notes from an email to an organiser of Sound Summit…
…I’m happy for you to come up with the questions, thanks Chris.
The dialogue between myself and Shaun Prescott over the Washington review is interesting, gratuitous personal insults aside.
He thinks it’s pointless to focus on the mediocrity that always exists (and I can understand that attitude because it means less space is actually given over to stuff that we feel deserves it). I think it’s that very attitude, however, from enlightened critics like himself (that description is not intended sarcastically) that allows the mediocre to reign unchecked. Shaun writes for Mess And Noise and is one of the editors of Cyclic Defrost – from what I’ve read, he’s a good critic. (He also has his own blog.) Both are fine, worthy publications, but also are publications that to a greater or lesser extent preach to the converted. It’s part of the knock-on effect of the democratisation of the Internet that there are now hundreds of thousands of specialist places where the clued-in can go to find their fix of culture: but these places have little influence taken in isolation, and are, to a lesser or greater degree, cultural ghettos (Collapse Board included). Yet, in the Western world (including Australia and New Zealand, because this is what we’re talking about) there are still millions out there who aren’t that clued-in to go seek these places out, much as it’s tempting to think that they must be. (After all, the world wide web is available to all, so why don’t all use it?) So what do we do with these millions in our roles as cultural commentators, as music critics, as opinion-leaders? Ignore them? Dismiss them as part of the ‘boring’ mainstream for we hold no sway whatsoever with their opinion-leaders (TV programmers, Courier-Mail editors, the bloke down the pub). Surely, that is reneging on our duty as critics? Surely, that is the way the mediocre is perpetuated? Surely, the role of the critic isn’t just to be an ‘expert’, someone with more knowledge on a specific chosen subject than anyone else?
I’m not saying Shaun is wrong to hold his attitude: it’s one I very much pushed to the front (mainly from necessity) when I was editing my previous two print titles, Plan B and Careless Talk Costs Lives. I blankly informed people they needed to focus on the positive, as we didn’t have enough space to do anything but… plus, there’s always a ton of great stuff that gets ignored altogether. Yet I do continually worry about this approach, probably because I come from an earlier era than Shaun, where the music press WAS the mainstream, and could (and did) affect the viewpoints of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
There again, if it bothered me that much, wouldn’t I have been applying for Patrick Donovan’s old job at The Age instead of starting up yet another niche music website? Fuck me, but I’m just a mess of contradictions.