Music For the Ages, Or Of An Age, Anyway

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry has asked for testimonials from us folk of a middling age about the music that survived — those bands and styles we grew up listening to in the 80s and 90s that continue (or failed) to be as lasting today. My comment turned into a dissertation on 90s music, so i thought I’d post it here as well, for posterity.

Siouxsie Sioux continues to be simply amazing, whether it’s her early stuff with the Banshees, The Creatures or her recent solo albums. For this aging Goth, she will always and forever be our Queen, whether she cops to the title or not.

My feelings about the Smiths/Morrisey are similar to Henry’s. I used to like them OK back in the day, mocking Morrisey for being a mope but still enjoying the music But lately I’ve come to recognize the wit, sarcasm, innuendo and genuine heart of their songs. The mopey pose is just surface detail covering for a depth and complexity that I’m only now, in my mid 30s, really starting to appreciate.

Nirvana on the other hand, not so much. And this is heresy for my particular cohort, as I was a high school senior when Kurt Cobain killed himself, and so for most people my age he is the Jim Morrison/John Lennon figure we were supposed to want. But really, Cobain was a self absorbed twat, and his music is interesting, but not quite as  important as a lot of people make it out to be. Grunge was, for all its bluster, a musical cul de sac. And there simply isn’t enough of Nirvana to be as influential as people claim it is. It would have been interesting to see what Cobain would have done, had he straightened his shit out and kept growing as a musician, but that’s one of these unknowable things. It’s just as likely that he would have turned into Eddie Vedder, doing the same old shtick for 20 years.

And how weird is it that Pearl Jam is on the way to being our generation’s Rolling Stones?

Now, Smashing Punpkins on the other hand are still awesome (and apparently have a new album!). I still bust out Melancholy and the infinite Sadness now and again. They managed to grow and change, escaped the grunge tag and became their own thing. And I have no idea if they’ve had any influence on contemporary music at all, but they should have.

The most unanticipated musical reassessment of my middle ages has to be Def Leopard. Never liked hair metal back in the day, but along side a lot of seventies rock that I dismissed as self indulgent twaddle, playing their songs on Rock Band has given me a begrudging appreciation for their music. It’s not the Beatles, mind you but for straight ahead rock and roll with no pretensions of being anything but a party band, it’s not horrible.

One More Shade of Grey, Just For Good Measure

For anyone who thought I was being harsh about Fifty Shades of Grey, here’s a review by Katrina Lumsden, who completely destroys any notion that it is in any way feminist:

Now I’ll be totally honest, the biggest issue I have with Fifty Shades of Shit is neither the sex nor the horrible writing. It’s the plot. Thin as it is, it’s still there. And its basic message is that, given enough time, you can change someone. While I don’t have any problem with this if all you’re trying to do is help them to lose weight or quit smoking, when you’re talking about an emotionally and (dangerously close to) physically abusive relationship, sending that kind of message is both ridiculous and irresponsible. Christian is controlling, possessive, condescending, and cruel. He doesn’t allow Ana to behave as she normally would, and Ana just puts up with it, insistent that if she can just give him what he wants, when he wants, as often as he wants, she can eventually begin to pull his strings. Will it work? In the books, probably. In real life? No. Almost never. How many idiotic, spineless, weak women are going to waste their lives on some emotionally retarded prick because they’ve read shit like this and think this kind of fucked-up fairytale will come true for them? I know I’m not over-reacting because I’ve known women with this mentality. “Oh, he’s so dark and dangerous and threatening, but he’s got a sad, lonely side, and if I could just figure out what’s wrong, I could change him!”

Well said.

Shadow Over Gotham

It seems every time a new Batman movie comes out, we have to have the same tired, one-dimensional arguments about Batman/Bruce Wayne’s political leanings. And no, I’m not even talking about Rush Limbaugh’s claim that Bane=Bain. That one is a nonstarter, even for the drug addled lunacy that normally comes out of that asshole. That a super villain invented in 1993 (by a conservative cartoonist, no less) is somehow a Leftist political metaphor about Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problems… No. I’m just not even starting down that road.

Instead, we have the usual claims that Batman is a fascist, except when he’s a populist antihero. Or something. It’s all rather muddled, which of course is a clue that there’s something else at work here, and that maybe a complex psychological fable isn’t the proper place to be looking for political metaphors.

Way back when The Dark Knight came out, there were a few bloggers who saw an authoritarian/Conservative bent to the character. Similar things were said about Iron Man being a shill for the Military Industrial Complex and Superman as a tool of Jingoism. Pretty much any super hero movie gets parsed for liberal/conservative bias. And while there are any number of valid ways to interpret a story, looking at super heroes through the lens of politics always irked me, but I couldn’t quite explain why.* Luckily, John August has given it some thought as well and explains the issue far better than I could:

Efforts to place TDK’s Batman on a real-world political spectrum are doomed. Sure, he’s tough on crime, but he’s also anti-gun. He holds himself outside the law, but destroys his own phone-tapping technology. Is he a Conservative? A Liberal?2 A Libertarian?

Nope, he’s just Batman. And as a comic book character, he’s allowed to hold simultaneous incompatible philosophies.

Exactly. Batman can be all these things because he is hyper-real. He’s not a citizen or a politician running for office, he’s a psychologically complex avatar, a stand-in we can use to explore larger, slightly abstract concepts about Freedom, Responsibility and Justice. That’s what is so great about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s a complex movie with psychological, mythic undertones.

If you go to a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and all you see is a mentally-ill billionaire exercising his authoritarian impulses without restraint, then you were sitting way too close to the screen.


* Also, Bruce Wayne, Billionaire Playboy would never vote. It’s out of character for the disinterested playboy persona. He can buy whatever freedom he needs, which is a decidedly Republican attitude, but one that would go completely u acted upon, outside of large donations to the popular DA who doesn’t really need the gesture. And Batman, while concerned about the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, wouldn’t bother pulling the Democrat lever, as he knows all politicians are crooked and fallible. So there.

Fifty Shades of Perspective

Over at the New Statesmen, Laurie Penny writes in defense of Fifty Shades of Grey, and gets it all wrong:

When you get down to it, the problem most people seem to have with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s for girls. Even worse – it’s “mommy porn”, porn for mommies, for older women to read and get excited about, and that dangerous nonsense really needs to be stopped right now. Everyone knows that the only women who are allowed to actually have sexuality are slender, high-breasted twenty-one year old virgins – rather like, it has to be said, the heroine of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

My problem with Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t that it’s “Badly written,” which Laurie Penny claims is just code for “popular with women.” My problem with the book is that it’s actually badly written. The prose is bland. The characters are sketchy. The plot is a hackneyed hash of cliches and recycled tropes the author doesn’t understand, just apes because that is what the manual on how to write a story told her needed to happen in Act 3. And to defend it’s popularity on feminist grounds, because it’s a vehicle for discussing women’s sexuality and porn in public, is sophomore feminism at it’s worst.

Almost as absurd is the claim that it’s porn, and so shouldn’t be judged on its literary merits, but it’s erotic value. I’ve read letters to Penthouse that were better written and had more evocative prose than Fifty Shades of Grey. It fails as both a novel and as erotica!

The only only reason the book is popular is because of a secondary social effect: it allows timid, mainstream readers to feel transgressive. The same house fraus who feel a rush reading this watered down tripe, wouldn’t be caught dead reading The Story of O or Venus in Furs, because those books make the reader relate to people who have real kinks, and not because they are damaged, and in need of some virgin redeemer to teach them how to love. It’s because those characters find fulfillment in their kinky, sweaty, dark and forbidden lusts. And they make the reader feel as if they might as well. That’s the thrill of reading erotica. The thrill Fifty Shades of Grey fails to provide in any way.

Link via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.