Sentence of the year

antichrist.jpg David Redfern/Retna LTD.

Dion is the Antichrist of the indie sensibility, an overemoting schmaltz-bot who has somehow managed to convert the ethos of Wal-Mart into sine waves and broadcast them, at kidney-rupturingly high volume, directly into our internal soulPods.

Sam Anderson

This is one of the finest sentences I’ve read this year. But embracing the bile, there are some fine theoretical points to be made:

What motivates aesthetic judgment? Is our love or hatred of “My Heart Will Go On” the result of a universal, disinterested instinct for beauty-assessment, as Kant would argue? Or is it something less exalted? Wilson tends to side with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who argues that taste is never disinterested: It’s a form of social currency, or “cultural capital,” that we use to stockpile prestige. Hating Céline is therefore not just an aesthetic choice, but an ethical one, a way to elevate yourself above her fans—who, according to market research, tend to be disproportionately poor adult women living in flyover states and shopping at big-box stores. (As Wilson puts it, “It’s hard to imagine an audience that could confer less cool on a musician.”)

One of the articles I used in first year comp last semester was White Trash: A Class Relevant Scapegoat for the Cultural Elite. It was a good way to get the students acclimated to the simplicity that underlies most “academic writing.” Carl Wilson’s book on Céline Dion apparently presents pretty much the same point as Michael Gibbons’ article, at least regarding the status of those offering critque:

Modern elites are smart enough to be sensitive to the plight of those in poverty. This accompanies their signature open-mindedness. However, when those people in poverty do not respond with similar open-mindedness, they are open for dislike. This allows the elites to then dislike the non-elites, without being prejudicial or classist. I argue that this open-mindedness is itself a class value, and while it is a good thing, it is not something to be expected outside of elite circles. As such, expecting non-elites to have the mindsets and values, in short the culture, of elites is unrealistic. Omnivore culture allows elites to cleanly disassociate themselves from non-elites, because the non-elites are not cultural omnivores themselves. This amounts to blaming the victim, and divorces elites from any responsibility to those in the larger society not like themselves.

Representations of social conditions by those outside the culture always encounter this sticky issue. I offered this article after surveying several responses to poverty in the 1930s: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, You Have Seen Their Faces, and An American Exodus. I’m not sure it really got through (because of the jargon) as well as it could have. I think Anderson’s book review might have done the job better— but it wouldn’t have performed the dual function of introducing them to the general tone of standard academic articles. Opting out of academic-speak and embracing more familiar pop-culture references does not seem to be a reasonable response to the problem of socializing students within the university.

Nonetheless, there’s something enticing about Wilson’s observation that “punk rock is anger’s schmaltz” that almost makes me want to read a book about Dion.