by carl wilson

In Other Countries, Art and Literature are Left to a Lot of Shabby Bums Feeding on Booze and Spaghetti, but in America the Successful Writer or Picture-painter is Indistinguishable from Any Other Decent Business Man

According to the ombudsman of American National Public Radio, "good cultural journalism" starts with assuming that any pop artist is (a) unimportant and (b) not an artist.

He also finds the Magnetic Fields, Morrissey and W--co "too hip" for NPR listeners. And Timbaland (or was that Justin Timberlake?) too obscure, until he finds out that Timbaland reads the Lord of the Rings, and then, for some reason, everything's okay.

NPR's dilemma (like the CBC's) is being the alternative-but-not radio network, the one with an aging base that is dying off faster than it can be replenished - go for young listeners too aggressively and maybe nobody will end up listening; don't go for young listeners and for sure nobody will end up listening, but it'll take longer, so you might not get blamed. It's pathetic but understandable.

But this goes way past NPR. It is a perfect snapshot of what it's like to work under the editors at any more-or-less-mainstream news outlet as a cultural writer. The real criticism is of using language too aesthetically, in non-journalistic cadences, and daring to assume that art is interesting without reference to some issue/celebrity/cute-gimmick or other non-art "peg" that will make it relevant in news-cycle terms.

Yes, I get irked by this where I work, and yet as far as I can tell we have it about as good as it gets in North America (the Times, as always, excepted). Imagine if you were the NPR critics whose perfectly clear and fine pieces were being mockingly quoted in this column by their network overseer. I think my favourite bit is this:

One of the characteristics of NPR listeners is that they are "open to new ideas."

I love the quotation marks, which act as an invisible hyperlink back to some focus group or listener survey somewhere, and assure us that while NPR listeners have the characteristic of being "open to new ideas," foolhardy staff should not leap to the conclusion that if you start broadcasting any ideas that are, for instance, unfamiliar, somehow listeners will be, potentially, receptively to that. That would just be ridiculous. And mean. And oh yes, you're fired. All right?

News | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 02 at 02:10 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

COMMENTS

I think you're in a grey area with your W**co challenge, Carl.

Posted by Carl Z. on July 2, 2004 10:05 AM

 

 

i don't think he said that the three bands were too hip - it was the reviews themselves.

Posted by Josh on July 2, 2004 02:50 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson