Thursday, May 31, 2007

Resentment, Popism

Owen at Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy posted recently about wanting to "reclaim resentment" as an inspiration to action rather than as simply a "miserablist" reaction to the current situation. k-punk expands on this idea with an interesting post of his own; he writes:
Resentment is a much better Marxist affect than jealousy or envy. The difference between resenting the ruling class and envying them is that jealousy implies a wish to become the ruling class, whereas resentment suggests an anger at their possession of resources and privilege. A resentment that led only to grumbling inaction is certainly the very definition of a useless passion. But it is by no means obvious that resentment should end up in such impotence. Certainly my experiences with teaching unions suggest that it is far easier to motivate workers by appealing to feelings of resentment than in it is to appeal directly to any innate sense of their own worth. Resentment of privilege and unfairness is in many cases the first step towards confronting introjected and taken-for-granted feelings of inferiority. 'Yes... why should they get more than us?'
They both link this to popular culture, and k-punk says the following, about his problem with "popism":
There is a very definite class dimension in my distaste for Popism. Popism seems to be the working out of set of ruling class complexes: a sneaking past matron to enjoy forbidden pleasures. 'We ought to like classical music, but really we like Pop!' [...] For those of us who weren't brought up into high culture, Popism's calls to be always cheerful about mass culture are very much like being told (by our class superiors, natch) to be content with our lot. In working out its own resentments, what Popism takes away is nothing less than the right to resentment of the subordinate group. By contrast, the significance of something like Dennis Potter or postpunk was that they gave access to aspects of high culture in a space that de-legitimated high culture's exclusivity and privilege. The utopian space they opened up was one in which ambition did not have to end up in assimilation, where mass culture could have all the sophistication and intelligence of high culture: a space which pointed to the end of the current class structure, not its inversion.
I tend not to look on music as a location for political activity in the way that k-punk does, but his problem with "popism" as he explains it here fits in with some of my own suspicions of it. I accept the superficial "popist" (or, as some would have it, "poptimist") attitude, that as listeners we should be open to the idea that we should be open to pleasure from all kinds of music, and I agree that it's useful to interrogate our own tastes, to question the reasons we give for why we don't like certain music. But I have a problem with the notion that just because something has been manufactured with the intention of appealing to a lot of people, and that a lot of people have been persuaded that they like it, that that means that it warrants my attention. It might be interesting to investigate the reasons why some particular crap is popular, but that does not mean that we should have to look upon it and call it "good". (This is not intended as a disavowal of my own enjoyment of, for example, Kelly Clarkson.)

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