Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

One Bad Apple

The way comments work at ARTicles is us exalted bloggers get to do what we will with them--approve, view, edit, or report as spam. I don't know what the middle two mean (I suppose "edit" is so we can remove "offensive content," not my thing), so I approve or report as spam--many come in saying stuff like: "Terrific post! Have you thought about refinancing your mortgage? . . ." But when the first comment on my Arcade Fire post just said "I agree." and nothing else I didn't know what to do. Wasn't spam, but what was it? An ironic comment on my longwindedness, or on commenting itself. Too subtle for me. I was suspicious, so I just deleted it. I was chicken.

Then Marc Hogan wrote a graf arguing with my assessment of Win Butler's anti-hipsterism, and Ann Powers said something rich as usual, and I was too busy to weigh in but looked forward to a few more intelligent opinions--the comments here are easily the smartest I see anywhere. Instead in wades "Jerry" telling me to go fuck myself, only less elegantly. And then comes three comments (two by the same guy, my own personal star commenter Dean Jones) insulting Jerry, and a fourth taking a potshot at Jerry before going on to out the unnamed "horrible stupid" critic of my post and further describe his sins. So let me say a few things about Jerry.

First, Jerry didn't write spam and I never hesitated to publish his comment. He was responding in his own horrible stupid way. But then there's a strategic matter. My belief is that the best way to hurt horrible stupid people like Jerry is to act like they aren't there. They want to deposit their dog doo-doo on the pavement, don't get any on your shoe. They only want attention and are too horrible and stupid to understand your cutting riposte. Only then this morning I got a cutting riposte I actually thought effective, from someone pretending (I assume) to be Jerry's parole officer.

So here's another thing about ARTicles comments. Sometimes we approve a comment and it never shows up in the thread. That seems to be what happened. What's more, I approved it from my spam folder--yet another thing about ARTicles comments is that that's where they sometimes end up on my computer for some no doubt AOL-linked reason--and so now it's gone. Would said parole officer be so kind as to resend?

As for anti-hipsterism, well, what Douglas Wolk said at EMP is right--these days, the main thing we know about hipsters is that they're someone else. But I would like to say that I started ID'ing myself as an anti-bohemian bohemian nearly 40 years ago, and that I think this is a sane and honorable stance as long as the underlying cultural analysis is realistic, which Butler's is. "Die Hipser Die"--stupid T-shirt. "We used to wait," or "How you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight"--right on, brother.


By marc h. on August 17, 2010 2:19 PM

I don't have anything nearly as useful to say this time, but your conclusion makes perfect sense and I definitely don't mean to argue against anti-bohemian bohemianism per se--we've talked at length about one of my personal anti-bohemian obsessions (thank you again for that), and my skepticism toward "hip culture" (for lack of a better phrase) has really been peaking lately. I guess my problem with Arcade Fire's underlying cultural analysis is, in my totally subjective view, that (a) it's so stultifying and self-serious and (b) it seems to me that they're still participating in what the Pitchfork Reviews Reviews guy has colorfully called our "dystopian subculture whirlpool," what you called the "one-ups-man-ship of indie-rock culture"-- you and Wolk are both right, of course, that a hipster is always someone else, but that seems to be exactly what Arcade Fire are doing here: disparaging other hipsters for being hipsters, in true hipster fashion (and around and around we go). Pardon the double negative, but the people whose arms aren't folded tight may not be the type to be moved by reviews.

By GMort on August 17, 2010 9:40 PM

Bob: Here's a best-I-can-remember version of the original. I didn't save it either --

Jerry: Glad you finally surfaced. Your PO was in Delta wing yesterday doing interviews and told us you'd failed to report the last two months. Then he said if you boged again this month you'd be facing an Abscond roll up and get sent back here. Not to worry tho, bro. I'm pretty sure we can get your old bunk for you. The one around the corner, back by the showers. Just don't squeal like you did last time. You nearly pulled a new beef for all of us.

Your pop, Stroke.

p.s.: The point of view is intended to be that of a mythical crime partner of Jerry's telling him to keep his mouth shut in the future lest he screw it up for everyone. Although if the point of view needs to be clarified, it may have not been worth the wait. Post or comment as you see fit, Bob. I trust your judgment. Have since '72.

By M. Y. Mim on August 18, 2010 7:07 PM

Your first line: The way comments work at ARTicles is us exalted bloggers get to do what we will with them. Were you being facetious no (sic) or a was this a genuine grammatical error? The "us" of course should be "we."

Is this considered spam? (The interrobang is used here to denote tongue in cheek and because it's a funny, dated symbol).

Regarding self-definition: I'm quite comfortable calling myself a "hipster." It's funny and a dated word that dates me properly. I think if you're reluctant to use the term, you may be taking yourself a bit too seriously. For years my business card defined me as a dilletante. I changed it when the cards ran out and I was weary of defining the word. It seems 9 out of 10 people don't know the word dilletante.

I am told that right on is back with the younger generation but the emphasis is different. The tone is matter-of-fact and the emphasis is on "right." Gone is the enthusiasm of my generation's right ON!

Mr. Christgau, please write on.


By Sini on August 23, 2010 4:19 PM

I agree.

Articles, Aug. 17, 2010

The Perils of Criticism: Arcade Fire Edition The Only Publication of Its Kind