On the internet only people just like you can hear you scream

One of the things that scares me a little about our record club is the idea that, because we’ve got broadly analogous backgrounds and tastes, we’re just reinforcing our own already-entrenched perceptions and opinions about what makes “good” music (or about what makes music good) rather than expanding the horizons, expanding the parameters, and expanding the rhymes of sucker MC amateurs.

I’ve vaguely wanted to write an article about this for months now, but every time I witness another little bit of self-reinforcement at one of the myriad record club variants I pay attention to via Twitter or Facebook or a blog, even if my first instinct is “step away from the canon! challenge yourselves!”, I remember that a big part of the reason why we meet at our club is the camaraderie, the friendship, the community; the sense of warmth that comes from finding people you have something in common with and spending time with them engaged in that common thing. Plus, we get to listen to music like Big Black and Aphex Twin and Rita Lee and The Feelies and Sunn o))) and Pere Ubu and Gravediggaz and Melt Banana and Kate Bush and Caribou and so on and so forth.

Anyway, I had an interesting Twitter exchange with John Mulvey and Laura Snapes yesterday about Chuck Klosterman’s confession of professional incompetence / negligence re: tUnE-yArDs. There’s a great take-down of his inherent sexism, mansplaining, and misreading of the record from Charlotte Richardson Andrews, but though that gets to the core of his ignorance, it doesn’t deal with his attention-seeking, or with the flurries of comments, tweets, status updates, tumblrs, blog posts and so on and so forth either agreeing with him or disagreeing with him. It was onyla brief exchange, but John wrote that he genuinely does blame Twitter for people being more interested in writing about themselves when they ought to be writing about music. (As an aside, for reference, Nitsuh is still the best, most reasoned, most human music writer on the planet.)

I blame Twitter as well, for further reinforcing already entrenched perceptions by casting us each into a delirious bubble of likeminded chatter and engagement and online cultural gatekeeping that can very easily make it seem like everyone in the world is just like you. The internet has always done this, of course, through mailing lists and forums and Facebook and all other types of communities, so Twitter’s not alone.

But there is something about the way it works in particular which makes it feel as if the 500 or so people I follow, and all the people they follow, and retweet, and all the people who write the articles and blogposts that they send out links to, somehow encompasses the entire world, and that this means the world is a much finer and better and nicer place than it actually is, because everyone is a nice, progressive liberal, interested in culture and science and humanity and equality, and thus, when you see something bad, all you need to do is Tweet about it and receive some affirmation via a retweet or a new follower, which makes you forget the bad thing itself, and carry on down your own little path, rather than fix that bad thing, which is still bad, and is (and this is the crux) doubtless being Tweeted and retweeted and thought of as good and wonderful and affirming entrenched beliefs just as much if not even more for a whole host of people you can’t even comprehend exist. Which is to say that Twitter takes the Venn diagram of beliefs and opinions and values and cultures and makes the circles furthest away from each other practically invisible except in the most abstract way, by inflating the perspective you have of the bits that actually do crossover with other groups.

Does that make sense?

I’m talking about Ian Martin’s adventures in “bad twitter”, trying to show us nice progressive liberals how much rightwing hatred and bigotry and intolerance is out there (thanks to Rob for telling me about this on the way to record club the other night).

I’m talking about the disgusting, abominable racist abuse suffered by Stan Collymore.

Because the fact is that crazed creationist zealots, despicable racist criminals, absurd, small-minded buffoons and nasty, horrible, awful people use Twitter too. (Of course, there is the question of whether anyone is a nasty, awful, horrible person in and of themselves, or whether there are only nasty, awful, horrible acts and contexts, and it’s not their fault really, and so on and so forth.) And my fear is that the semi-closed loops we fall into via these networks are presenting an illusion of being open and all-encompassing and giving a true representation of all of humanity, when they’re not, and we’re just talking to ourselves or people very much like us, not changing anything for the better in the wider world but just, in actuality, making our own cosy, comfortable worlds a little bit smaller and more entrenched. It’s the same thing I was touching on with my mini-rant about 6music the other day.

On the flipside, following and engaging with people who are like ourselves in some ways but not like us in others can and does regularly throw up links to fascinating and awesome and reasoned and compassionate things that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about at all. (Thanks to Kate for that link.) So it’s not all bad. We just have to remember that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance; and watching your own Twitter stream isn’t vigilance. It’s comfort.

To regress for a second to what I wrote about a couple of days ago, here’s a truly excellent blog post by someone who managed to make records, play gigs, work regular jobs, and not spend $109,000 or whine about not getting to hang out with models enough whilst doing so. I’ve seen many other blog posts and messageboard discussions about Abner and Harper Willis, many of them very insightful and reasoned, but this is about the best of them.

Maybe I should feel a little sorry for Abner and Harper for having all this opprobrium unwittingly heaped upon them. After all, they’re only young, and trying to reach their dreams. Then I think about how shitty, avaricious, and shallow their dreams are – models, lavish riders, trashed hotel rooms, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – and how shitty their music is, and I think, no, they deserve everything they get. Which is perhaps mean; they’re real, live human beings with feelings, after all.

Anyway, 33 & 1/3 are calling for proposals again. This time the list of demands for a proposal seems daunting, and there’s no advance, but to be fair, given the state of publishing at the moment, any other non-fiction book pitch would need all they’re asking for and more. I pitched a Spirit of Eden book a few years and got through a few rounds of eliminations to about the last 20 or something (they wanted to do half a dozen books or so as I recall). I’ve got an idea for an angle and a meta topic that would happily fill a book this time (something I was very half-heartedly considering trying to turn into a piece of academic research a couple of months ago), but there isn’t a clear, obvious album to gaffertape it to. Oh well, I’ll keep thinking.

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