Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pomp and circumstances

The always entertaining Bob Stein at if:book blog recently linked to an interesting Marina Hyde article that appeared in the Guardian. The subject: the greed of rock stars, as expressed through the sledgehammer of recent copyright laws (and some that are still in gestation).

Hyde: "Rock stars, who sold themselves as anti-establishment, would too often have us anoint them the new feudal squires. It is an accusation that has been bandied about ever since these rebels deserted Carnaby Street for Epping Forest mansions, but these days seems more pertinent than ever. If they are not pursuing fatuous stratagems against underlings, they are attempting to extract charitable tithes from the public and redistribute them in the manner that they, musicians, see fit. [...] It is particularly easy, in this context, to sympathise with the anti-copyright-extension brigade's argument against children and grandchildren of artists earning huge incomes from intellectual property for which they never did a stroke of work. They are simply forming a version of the aristocracies they once cocked a snook at [...]".

It's hard to imagine where popular music as an industry is going to be in the next fifty years (and, since music doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's hard to imagine too the fate of "progressive" music -- if that's the term -- in that time). On one hand, the stubborn miasma of public discontent (or apathy, or distraction), coupled with the technological juggernaut (which I think will always ensure that information gets the freedom it so desperately wants), coupled with the inevitable consumer-bloc power of the next generation of music fans (who have grown up in the environment of downloading), coupled with the dispersal of canons and the emergence of the long tail, may mean that the days of MTV, American Idol, and Entertainment Tonight are numbered. Like the structural supports of the original aristocracy, these things, which seem fortress-like in their solidity, can eventually crumble.

On the other hand, one has to wonder, as per Bob Stein's suggestion, the extent to which America, which doesn't share Europe's long and bitter history with a real aristocracy, is paradoxically fascinated by the power and authority of an "entertainment class." Perhaps it's that drooling fascination that makes the subject of copyright so freakin' litigious. It might thus help explain why (for instance) Mariah Carey thinks she has a legitimate claim against porn star and ex-candidate-for-governor-of-California Mary Carey. What's next? (Harry Caray, you wanna get in on this from beyond the grave?) As Charles Isherwood put it in a NYT article about plagiarism lawsuits a few weeks back: "Doesn't it seem wearying?"

Yes. Yes, it does.

(By the way -- those are indeed Bono cookies in the picture above. Hyde has some funny things to say about the U2 frontman, so I couldn't resist...)

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