minding my own business and he totally piped up, "Well, she likes Madonna!"
[A-Ha! Silence! Stunned stares! The Family has been disgraced! She was raised to have a discriminating mind, a subtle ear! She has forsaken us!]
Indeed, I got in trouble. I got quite a speech. About why Madonna did not deserve my attention, blah blah blah. I was old enough to know better than to discuss. I just waited 'til they were done and nodded when my mom asked "Do you understand?" My parents claim not to remember this particular mental beat-down, but my brother remembers. He's still, to this day, personally insulted by the fact that I do not feel repulsed by Madonna.

I think that's partly why I'm totally out of the closet about liking pop music as an adult. I like a lot of different kinds of music. I have excellent taste, and I was educated strenuously about music, from before I could read. I took music lessons my whole life, and went to a conservatory of music during high school and college. I refuse to follow the prescribed rules about what's "smart" music and what's "dumb." Bullshit. People who claim to think for themselves really should try it; wouldn't each person come up with his or her own opinion if people were actually thinking for themselves?

I read a quote from Janeane Garofalo last year about how people who listened to pop music couldn't be politically progressive. I guess she thought that "alternative," "serious-minded" music led people to question the dominant paradigm, but pop music, happy music, music with simplistic and (gasp) melodious lyrics couldn't possibly lead people to revolt. I can see where she was coming from, but her reasoning is kind of faulty. She's assuming that people who listen to popular music don't go to school or read, or talk to friends or watch documentaries, or engage with any other form of culture that could lead us to want to revolt. Or god forbid, come up with the ideas on our own, think for ourselves!

Sure, some people who listen to, whatever, Britney Spears, may not think particularly critically about the world around them. But it's a dangerous stereotype to assign that simplistic way of thinking to anyone who enjoys a Britney song. Who knows what anti-Bush activists listen to on the radio? I bet Garofalo's personal taste is in the minority there. I know some kick-ass activists who Get Shit Done and devote time and money to Important Radical Causes, and their choices of what kinds of art, music, movies, and books they engage with don't reflect their political beliefs every minute. It is called "entertainment" after all, and we are allowed to be ass-kicking citizens and still enjoy some non-political culture in between our WTO protests.

If we are going to assume stereotypes are true, are people who only listen to non-establishment music doing everything they can to change the world? Or do they just talk about it while they get stoned?
I have respect for brainy Janeane Garofalo. But you don't have to be a snarky cynical meanie to be an effective radical. Who's being simplistic here, really?


Kevin left a comment that was so on that I'm posting it right here so no one misses it:
way to bring the point. i wish this topic were discussed more.

i believe that radicalism in the '60s was fueled by the Beatles as much as it was by Bob Dylan. and you can't get much more melodic or accessible than the Beatles.

i can't stand it when people dismiss melodic pop as simplistic. does anyone realize how freaking difficult it is to write a good melody?!?

i contend that "Hit Me Baby One More Time," as offensive as Britney Spears may be, is one of the best songs of the '90s.


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