August 23, 2012

Pitchfork’s “People’s List” Is Not A Scandal

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What is the issue?

Whenever a “best of” list comes out, be the Random House’s Modern Library canonical Top 100 Novels, or now, Pitchfork’s The People’s List, a crowd of dissenters — mostly white, liberal, and hyper-educated — gather to address how hegemonic and systemic such a list is. They then immediately offer more obscure titles — works which point to a kind of stringent taste endowed by a good education, and sustained by the same socioeconomic privilege they are implicating. I hate to bring race into this, but this seems like a particular white thing. White people arguing with other white people about race and gender. The dirty secret is that our other reticent races (African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians — sorry to abridge) are just as patriarchal, if not misogynist, as our tolerant white folk whose indignation at perceived unfairness towards the Other is always both touching and irritating.

The problem is OK Computer (1997) is reasonably the best album of the last 15 years, though I say this in concession to the broader philosophical understanding of One’s Subjectivity. It will be absurd to have a discussion over if, and how, and why OK Computer is a great work, or why the majority of the 27,981 voters thought so as well. What is at stake is art removed from politics. The latter degrades the former. It brings it down to the level of our current national discourse — of colors, sides, states, and the foul men whose very careers rely on ongoing arguments. The idea that if Thom Yorke was black, or gay, or a woman, then one’s entire premise would fall apart, is saddening. It is simply shallow to reduce art that way.

Pitchfork is where I go to find music, and yes, I’m sure there are many other less corporate or cooler or edgier places to find the Great Band No One Has Ever Heard Of, but my goal in doing so — listening to music, reading books, watching movies, consuming any kind of culture — is to honor the works and their artists by enjoying it, being sincere with it in a way which has nothing to do with my personal ego, not to win some abstract self-involved cultural war with the rest of society. If there’s a Great Band No One Has Ever Heard Of, then I’m sure I’ll hear about it within two months, or six months, on Pitchfork, or Spotify, or freaking VH1 a year later. I don’t care. I don’t mind being one year behind. Duh, that’s what “timeless” means.

I understand the need to be right in a relationship, or tedious situation at work, but to exert such moral energy towards what album 27,981 strangers liked the most — an album unfortunately composed and recorded by five pasty white British men — is pretty deflating, and makes me want to officially bow out of the race for the Avant-garde prize. It’s okay to want to feel special, just don’t shit on some pretty awesome albums recorded by some pretty awesome sad white bros, who historically rock out better than anyone else. As for rap, this is Pitchfork. Someone hand these blind people canes.

In 1997, I was a senior in college, still living at the dorms. Some freshman with a large nose, frightened eyes, and half a dozen zits on his face told me OK Computer was the best album ever. I easily dismissed him and said no, that Pink Floyd’s The Wall was, in that old man stubborn shut-down-brain way. I grouped Radiohead with Oasis, Blur, and other British bands at the time that felt and looked annoying. I got upset. This kid didn’t know anything about pain, isolation, and whatever the hell I thought The Wall was about. We don’t need no education. He looked at me and said, with suddenly brave and sympathetic eyes, dude you still live in the dorms. I politely left his room, walked down the hall to my own, and closed the door. All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall. A few months later, I graduated and moved to the city. Two years later, after some cute girl said she loved OK Computer, me wanting her taste in me, I finally bought the best album of all time, probably. TC Mark

image – Pitchfork.com
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