by carl wilson

More on 'Missing the Monoculture'

This Toronto Star story yesterday by Ryan Bigge jumps off from a Zoilus post awhile back to consider the fate of the monoculture, covering a lot of ground along the way, from the lack of a recognized "summer hit" this year to the "loudness wars" to the "long tail" to an intriguing study by David Huron I want to look up, about whether non-western music is becoming more dominated by western harmonies (gives the term "global harmony" a decidedly more sinister twist).

You could try refuting Bigge with three little words: "The Dark Knight." But I think this idea that there is no middle ground between monoculturalism and alienated uncommunicating tribes is also at fault - in fact, I'd set Bigge up against this piece on "cross-genre covers" by Jonah Weiner on Slate last week, to argue that they each show up the flaws in each others' cases: First, if you want to find the sweet spot of majoritarianism in our culture, just look at, say, what teen country-pop star Taylor Swift chooses to cover in concert: Lose Yourself by Eminem (as seen above), Irreplaceable, Umbrella - these are all big singalong moments for an audience that's not expected to be an R&B;/hip-hop audience. But of course we're all in that audience, whether we buy the record or not - sometimes less willingly, of course, the way we're all in the Katy Perry audience this summer. But we're not only in that audience - most people are also part of some niche audience. The monoculture has turned into more of a wheel with many spokes, but it still has a hub. Cross-genre covers are one of the ways that multivalent quality is now expressed.

Of course, Weiner is mostly criticizing the "propensity for condescension" in the cross-genre cover - ie., what used to be known as the "ironic cover." But as I argue in the chapter of my book called "Let's Do a Punk Cover of My Heart Will Go On", the ironic cover has been passing from fashion as openness and omnivorism have become the cooler cultural model. Part of my own turnaround on late-90s teenpop came from hearing Richard Thompson doing an acoustic cover of Oops, I Did It Again done with real respect for the songwriting craft involved. (Notice in the concert video how the crowd laughs at first - and how Thompson pays no mind to that laughter at all, just boring into the song until he's produced an entirely different kind of pleasure at the end. You often see that pattern with cross-genre covers today.) Weiner mentions John Darnielle's version of Ignition (Remix) without noting that the Mountain Goat does it in a medley with Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back in Town, which is clearly an attempt to draw connections across different continents of the musical map. So there may not be any overpowering single sector of the culture now, but there is a dominant mode - and that mode is connection. And when you think of it that way - that what we have in common is this process of placing things in relation, discovering what they have in common - it doesn't leave me "missing the monoculture" much at all.

Later: Oh, and I meant to add that for a neat example of the advantages of connection - what you might call the monoculture's transformation into "interculture" - read Josh Kun's excellent NYT feature from Sunday on Shawn Kiene, an American country fan who's morphed into "El Gringo," and eventually may help introduce the sounds known as "Mexican Regional" and norteno to anglo audiences in the States.

Such stories are Josh's specialty, as evidenced in his work directing the Norman Lear Center's Popular Music Project and in his book, Audiotopia.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 21 at 5:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



Katy Perry was, incidentally or not, a commanding presence on the Warped Tour (!!!) this year. (While being rained out of seeing my fave teenage pop-punk band, Pennywise, I watched KP do her interviews backstage. I left, demoralized.)

Posted by Kate on July 24, 2008 9:09 PM



Good point on the rise of omnivorism/openness.

What immediately comes to mind wa 90s/00s screamo culture's dead-serious embrace of gangsta rap.

Posted by Dylan on July 22, 2008 10:11 AM



Good points, Carl. See also Girl Talk -- talk about connection.

Btw Taylor Swift rules.

Posted by Jody on July 22, 2008 8:48 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson