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July 6th, 2009
Mon, Jul. 6th, 2009 12:31 am

It's the question our moonwalking grandchildren will ask us: where were you when you were asked by a major media outlet for your reaction to the death of Michael Jackson? And what did you say?



Jarvis Cocker ended what was apparently a lacklustre appearance on BBC TV's Question Time with an attempt at the question he'd obviously been invited there to answer: Had the media over-reacted to Jackson's death? Cocker, of course, had interrupted Jackson's Earth Song at the 1996 Brit Awards with a weird arse-flapping intervention -- rather feebly choreographed, it has to be said, in comparison with performance artist Michael Portnoy's spastic-electric Soy Bomb dance beside Bob Dylan at the 1998 Grammys:



Jarvis told the Question Time audience that Jackson hadn't made a great record in twenty years, was pretending to be Jesus, and had invented the moonwalk. Fact-checking suggests that tap-dancer Bill Bailey invented the moonwalk and that David Bowie was the first rock performer to use it onstage (Bowie also arguably did the Jesus thing first too, since Ziggy was "a leper messiah").

My own mainstream media reaction to Jackson's death -- you can be my grandchildren now, since I won't have any -- came in the form of an AFP wire article by Shaun Tandon, syndicated yesterday. After 'King of Pop', an Empty Throne wonders -- rather in the way people wondered when Peel died -- whether anyone will be able to fill the void Jackson left. I was probably asked because I'm known for saying, in a 1991 essay entited Pop Stars? Nein Danke!, that "in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen people". That essay ended: "The King is dead. Long live the peoples!"



The AFP article has me saying: "Michael Jackson is not just the King of Pop, but the Last King of Pop". The article continues: "Momus pointed to the rise of digital culture, which has fragmented music consumers into small, targeted audiences. "Then there's the question of the sheer rarity of Jackson's combination of talents, his neurotic work drive and his eccentricity. Lightning like that takes a long time to strike twice," Momus told AFP."

Actually, the original quote I supplied said rather more -- spot the bits AFP left out: "Michael Jackson is not just the King of Pop, but the Last King of Pop. Three major factors will prevent there ever being another one: digital culture and its fragmentation of the big "we are the world"-type audience into a million tiny, targeted audiences; the demographic decline of the "pigs in the pipe" (the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, who made pop music's four-decade-long pre-eminence possible); and the decline of the influence of the United States."

The AFP article ends with me in a head-to-head disagreement with Jerry Del Colliano, a professor of the music industry at the University of Southern California. Del Colliano thinks that stars will emerge from social networking software.

"Momus, however, believes that social networking may have the opposite effect. He said the world may be headed back to what celebrated sociologist Pierre Bourdieu found in 1960s France -- white-collar workers preferred high-brow classical music, while manual laborers listened to cheap pop. "A few decades later, postmodern consumer culture had leveled that, at least superficially: now, people with college degrees spoke about Michael Jackson 'intelligently,' people from lower class backgrounds spoke about him 'passionately.' But everybody spoke about him," Momus said. But social networking is now limiting interaction among groups with different tastes, Momus said. "I think we'll see different classes embracing different cultures again. Things will settle back into the kind of cultural landscape Bourdieu described," he said."



Since this is my blog, not a syndicated wire service, I'll run the original quote I gave AFP in full:

"I think we're seeing the re-appearance of class and caste. Michael Jackson's fame comes from a cultural period -- postmodern global consumerism -- when the distinction between high and low collapsed. When Pierre Bourdieu surveyed French cultural tastes in the 1960s, he found that blue collar and white collar workers had completely different cultures -- classical music for the brain workers, cheap pop for the hand workers. A few decades later, postmodern consumer culture had leveled that, at least superficially: now, people with college degrees spoke about Michael Jackson "intelligently", people from lower class backgrounds spoke about him "passionately". But everybody spoke about him. Now that postmodernism is coming to an end, and now that narrowcasting and social networking limit our encounters with "the class other", I think we'll see different classes embracing different cultures again. Things will settle back into the kind of cultural landscape Bourdieu described in "Distinction"."

The King of Pop is dead, long live pithy, battling Kings of Pop Sociology! For fifteen global media minutes, anyway.

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