Before I get started on the meat of this post, let me just say that I read And I Don’t Want to Live This Life when I was in high school and I don’t remember it being a vindication of her parents at the expense of poor Nancy Spungen.
In retrospect, I can see that that’s true. That it’s an explanation from a “normal” suburban mother for why she couldn’t control her daughter who then wound up dead. (And let’s just set aside whether that should actually be the role of mothers).
But I remember reading it as a vindication of Nancy–here’s this poor girl who didn’t fit in to her normal suburban life and who railed against it so hard she kind of lost her mind and then she found true love and drugs and died, the end. I just don’t remember focusing on the “love, drugs, and died” part. I remember the “normal life can drive you crazy” lesson and feeling a shit-ton of respect for Nancy that she fought against the suffocating normalness, even if she didn’t fight against it very successfully.
That’s why, I think, I was so primed for Courtney when she came along, right? There was Nancy, but she didn’t die. More than that, there was Nancy but she got to fuck the boy and be in a band. I could write a long post on my feelings about Courtney, but hearing her sing
They say I’m plump
But I threw up all the time
Like a liar at a witch trial
You look good for your age
about blew my mind. Who knew women could be so angry and outraged and unpretty?
Anyway, where were we? Nancy. Yes, well, Joey’s linked to this great story about her, which you should read. One part has been weighing so heavily on me, though, I have to talk about it with you.
The first wave of punk directly confronted a culture it despised. And Madonna hadn’t come along yet to turn bitchy aggression into an art form. “You’ve got to remember, Donny and Marie were on TV,” says McNeil. “We were tired of being nice. It was like, fuck you. The left had become as oppressive as the Republicans. They invented that political-correctness stuff. Punk was supposed to piss off everybody and make people think.”
It’s hard for me to articulate what’s been wearing on me. But I keep thinking that, no matter what the election outcome, we have to face facts that we’re reaping the whirlwind of the commodification of art. I’ve been thinking that just in terms of talking about Rex Hammock’s post and blogging.
I think what a lot of us feel is that something we love and that is important to us as an art form*, that allows us to know ourselves and each other more intimately than we might otherwise, and that is in the defining medium (cyberspace) of our lifetimes. And along come the folks who want to commodify it, to monetize it, to take what was a byproduct of our art–attention–and make that the selling point, to change the focus from expression to attention.
Next thing you know Bill Ivey will be standing around arguing that the art form is nothing without the tension between creation and commodification and I will have to run around all day making gagging noises and then fucking Mike Curb will try to get fucking Pat Boone in the motherfucking Blogging Hall of Fame and a bunch of us will be sitting around all like “Pat Boone?! What the fuck?!” and a bunch more of us will be sitting around being all “Why the fuck is there a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as if that doesn’t miss the fucking point?”
Oh, wait, I mean a “Blogging Hall of Fame.”
Whew, where was I? The commodification of art. The problem with the change in focus on art from a creative medium some folks might make a living at to a way to make a living through creative expression that meets the demands of the marketplace is that it’s very rarely the time when you can meet the demands of the marketplace by pissing off the marketplace or confusing the marketplace or making the marketplace feel uneasy about itself.
Good art says, “Look at this and think and feel about it.”
A good commodity says “Don’t think too much about this, just want it, and buy it and the things associated with it.”
I’ve grown up in the MTV era, so everything I ever loved or thought was cool was nabbed up and made safe and sold back to me. And, for the most part, I bought it unquestioningly, assured that the rise of the things I love to notice meant that there was value in the things I loved.
It took me a long time to get the “made safe” part.
Part of the commodification process is to make you numb to the surprises–buy this album, it sounds just like this other stuff you like; buy this book, it reads just like this other book you like; hang this thing on your wall, it looks just like the other stuff you like; etc.–and, what I believe is the most important point, to make you incurious about those surprises.
And folks, curiosity may have killed the cat, but incuriosity is what’s going to kill our nation. Oh, ha, ha, stupid scientists and their fruit flies. Who gives a shit about fruit flies? Oh, oops, that fruit fly research helps us understand autism.
We take pride in being incurious. Fine. But then art needs to pull its head out of its ass and its hand out of Marketing’s pocket and do the work it is suited best to do.
And I go on about this at length, because I believe, more than ever–that we bloggers have a job we are best suited to do–and that is to talk about our lives and our opinions and our hopes and our dreams and our worries and to host discussions and to try to stretch others’ minds and to stretch our own minds and, for gods’ sake, to resist being wholly commodified.
Ask Bridgett what she wouldn’t give for a transcript of even one evening’s worth of talk in a bar in Vincennes, Indiana, in, say 1803, to hear what ordinary folks said to each other, what concerned them, what they laughed about, what put them in the mood for fighting, what sent them hurrying home to their beds. And that’s a woman who can tell you more about the various pulls of history in that town than anyone I know.
It still doesn’t replace the great value of first-hand accounts from ordinary people.
And what this is right here, my friends, first and foremost, is a great big mechanism for recording first-hand accounts of ordinary people.
There has never been another time in the history of the world when ordinary people could write down their experiences and their feelings and their opinions on such a scale and have hope that those ideas will outlast them.
Will they? I don’t know. Maybe we all run out of oil and coal and there’s no electricity for 500 years and then when the power comes back up, no one knows how to get shit off the servers and can’t hardly recognize our archaic English when they do.
But we’ve never even had this opportunity before.
And we’ve got to seize it.
Not because there’s money to be made from it, but because we need to encourage and reward curiosity. We need to provide the materials for those “aha” moments for other folks. Because we need to be willing to take this opportunity to enrich our own lives and the lives of those who come after us.
And because our country needs us.
Not to play nicely and all get along and happily submit to the mechanisms of commodification that will strip our work of its vitality, though that’s what it will tell you that it needs.
But it needs us like Country Music needed this message from Johnny Cash.
*Keeping in mind that my definition of art is basically “anything that creates a situation of contemplation.”