Wednesday, February 17, 2010


As the opening credits of the film documentary Smells Like Teen Spirit are emblazoned with the dreaded credit to 'UK Film Council', your hopes sink. And with good reason. This sloppy work is watchable thanks only to the remarkably fun phenomenon that is Eurovision, and thanks to the ability to augment from YouTube all the requisite footage that's shamefully omitted. (By the way, Romania got my 12 points.)

Britain has never been able to get it, Eurovision; we're a nation always fighting through our own invisible patina of self-loathing supercilious cynicism (typified by the tacit support for xenophobic prats like Terry Wogan and Graham Norton) and our own continually spurious attempts at wider musical legitimacy. This documentary is no exception to that.

I mention all of this because it lies at the heart of something I've discovered and learnt in the wake of my series of posts regarding the paintings of Congo the chimp. It's what makes Eurovision so much fun and the Brit awards or Turner Prize or Oscars so cringeworthy. It's what makes the satellite music channels like Viva Polska and Music Box Russia so watchable next to the wretched MTV. It's what makes Italo Disco so magical, yet 90s Britpop so awful. It's what makes everything from Wire magazine to Rolling Stone, books by writers such as Simon Reynolds and Jon Savage, Guardian and other broadsheet rock and pop critics, BBC music documentaries, and more, so fucking depressing. And of course it goes beyond music into the worlds of literature, art, performance, pornography, film.

It's this continually insufferable attempt to legitimise; the compulsion, through endless rationalisation, to give art some kind of special worthiness or moral weight. (And yes, it does have quasi-religious connotations.) Music, film, books, pictures should not have to justify their existence. Far better that they should not.

The act of attempting to legitimise one's own or others' work betrays the questionable underlying intent of trying to justify a belief system, a set of superstitions, a worldview. It says almost nothing else about the aesthetic value of the art. That's why it comes across as so overbearing and pompous and smug. It's an impure artistic intent.

that which is considered as having unique irreplaceable worthiness, beyond its core artistic worth, rationalised by the creator or by others (i.e. legitimisers)

that which is considered as disposable, or replaceable by other similar examples, spanning the full spectrum for popularity and potential for personal satisfaction

that which is considered artistically unpalatable or unworthy by legitimisers, not on grounds of disposability or replaceability, but for a perceived threat to pre-established moral convention

Feel free to fill in your own examples for these categories according to taste.


dangerofdeath66 said...

you either like it or you dont.
hmm examples..
there are none its all subjective.
you have listed all my pet jurno peeves,The Wire has spent years trying to attach itself to many musical genres for that very reason.

But with no context,the visceral nature of techno/black metal/hip hop
should be beyond legitimisation but oh how they try...

the people who love that stuff know its either a banger or it isnt...

As for film review Peter Bradshaw the one man "all that is wrong with it" machine ,still writing.

go figure...

Lord Bassington-Bassington said...

The most depressing thing about people trying to "legitimise" their tastes in pop culture is how ultimately pathetic it is.

Trying to put across that you're somehow better than others because you prefer Gorillaz to Britney Spears is like trying to argue that you're better by preferring Froot Loops to Rice Krispies.

Though I don't agree with you about Britpop; I thought some of it was brilliant and stylish pop music.