“There are only two kinds of people in this world. Those who like Neil Diamond…and those who don’t.”
The profoundness of this quote is not in it’s comic turn-of-phrase, but instead in it’s frank and likely accidental fumbling into real philosophical genius. This is said a lot about things that Bill Murray says, but that’s not the point. The point is that really, in any case, there are only two types of people in the world. You’re either a White Stripes fan, or you’re not. You’re a big enough fan of the Allman Brothers to know the exact dates when the two of them died in motorcycle accidents, or you aren’t. You hate the idea of Limp Bizkit recording more material, or you don’t. For all the complications in the world, it’s sort of nice to know that one can boil just about everything down into a single choice.
Naturally, one can do this with things other than music (you either enjoyed March of the Penguins, or you didn’t) but I’m trying to stay on topic. Last week I wrote a column about adding a little music to your relationship (not adding sex to your music) and you either went out and bought a Rilo Kiley album and the two of you spent all week fighting over it, or you didn’t. It’s an easy point to get, here. You’re either for something, or you’re against it. You either do something, or you don’t. Kind of doing something isn’t doing it. Kind of liking where Yo La Tengo is headed in their career isn’t liking it.
That’s clear, right? Now, here’s my second point. Both sides of the fence (certainly in terms of pop music and almost certainly in terms of everything ever) are not wrong. They are not right, either. Neither side (in any choice) has no charge to it until you give it one. There is absolutely no objective right and wrong (sure, one could argue that there’s God’s objective right and wrong, but since we don’t know his opinion on the Pixies getting back together, we’ll leave it at this) unless absolutely everyone on the planet were to agree on that. VH1 exists to make sure that nobody really agrees with anyone on any matter, so we don’t have to worry about that ever happening. Both sides of any argument relating to pop is absolutely valid, which is, again, why message boards exist.
Okay, third point. There are two sides to every argument, and both sides are equally valid, and in addition to this, taking neither side (unequivocally) is just as valid. Remember when Briteny kissed Madonna? The two sides were a) that this was in some way good, and b) this was in some way bad (“Good” and “bad” usually being “hot” or “not”). The third opinion in this was always “I don’t give a shit.” That’s sometimes known as “anti-social” but that doesn’t make it wrong. It actually makes it equally valid to the two sides.
So in this we have an endless number of arguments (about pop music/culture) with three equally valid and right stances, no objective right answer, and no measuring stick on which to base our decisions (there’s no book of stories to guide pop culture fanatics through the thick jungle of life). This sort of thing does not happen in “real” life. If there’s, say, a political dispute, there’s usually a right side and a wrong side, and this is usually based on a set of morals that people generally agree with. They figure out which side has a higher moral standing (though this is far from perfect) and go with that one. In this there is also the “I don’t give a shit” opinion, but this person is given much less screen time and much less respect, something that does not happen when there’s music to discuss.
Pop culture is an intangible place where all opinions (as well as having no opinion) are correct. Think about that. So long as you’re not a complete idiot (a little education goes a long, long way in pop culture) it’s possible to always be right. Okay, sorry, what I should say instead is that it’s possible to always be not wrong. Facts can be refuted, but opinions can’t, and this does not happen in the “real world” where an opinion can be swayed by facts. I can’t tell you how many times people have argued with me about the apparent genius of Bob Dylan. They present me with a thousand facts about the guy, and they’re right. The facts of Bob Dylan add up to genius. But it doesn’t matter what I hear, because in my head he’s awful, especially when you compare him to Johnny Cash and Tom Waits—two guys who fit most of the criteria for why people think Bob Dylan is so great.
But people aren’t wrong for loving Bob Dylan, and they’re not wrong for trying to talk me into him, and I’m not wrong for not enjoying his music (I don’t half mind the movies he’s in, actually, though again not nearly as much as I enjoy Johnny Cash and Tom Waits on the big screen). There’s no right and wrong, and that’s because ultimately pop music, and pop culture, don’t matter. They’re meant to be frivolous entertainment and nothing more, and it is for it’s apparent insignificance that nobody has ever decreed a code of ethics for pop culture, because nobody ever thought we’d need one (or nobody ever thought that someone might think that nobody ever thought we needed one, and I’m not sure which is worse, really.)
The thing is, pop culture does matter. Billions of dollars go into that machine to make it tick, but more important than the money (which is never really that important) is the time. We’ve all seen the statistics on how many hours a week most people watch television or play video games or listen to music or surf the web (do they even refer to it as surfing anymore?). Honestly, I spend more time listening to music than doing anything else, and while that may be because I don’t often do anything without music, that sort of quantity is staggering. I’m constantly thinking about what music to play, what music matters to me, personal top 5’s, what music my friends might like, what music girls I might like might like, what music should be played at all the important moments of my life, etc. What’s worse, I’m at the point now where music crosses over into other aspects of my life. I’ve written several English papers comparing works from classical authors to pop musicians. I can’t remember the last conversation where I didn’t include music in some way (or commented on the music going on at the time).
I’m not saying we need any sort of regulation, because that would be the furthest antithesis to rock and roll. What I’m saying is that we have to realize that pop culture has in it a space where nothing is right or wrong in any truthful way. I don’t like Coldplay, but tomorrow I might (they might release something I dig), and someone over in South Dakota could really eat them up, but tomorrow when they release that new song he could hate them forever, and we’d both be right. The guy who has never had a single opinion on Coldplay is right, too. It’s an interesting paradox and maybe why being an addict to pop culture is so appealing in the first place. In a world with no absolutes, you cannot be truly judged.
So let’s not waste this, eh?
Most of what’s talked about in pop music is negative, and that’s ultimately a bad thing. It’s a ying/yang thing, man, and while nether side is right or wrong, one side shouldn’t be larger than another. I would absolutely love it if, the next time you bash Ashlee Simpson, bring up a band you prefer, rather than spending a half an hour bitching about her. Talk just as much about the great stuff out there. Let people know that you aren’t always just on one side of the fence. It’s okay to be on both. It’s okay to be for, against, and aloof about different things, and I really want to stress this because I’m afraid we’re all going to become a culture of against, and that sort of thing doesn’t help anybody.
And before anyone can email me with “there are universal rights and wrongs in pop music, you idiot” let me remind you that there are two kinds of people in the world; those who believe in absolutes, and those who don’t. This column is about pop music and sometimes pop culture at large, and because of that is a by-product of pop culture, which is just as good (in pop culture terms, anyway) as the real thing. That means that the 19 columns I’ve published are up for people’s opinion, and are as well just as frivolous and insignificant (but ultimately significant, if you look at the way I just did above) as anything else. You’re right for not agreeing with me, and you’re right for agreeing with me. You’re also right for not having an opinion either way. So just like all those horrible singers or writers or actors you spend all your time bitching about, I’m bullet proof because your hating opinion means exactly the same thing as your loving opinion.