July 18, 2009
When Poptimism Meets Pessimism
One of my favorite “pop music meets pop culture” writers is Tom Ewing, who writes the “Poptimist” column for Pitchfork. Ewing’s posts have a way of generally filtering into the cultural conversation without him necessarily getting a lot of direct credit - for example, he beat Paul Constant to the punch back in May by writing an essay on Twitter in 140-character paragraphs.
Ewing’s newest column smartly juxtaposes the decline of the relevance of the Top 40 (particularly in the UK) with a certain strand of newspaper pessimism. I particularly like his definition of pop music as “a fragmented cross-section of popular culture squeezed into a tiny space, and the act of squeezing— when things were working— filled that space with energy and fizz.”
Well worth reading the whole thing - here’s a relevant sample:
Far more people worry about the decline of newspapers than the decline of the British pop charts, but their plight is comparable. Both packaged worlds of content into small things and let the different elements fight for attention. Both also enjoyed audiences who had to consume a whole to get at the parts they liked. Okay, a newspaper reader could skip over the sections they didn’t care about more easily than a radio listener could, but still a good headline might turn that half-second flicker of disinterest into attention. And in that half-second chance lived serendipity and argument.
For serendipity to happen you have to be able to give people what they don’t want— or don’t think they want— as well as what they do.
Maybe that’s a utopian conception of the newspaper as well as the Top 40 — but it seems like all we do is trade in utopian conceptions. Let’s kick this one around for a while.