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Sunday, February 27, 2005

CULTURAL PHYSICS (WHAT IS REAL?)

Simon, wise and even-handed, as ever, on the MIA/'Authenticity' debate.

He's right, of course, to point out that "Project/Object"s are now so inextricably intertwined w/ their own Marketing Strategies (intentional or otherwise), Person/Persona Dichotomies, Ironic/Non-Ironic 'Balances' and 'tensions', etc that any sort of critique needs to consider the project and all the peripheral guff that orbits it as a Meta-Whole...

MIA (and her LP/singles/side-projects) should perhaps be viewed as a metaphorical 'object' that is rolling down a hill: it has the potential to accrete meaning as it rolls, thus gaining Cultural 'Weight' (and therefore Momentuum, which, in turn, decides how much longer it will roll before it's energy is finally spent...) . Once, it seemed that 'Authenticity' was a (if not the) major donor of Cultural 'Weight' (ie yeah, he's an Old Black Guy who's been playing Delta Blues for 40 years, therefore he must be 'real'...), but now the level of debate/discourse about whether something is 'Authentic' or not seems to be a major contributor to increasing its Cultural 'Weight' (ie Eminem: is he the Real Deal? I mean, I know he's white, but, boy can he spit out them flows...).

The fact that we are uncertain about the cultural significance of something now seems to be enough to make it culturally significant. Our own debate adds layers of complexity and meaning that maybe weren't even there in the first place (this is known in scientific circles as 'Artifact': for example, if you stain a bacterium to make it visible under a microscope, the bacterium is then 'changed' by the process, so that it is no longer just a bacterium, but an artifact of the staining process. The scientist is therefore doomed to never see the bacterium in its original, untransformed state...).

These days, we (the audience) are far more implicitly involved (via our debate) in transforming or shaping the artist into a consensus that lines up with our personal notions and perceptions of what they should represent. We do this constantly: in the pub, at work and on internet forums, and this process also has a built-in feedback feel-good factor that then makes us feel more 'sophisticated' as an audience (ie we can fool ourselves into thinking we're no longer just passive consumer/recievers) and helps us to justify giving our precious leisure-time over to some wretched little Pop Act.

In simple terms, though, all this agonising over authenticity just boils down to paying more attention to something than we would normally (which then translates into larger records sales or cultdom or career longevity or whatever the Commercial Placement Intent of the Project/Object originally was...).

Obviously, the commerce/publicity side of things has now become extremely sophisticated and adept at exploiting this by embedding ambiguities, 'taboos', ironic/non-i 'tensions', etc so that we (the consumer) then have more to talk about. Of course, Public Debate is always welcome because it creates a 'buzz'. Interestingly, Simon then follows his piece on MIA with one on James Murphy where authenticity is also on the menu: Simon gives James the benefit of the doubt because he realises he is part of the same Info-Class/Cultural Tourist/Uber-Fan niche that 'we' occupy, and has been wrestling with similar thoughts and ideas about authenticity (see: also Gutterbreakz' post on LCD Soundsystem). As a consequence, we sense that Jame's own personal angst over whether he is a 'fraud' is genuine, so his cultural weight increases and he will therefore continue to 'roll'.

MIA's strategy (intentional or otherwise) was to attach herself to a relatively new cultural taboo ("Terrorism") by proxy association with Third-World freedom-fighters... I could be cynical and point out that supporting worthy ethnic struggles is a marvellous career move if you're aiming for a Independent/Guardian-reading hip 'liberal' coffee-table demographic, but it's sparked an (unexpected) debate (and possible backlash) in the Blogosphere that's now got people questioning her revolutionary credentials, her 'realness', etc. "Still, her beats are fucking great", is one counter-riposte. (And they are, so you can have yr cake and eat it.)

As a result of all this, she's become a far more culturally complex (and intriguing) creature in the last few days, and people who haven't heard her stuff now wanna know what all the fuss is about. Fait Accompli? Not for me to say, now, is it...?

Sheesh. It was so much easier when we were young and we just kinda knew whether we actually liked something or not.