Will Vice be The Harbinger of Neo-Grunge?

Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other places that algorithmically recommend things one should be interested in, I read an article on the Vice media empire. The headline: “Can Vice Get 20-Somethings to Watch the News?” The most intriguing quote was from Vice co-founder Shane Smith on some of the inner workings of the Vice machine:

“Most of the people who work here are 14 years old. They sit two inches from each other. We only employ millionaires’ children.” And later calls Vice “a sweatshop for trustafarians.” Simultaneously a hilarious yet poignant comment on what defines much of today’s culture.

I thought not much of it, finished the article, then went into the backyard to do some seasonal gardening. Tomato plants: gone. Mealy dogwood: uprooted. Hula hoop and toy shovel: stored in the garage. Yet as I worked the article resonated with me. I thought, if engaging the youth in current events is the goal of Vice today, then back in the mag’s early years was it more to get the bored 20-somethings of the late 90s to care?

When sitting back, pondering the genesis of hipsterdom, I often trace it back to Vice, and the importance they laid on the concept of “cool.” I mean, Vice didn’t invent it, they just presented a pre-existing sub-culture in a consumable format. And yeah: back then, I understood what Vice was because I was living it. Watching one of the guys that started the mag drink his own piss on the patio at Foufounes, or letting someone smack my bare ass at a bar in exchange for more beer — these things are what young people do. In your 20’s, getting messed up and having fun is serious business. It wasn’t #YOLO it was punk rock. You don’t fuck around with that. You write about it.

But it’s not 1997. Fifteen years have passed, and my lifetime subscription to the magazine has long been revoked. After having a kid, I was admittedly nervous about having a full-colour, glossy magazine showing stylized images of syringes, used condoms and blood-soaked models lying around the house. In 2008 I posted on my blog a comparison of Vice to the Economist, calling one “stupid” and the other “smart.” At the time, I found it ironic that I held subscriptions to two diametrically opposite magazines. Soon after this post, Vice stopped coming. An independently wealthy intern must have caught it.

Little did I realize that the two magazines were converging, and now I am fascinated by the concept of non-ironic, hipster investigative reporting. And I have to commend the concept of fearless fieldwork and its promotion of xenophilia to a young population that is otherwise totally living in a self-obsessed, social-media infused bubble (see #RKOI as an extreme example).

Today’s culture is at a tipping point, much as it was back in the 90s: we’re waiting for the next Grunge to topple the current mainstream “regime.” The romanticized, nicely packaged version of reality in which we float about must be torn down, and we need to remember that our heroes, and the people and places that influence our very existence, are never perfect.

This post also appeared with a lamer title on HuffingtonPost.ca

Music Blogger Feels Old at Skrillex Show

I read these articles last week and have not been able to get the idea out of my mind:

Feeling Old at the Skrillex Show hilariously summarized here by HuffPo’s Kia Makarechi.

As if by stepping into a Skrillex (“dubstep” DJ) show, the unsuspecting music blogger is suddenly stripped of their powers. Like Superman being exposed to Kryptonite, or an X-Men having lost their mutant powers. What is an X-Men without their mutant powers? Just a human. What are music bloggers without their keen, astute, cynical and omnipotent indie cred, they are just regular people. Whereby age, and therefore reality, responsibility and accountability, are the hip culture critic’s Achilles’ heel.

It is pure, unbridled comedy. Wait till these uber-jaded 27-year-olds turn 30, when nobody cares what they think of the TV shows they watched and then, finally, they get their first “unbearable soul-crushing hangover.”

Amazingly, as I write this, I feel dangerously just like…a judgmental/preachy blogger! Yikes. This whole this is getting way too meta for me. I’m out.

What Will Become of the Spinning Newspaper?

One of my guiltiest pleasures is an additcion to PerezHilton.com (everyone has to get their celebrity street trash from somewhere). Anyhow, Perez has been reporting almost daily of cutbacks and layoffs in the media, most recently at newspapers like Tuscon Citizen and Minneapolis Star Tribune.

At any rate, the other day we were watching Spider-Man 2, — which, incidentally, Neptune loves, along with the Star Wars movies. She finds the Ewoks funny, which I think was the intention. — and they showed a spinning newspaper with a headline, pertinent to the storyline. I know with Spider-Man there is a particular relevance to newspapers, what with Peter Parker, the Daily Bugle and all, but it made me think: what will become of the spinning newspaper, if newspapers cease to exist? Will it be replaced with a spinning list of Google Search Results? Who knows.

This post is not anything, but a brief thought on culture, and how things are more interconnected that we sometimes think.

Morally Reprehensible

The other day, after I dropped Neptune off at preschool, I decided to go grocery shopping. I learned that 9:30AM is a very strange time to go grocery shopping, and nobody really goes shopping that early in the morning. I don’t know if it was due to the lack of other shoppers and similar ambient distractions, but the top 40 music they were piping in really caught my attention. Specifically the morally reprehensible lyrics to Nickleback’s “Rock Star.” It goes a little something like this:

I’m through with standing in line
to the clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth
and I’m never gonna win
This life hasn’t turned out
quite the way I want it to be

(tell me what you want)

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king size tub big enough
for ten plus me

(yeah, so what you need)

I’ll need a, a credit card that’s got no limit
And a big black jet with a bedroom in it
Gonna join the mile high club
At thirty-seven thousand feet

(Been there done that)

I want a new tour bus full of old guitars
My own star on Hollywood Boulevard
Somewhere between cher and
James Dean is fine for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair and change my name

[CHORUS]
‘Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
Livin’ in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We’ll all stay skinny cause we just won’t eat
And we’ll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger’s
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
with her bleach blonde hair
and well..
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar

I wanna be great like Elvis without the tassels
Hire eight body guards that love to beat up assholes
Sign a couple autographs
So I can eat my meals for free

(I’ll have the quesadilla… ha ha)

I’m gonna dress my ass
with the latest fashion
Get a front door key to the Playboy mansion
Gonna date a centerfold that loves to
blow my money for me

(So how you gonna do it?)

I’m gonna trade this life
For fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair
And change my name

(chorus)

I’m gonna sing those songs
that offend the censors
Gonna pop my pills
from a Pez dispenser
Get washed-up singers writing all my songs
Lip sync ’em every night so I don’t get ’em wrong

(chorus)

As I tried to find the Honeycomb cereal, I paused, listened carefully to a few verses and uttered “FUUUUUUUCK!” in total exasperation. The irony of my frustration was two-fold:

1) This song is idiotic. And I take personal offense to the stereotypical “Rock Star” lump being cast. Like only the douchebags that 1) like/identify with this song and 2) wrote it in the first place could possibly take this literally, or feel it contributes to our culture in any way.

2) This song came out in 2005. And it is so “timeless” that it continues to get played on the radio. That said, the next day I heard that “So What” song by Pink on the radio, and apparently 1 in 4 people’s dream job is being a rock star (confirmed by independent polls in The Gazette and BBC).

Anyway, it’s funny. Murray and I got into this heavy conversation a few days ago about music, and how music used to be a tradition, a reason for communion, whether to be spiritually or culturally enriched, to celebrate and belong. And one day, when they invented the record, I guess, and music could me easily commodified and sold, something disappeared. The art left and the business took over. Marketing replaced cultural identity. Now we have these very broad categories that require us to “buy into” them. I think the only vestigial element of spirituality in music remains at live shows: where people experience something together.

So my question, then, is when did it all go to shit? When was a song as comical as “Rock Star” meant to be taken seriously? Who decides? I guess we decide, you decide, the people decide.

But do they? Who decided to put that song on the radio, playing several Nickleback songs a day where as other bands – with potentially better songs – won’t ever be played. Aha! So we do not choose…marketing has determined the answer for us, has told us what to buy, what to identify with, who to be. Not free, but just subdued enough to keep society chugging along.

UPDATE: I can’t win this battle…the irony of music about music is bigger than I am.

Anthropology or “What you Readin’ For?”

In this week’s Economist I read a piece on the discovery of a cluster of 9th century, super organised (and now defunct) cities embedded deep in a part of the Amazon rainforest that was previously thought of as uninhabited by humans (read Amazon Garden City). I was especially intrigued by the fact that these “cities” had plazas: open places for gatherings, political or as a marketplace, a cemetery, a place for commmunity. Like the greek agora and other european models.

So the idea of assembly, the hard-wired human need to congregate and exchange ideas and wares, is so basic that the way these instinctive characteristics materialise themselves in modern times is indeed revealing.

I am constantly trying to understand human nature, to explain our existence in a meaningful, spiritual way (yet non-religious): to prove that there are greater forces at play, instinctual tendencies that inform us.

I immediately coupled this commuanal tendencay with another study: one that found our personalities can be described by the kind of music we listen to. Findings are as follows:

PEOPLE INTO MUSIC

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.
Jazz: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease.
Classical: High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease.
Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.
Opera: High self-esteem, creative, gentle.
Country & Western: Hardworking, outgoing.
Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at
ease.
Dance: Creative, outgoing, not gentle.
Indie: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle.
Bollywood: Creative, outgoing.
Rock/Heavy Metal: Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing,
gentle, at ease.
Chart pop: High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle,
not at ease.
Soul: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease.

I mean its kind of silly to suppose for a moment that music and personality are not connected: music and art are such a bottom-line part of culture, and the bits of culture we choose to like or identify with define who we are. So in some ways I find the “study” a little on the redundant side, but with a certain beat-you-over-the-head validity.

Can we take these two ingrained traits together, and further? If gathering together is a primal instinct, then how do the musical tastes defined as “introverted” differ from those that are “outgoing”? Culturally, identifying with music and congregating at a concert to share in an experience attests to this idea: that even a genre that boasts fans with low self-esteem, introversion and laziness still compells its audience towards community?

It explains a lot – physically and digitally – of the hipster indie rock culture: of the Stilleposts, Pitchforks, Brooklyn Vegans, SXSWs and CMJs, Pop Montreals and Pop Explosions, and the kinds of euphoric/frustrating experiences they beget.

Even xenophobic misanthropes can’t deny their need to be among other people, belonging to some kind of self-affirming culture.