Monday, October 26, 2015

Ian Svenonius trashes NPR

For me there has always been something sterile about NPR that I could never quite put my finger on.  It's one thing when a "public" broadcaster serves as an outlet for giving national exposure to localized bands who could use the extra boost. It's another thing when that broadcaster develops a house style of promoting a specific type of airwave-palatable indie band.  Its stylistic choices eventually become as safe and predictable as those of the corporations they're supposed to be offering an alternative to. Not to mention that NPR music always feels like it is geared toward a specific kind of liberal arts educated upper middle class 30-something who feels they've lost they're edge since they left college and is looking for an outlet for connecting again with music but isn't creative enough to develop their own unique taste.

This is hardly the first article to criticize the gentrification of indie.  But whereas past critiques tended to point fingers at record companies for domesticating and mass marketing indie, rending it nearly empty of its former individuality and underground appeal, Svenonius takes aim at the consumers and leaves the evil record companies out of the equation entirely.  And it's not the first time he's accused the public of being complicit in gentrifying themselves.    

When it comes right down to it, I have very little sympathy for punk -- Svenonius' scathing attack on yuppies for their largely successful attempts to gentrify punk don't particularly disturb me.  Counterculture movements need to rapidly evolve either by growing in popularly and influence, or they have to fade away quietly.  A radical idea worth caring about can't stay on the fringe indefinitely without seeping into the mainstream and becoming more palatable.  After a while it becomes a Pavlovian reaction to whatever is dominating the mainstream, as entrenched in the old ideas and attitudes as anything big business could dream up.  In the interview I linked to above, Svenonius has also recast punk as taking pride in one's local surroundings and drawing inspiration from it. In other words, something that automatically must evolve as the local population evolves, or else gets swallowed up by the forces that smooth out the differences between different areas within a city.

A national public broadcast then can't help but yuppify a genre like punk -- it broadcasts everywhere and is blind to differences in locale.  There's room in the market for punk music that's been drained of its raw emotion and sense of danger, and "real" punks shouldn't expect anything more of a station like NPR in that respect.  

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