Thursday, July 13, 2006


Veronica Mars Versus the iPod People of Why TV is Better Than Music
It's incredible, really. I've used this blog as a forum for admitting to liking some fundamentally terrible music. There's really no excuse for Ween OR the Legendary Pink Dots. Nobody bats an eye. And yet, when I admit that I like to - gasp - watch TV, I start to get borderline abusive comments posted by random strangers.

Yes, Veronica Mars: The Debate Continues - and it seems to be getting a little personal.

So what gives? Well, first of all, I'm assuming my detractors have a US-centric viewpoint. When they say "TV" the mean "mainstream American TV". European TV (due, largely, to the relative importance of public broadcasting) is a different matter - but not as different as many of my fellow Brits would like to think.

Even bearing in mind the fact that we're talking about my love for Hollywood teen/genre comedy-dramas like Buffy and Veronica, it's a little hard for me to understand why all music is apparently acceptable, while "TV" (in this limited sense) is a disgrace.

People seem to instantly, thoughtlessly regard music - no matter how nerdy or cheesy the music - as inherently more cool/worthwhile than TV. The coolness of Being Totally Into Music thus reveals itself as an important cornerstone of the vapid iPod culture that I've come to utterly deplore. It's just another mindless faith; an unjustifiable foundation for a lifestyle that helps to perpetuate capitalism/evil.

While giving quasi-religious reverence to the spiritual superiority of music, these iPod people seem really hung up on the idea that TV can't be great art or that great art can't happen within the confines of a popular genre/corporate structure. This prejudice seems to stem largely from insecurity - the IPPs can't make meaningful judgments after years of uncritical "appreciation" of middlebrow shite, so they rely on knee-jerk small-mindedness to shore up their unfounded sense of cultural superiority. For them, music is a quick signifier for Okay-to-Like and TV is an easy target.

Unfortunately, when done in this context, listening to - or rather BEING TOTALLY INTO - music is a passive, mindless experience; a dose of soma that makes people feel that they're right/everything is alright. Here's the other side of this coin: for me, watching TV doesn't have to be passive or mindless. I try to approach my TV watching the way I approach my music listening - with an open, critically-active mind (it's more fun that way, apart from anything).

The real problem with American genre TV is that it's so deeply tied to art-by-committee within the structure of highly Capitalist corporate organisations. It's pretty hard to get a TV show produced that is not tainted by the agenda of some corporate paymaster. Music, on the other hand is a highly democratic medium, which anyone can do if they have access to an acoustic guitar or a computer or whatever.

Nevertheless, I'm going to say that Veronica Mars is proof that extremely interesting and genuinely provocative art CAN make it to the small screen, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. Flipping the coin again, I'll note that the vast majority of DIY rock and electronic music releases are utterly devoid of ideas and entirely pointless.

It's easy to make an acceptable sounding album - utilising the available technology and independent infrastructure, whilst deploying all the relevant aesthetic signifiers. But what's it all for? Rebellious music culture is so well mapped that it's lost any power to surprise and become little more than a set of empty, easily marketed gestures. There's plenty of decent music being made but little sense that said music could change the world for the better.

From this viewpoint, American genre TV represents relatively virgin territory. There's so much ground still to be broken; so many borders to be dissolved. This is precisely because, in Hollywood, it is more or less impossible to make a TV show that has something original and important to say. Another victory for the cultural economy of scarcity!

I still believe that music is a magical force that can stop wars and stuff - it just doesn't FEEL like it, in the contemporary context. TV, on the other hand, feels loaded with subversive potential. Let's just hope the man doesn't notice before the people do.

10 comments:

Brady said...

hey buddy. i agree with your basic point regarding the potential cultural worthiness of TV, even including network TV, and i think your anonymous detractors are mostly playing the devil, but lord you sure make some awesome generalizations (way too many, my man) that swing too far over to the dismissible extreme. it's hard to get your back when you're running so far afield, you know. stead on. but, in any case, it is possible for something to be both culturally significant, even critical and self-critical, and still thoroughly compromised. ever increasingly, such is the way of things. anyway, keep up the good fight, sammy-town, even if it seems trivial in the eyes of a few nay-saying keyboardists. fuck 'em.

Samuel said...

Well generalisations - WILD generalisations - were pretty much inevitable with this post. I thought it would be more likely that people would call me on my obvious self-contradictions. For example...

"iPod people seem really hung up on the idea that TV can't be great art or that great art can't happen within the confines of a popular genre/corporate structure."

Obviously contradicts my assertion that ALL music is okay-to-like - a lot of music is made by committee within the exact same corporate structure as TV.

As for the essentially compromised nature of TV - VM seems to acknowledge this at the most basic level. The show (according to my self-serving analysis) is all about the impossibility of true justice in the structural context of capitalist society. You can't beat the system, you can only get revenge. Therefore, the show admits its own status as a futile act of revenge against the televisual system.

In conclusion: yes.

Brady said...

yo samuel. the contradictions i see, including your example, stem from your ME VS THEM dichotomizing. it can be a little big, which can leave you open to non-constructive broadsides, such as anonymous'. but, whatever.... enjoy your symptom. and yet i still wonder: is it not possible to enjoy one's likes without having to justify preferences by means of the castigation of someone else's behaviour? can we not have difference without divisive hierarchy? i suppose when the torches are out and the barricades are up, lines must be drawn! hence, maybe you're more of a leninist type marxist with respect to your social criticism in the case of veronica mars, which i really should watch, as per your recommendation. boom: a pedagogical message from the intellectual vanguard! in any case, don't reify my ipod (t-shirt design pending). my complicity to the evils of capitalism is a social relation!

Samuel said...

"your ME VS THEM dichotomizing...is it not possible to enjoy one's likes without having to justify preferences by means of the castigation of someone else's behaviour?"

Hey! They started it! Actually, I suspect it started when I said somethine mean about Ladyhawk on Tower of Sleep.

"maybe you're more of a leninist type marxist with respect to your social criticism in the case of veronica mars"

Unfortunately, I don't think I make a very good Marxist because I'm also an elitist and a misanthrope. But - y'know - I'm nice about it. Actually, the philosophy behind VM seems to be a curious mixture of Marxism, elitism and misanthropy, which must be why I hold the show so dear to my heart.

"in any case, don't reify my ipod (t-shirt design pending). my complicity to the evils of capitalism is a social relation!"

I don't really hate iPods, just the cultural trends they have come to signify. As soon as I can afford one, I'm getting one.

Saelan said...

I have nothing substantial to add to this discussion, but I'm enjoying it. When somebody says "reify" or "reification", I know the conversation has gone above my head.

Brady said...

to saelen: that's 'cause you think with your moustache, frenchy!

jamfancy said...

"As soon as I can afford one, I'm getting one".

Exactly.
Don't step out of line you may miss something.

Samuel said...

"Exactly.
Don't step out of line you may miss something."

Not sure what you're getting at here but the "exactly" sounds like an an accusation of hypocrisy. Just so we're clear, I don't hate the technology (the iPod), I just hate the way most people use the technology and the wider cultural conditions of which this behaviour is indicative (iPod culture).

If anything, I'm guilty of arrogance, rather than hypocrisy. I don't approve of the way people use their iPods but I'm sure *I* could be trusted with one. It's that pesky misanthropy/elitism playing up again.

Jason said...

There is nothing "fundamentally terrible" about Ween.

Samuel said...

But isn't the fundamental terribleness of Ween what makes them so brilliant, in the final analysis? How do they make things that are in such appaling taste (musically, morally...) so horribly appealing? Their terribleness runs deep, their brilliance sends it sky high.