Sometimes I get in the bad habit of finishing an article, and then deciding to stick around the site by clicking on an attention-grabbing headline to a different story. Yes, I understand that this is the very foundation of the online publication model, but there are some sites where that strategy is not a good idea and that it is best to disengage from standard internet protocol.
We recently posted a link to an article in Slate that explored the mystery of the time signature of the theme from The Terminator. This was an interesting and fun story that allowed the reader to indulge in harmless music nerd-like tendencies, while also revisiting a great film. It’s a perfect time-waster that also benefits by adding a little bit of knowledge of music theory and production. However, instead of closing the tab and continuing with my previously-planned surfing, I made the (figuratively) fatal error of clicking on this article.
There’s not much to this article–an NPR producer has an extensive record collection, and his wife started a Tumblr where she criticizes his albums called “My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection”. Sounds innocent enough, right? But apparently when constructing a personal Tumblr examining a record collection, one needs to be hyper-aware about the possible gender politics, and the politics of the gender politics as well. The initial criticism derived from the premise of the Tumblr itself, with Slate mentioning that “[f]emale music writers Annie Zaleski, Maura Johnston, and Ann Powers have pushed back against the blog’s conceit, arguing that it reinforces negative stereotypes about the role of women in the music world.” This of course assumes that a personal response to a shared relationship concern is somehow supposed to be a reflection of music criticism as a whole. If someone can clue me in on why this assumption exists, I would appreciate it.
In addition, according to the critics cited in the piece, not only should there be concerns about the blog itself, but with the reactions to the blog and their possible sexism. To quote: “Flavorwire‘s Judy Berman initially appreciated the blog’s charm, but then, ‘as acquaintance after acquaintance—almost all of them men—enthusiastically shared the blog, I noticed a more powerful, gendered slant to their appreciation of it,’ she wrote.” Is the point then that an author should then be concerned not only with the reactions of readers to the piece itself, but then how they then frame their appreciation of it later? The article continues, “[b]ut seen another way, her exercise is not very funny at all, because it helps those same music-nerd dudes who have boxed women out of the subculture—keeping them on the periphery in the roles of wives and girlfriends—to share the link as confirmation that women just don’t get it.” At this point, anyone’s reaction should be “Who gives a shit about what these people think, and more than that, why should anyone believe that this Tumblr is great evidence of their point?” The fact that I’m reading an analysis that amounts to a reaction to the reaction to the (initial) reaction means that we are ever closer to fulfilling the prophecy that the internet is merely an ouroboros of shit.*
The article itself makes a half-hearted attempt to justify all this wrangling over nothing, and the best the piece could do was talk about the premise of art from the perspective of the outsider. Congratulations for explaining how a significant percentage of comedy works (to the piece’s credit, the author acknowledged this). The problem is that this analysis should have been the one and only paragraph that was needed. The author of the Tumblr is not attempting to ingratiate herself within the insular culture of record collectors; she is distinctly attempting to mock it from the perspective of an outsider. It is not her responsibility for how other insiders react, and it’s not her concern. By criticizing her, it takes away from other issues of gender politics within the music community. The fact that women still fight to achieve respect within the community is a significant issue, and taking on pieces like this one is irrelevant to that fight.
The ultimate lesson should be that when critics are going so far down the rabbit hole to look at third-level reactions of a piece and what it means about society, it’s time to take a step back. There are other issues of gender politics that are worthy of concern, but this is not one of them. And next time, I’ll remember not to click that extra article.
*Note: I am fully aware that by participating at another level of criticism can be cited as an example of perpetuating the problem, but hopefully my intentions are clear that rather than perpetuating the cycle I am attempting to end it and slay the ouroboros.