November 28, 2005

Art Worlds

posted by Will Wilson @ 5:28 pm

Last week, NPR took some wild semantic swings at the ongoing Payola debacle. Unfortunately, they bungled the issue.

The facts (more or less): Once again, Eliot Spitzer is shocked—shocked!—that there is gambling in the casino! Sony BMG and now Warner Music settled with Eliot Spitzer to escape the glare of his Payola investigation.

The rudimentary economics: Payola has long been recognized as an efficient means of airtime distribution. That is, a “good” way to find the “best” music.

The spin: NPR began, “‘Payola’ is a dirty word.” The piece also asserted that radio was “serving the music industry at the expense of their listeners…” and that Payola-induced music was not “the best the radio station could find.”

The sociology and semantics: AG Watch itself was a little shocked that NPR roughhoused so piggily with “good,” “better,” and “best,” especially in relation to something as clearly subjective as taste in music.

Howard Becker’s elegantly comprehensive Art Worlds lances “pure aesthetics.” He writes:

“All art works involve the cooperation of everyone whose activity has anything to do with the end result. That includes the people who make materials, instruments, and tools; the people who create the financial arrangements that make the work possible; the people who see to distributing the works that are made; the people who produced the tradition of forms, genres, and styles the artist works with and against; and the audience.”

The point is that notions of aesthetic “good-better-best” are socioeconomic constructions. Mr. Spitzer’s maneuver has a (strained) legal basis, and no basis at all in ars gratia artis. The settlements are not a victory for good music or better airwaves, though they might win best AG claptrap. Facile jokes about Spitzer’s “revelation” regarding the poor quality of Britney Spears tunes, as well as jokes about Ms. Spears’s oeuvre itself, both mistake the issue; in truth, Britney’s fame owes no more to non-”musical” factors than Beethoven’s. The history of conventions and connections accounts for our interpreted world, including Mozart, Miles, Madonna, and [pause, gentle Reader] murder.

That said, gawd forbid that Spitzer chooses what spins.

November 21, 2005

Carve My Turkey!

posted by Will Wilson @ 11:02 am

November 9, 2005

Have the AGs Been Eating Paint Chips?

posted by Will Wilson @ 3:52 pm