The “Dear” (or, On Email Salutations)

The fact of our social reality is that we are judged by such silly things. But when we think about how deliberate some of those things are, maybe they aren’t so silly. The decision to favour trousers over a skirt has a distinctly gendered set of connotations for women. I have heard ad nauseam many conversations from women stating to the effect that they hate wearing high heeled shoes but it is expected of them.


Thinking about the micro level of interactions. I’ve been thinking a lot about emails. As someone who has to do a lot of emailing for work, and job applications, and everything in between (such as say, organising family things with my sister), I’ve been thinking about email salutations.


The issue of email salutations has been on my mind because it has encroached on issues of interactions in terms of gender, age differences, cultural/social backgrounds and just protocol. The issue really boils down to this: can or should I still use “Dear …” as a greeting.


Let’s consider a variety of cases:


Case one: working in a formal place


I sometimes work at a place where protocol is very important. Observing people by title or their ceremonial roles are very important as some of them occupy ancient institutions and are key civic figures. In this context it is not only appropriate, it is a sign of good Britishness to uphold the ‘Dear’ and other related customary salutations. This is the case in which the Dear is absolute, and in this situation I cannot ever get rid of the Dear.


Case two: at work: emailing someone who is literally behind you


I also work in a context where I am often in a lot of different desks and departments (see hotdesking) and there are often a lot of first introductions with people, sometimes meeting them physically after I contact them by emails (so I don’t recognise them by face). I usually do an anonymous Dear as a form of protocol to email people, including when I am unfamiliar as to where they physically are. If in some instances I am near someone that I need to contact, but I would need to email them because they are working on a caseload or on the phone or I just can’t judge their availability to deal with something, I would email them. I would often agonise over whether Hello is too informal for someone I don’t know, or if Dear is too naff and over-formal. These tend be the main cases in which a salutation becomes an issue of social interaction.


Case three: Dear and Gender


Antisophie put it to me in this way: would you call someone Dear to their face in the same way I might in an email with the same frequency? The answer to that would be a resounding no. It is true that when working with senior figures; Rt. Hon., Lords or your everyday Sith Lord, you would accord the correct title and greeting to them. If I worked more in this environment I certainly would take formality to be more frequent. Going back to the question Antisophie posed: would I call someone Dear? No. It’s incredibly gendered, and context of the other party’s acceptance of the term needs to be established. For example, an acceptable instance of me using Dear would be as a joke or an informal or familiar context with someone, and usually its to men and women that I know very well, and the quaintness of the utterance forms much of its acceptability. Outside of that it seems distinctly patronising at best, misogynistic at worst and horridly outdated. Antisophie gives me a reason to think that I should purge Dear altogether! Although if I’m writing a job application I wouldn’t want to undermine any chances by getting a little thing like the protocol of a salutation wrong. If we were living in a philosopher’s world I’m sure something like ‘Dear’ would be eradicated as a default.


Case four: to and fro emails


The usual kind of emails I get, which go something like:


Me: Dear n here’s my update on the situation

n: Great thanks, can you also account for so and so?

Me: Sure thing here you go

n: great thanks

(a bit later)

n: (unrelated question/topic with previous thread included in body text for some reason)


In these instances, sometimes it is a really quick fire of emails in a short period of time. Or it might just be a long thread. In these instances I think that putting Dear at the top is not only artificially distant, but also not germane to the discussion’s material. To and fro’s typically requires just the facts and even a greeting after the 2nd or 3rd reply isn’t necessary.


Case five: making an impression


I sort of hinted at this with the job application point. There are points where the formality of a situation is not established because you don’t know the person and or they are new to you (note I made a distinction here). Having a clear greeting and honorary salutation is crucial here. Having the Dear is important to establish a new connection, as in this context it is not presumptuous as a more informal greeting might be. With someone new having an impersonal distance is the default. My Latin American friends think that this impersonal distance with new people is absolutely quaint and quintessentially English (or in their words: soo cute!). There are instances where Dear is used to communicate a lack of salutations. Hi is too informal, Hello is awkward sometimes, and Hey? Well lets go to that.


Lemma: On ‘Hey’


Like the 19th and 20th Century aestheticians who had a fundamental dislike for the sublime. I too am not a such a great fan of hey. Hey is an informality that needs to be earned, like people who call me Mike. I am not a fan of hey and instead of communicating disapproval openly to practitioners of the word, I simply avoid participation.


Our salutations reflect our definition of the situation. I am eternally reminded of Dr. Kieran Flanagan’s example of the definition of the situation, in which a younger version of him was in a hotel in Minnesota and the hotelier asks: how are you today? To which he replies: I’M FUCKING AWFUL! Despite the values we have on authenticity, we still aren’t allowed to be honest when we aren’t okay, or in Flanagan’s case, fucking awful. I suspect that salutations exist in this same baffling way.

Black Metal Hegemony

I’ve finally started to read ‘Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness’ (Stosuy Eds). My recent penchant for musical thinking reflects a cultural and intellectual sensibility that art should aspire to be radical and affect change.


One of the things I like about the anthology is that at the outset, it tries not to tell the same old story about Black Metal, instead, portraying Black Metal as a scene, a mindset, an art form that has been claimed by many people in different ways. There are many documentaries and places where the same old stories are told about Mayhem, Burzum, Bathory and even the British band Venom. In a way those stories have formed an hegeomonic claim to the genre, and this is wrong.


I like the notion of hegemony as a conceptual frame here. I was talking to a friend who brought up to me how certain cultures have hegemonic loci that relate across cultural and linguistic boundaries: for example, how India forms a cultural hegemon to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, or the USA to many parts of the English speaking world. Some voices are more prominent than others. When it comes to Black Metal, it is my view that the really interesting voices come from plurality, and avoiding the temptation (and it is particularly strong for me), to generalise too much.


I really liked the chapter on the overview of concurrent black metal scenes at the same time as the Norwegian movement. Poland and France have particularly brutal reputations when it comes to ‘rawness’. Greek Black metal (which I have more familiarity with in terms of 2000s bands) emphasies mysticality in their own unique way that is not imitating anyone else. One author wrote an essay about their own band from Latvia and how cultural contact was limited due to economic and cultural conditions such as the ‘Iron Curtain’ and scarcity of outside music. I thought it was interesting when Kvetkovskis of Skyforge points out how the pirated cassettes of outside metal music was brought alongside more popular outside music like Madonna.


Growing up I spent a little bit of time in the Philippines and saw the way that cultural products from outside came in. Often there aren’t really hard distinctions made between say, rock and metal; or likewise, extreme metal genres (black metal, grindcore, death metal etc.). Each country, due to their own circumstances, draws from it in a different way. It would be far too judgmental to critique a band because of the ways they categorise metal genres.


Perhaps the one thing I thought notable about many of the European black metal scenes described in the book, is how they have differing relationships to the issue of their nationality and the connection to their folk culture, particularly the relationship to Christianity and their folk culture. As I’m reading another book on Wagner at the moment, the comparisons are inevitable and too obvious. I feel that the more I read about black metal, the more I seem to understand Adorno’s perspective on Wagner. I see a certain blackness/negritude to the cultural politics of Wagner; and I also see a certain Wagnerian Romanticism about some elements of black metal scenes too.


Goodbye Google Reader

In my opinion I think there’s a direct relationship between the discovery of Google Reader and my emergence as a blogger through WordPress. I used Google Reader as a way of collating news, where before I would follow websites individually and constantly have lots of bookmarks.


As you might know. Google is shutting down Reader in a few months. I’m very sad. Google Reader is by no understatement, a big part of my life. I find out jobs through RSS feeds, I get podcasts, read news, philosophy blogs, find out about journal articles, watch videos and even follow comedy blogs like wtfpictureisunrelated. The centralisation of my internet browsing in a single place was a great innovation for me. I even made APIs to do things like link it to a mobile phone app, so that when I star a story it will be sent to my phone so I could read it on the train. I’m going to miss GReader and I’m not understating by saying it has been a big part of my modern life.


So now what shall I do? I have been reading a couple of ‘here are some alternatives’-type pieces. I might trial other RSS readers, I might separate my podcasts from blogs – get a podcatcher and then use another program for RSS reading. To be honest I feel kind of lost without GReader. That is the impact of a brand’s presence, and Google’s ubiquity. On the other hand I am not entitled to complain as Google Reader was basically a free service. I think the moral of GReader’s closure is that you really can have iconic brands and presence in the internet and social media age. Maybe one day people will be all hipster if they say: ‘I was around during Google Reader’ or ‘I was using it before it was cool’. One of the other things I didn’t realise is how so many other people use it in largely similar ways to me.


I just hope they don’t close down Evernote, then my life is seriously borked!


When the BBC disappoints, and Vice Magazine impresses me

Sometimes people speak of how alternative media such as blogs and less paper based news formats speak to the end of journalism and news media as we know it. Sometimes I wonder if the traditional media are doing it themselves.

As many of you might be aware, yesterday announced the passing of Venezuelan Leader Hugo Chavez. I found out mainly through Twitter. I was actually watching BBC news at the time, where the pressing stories in the first hour were the following stories which seem to be of public importance:

  • Manchester United going out of the Champion’s league after defeat from Real Madrid and contestable referee decision (in fairness Britain is a country that celebrates football so sports news isn’t completely unmerited)
  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, informally known in magazines as Wills and Kate, announce gender of their child – erm, so the BBC are quite big on deference, and its true that there is a lot of international public interest (for whatever reason) on this subject – but I would quite prefer this kind of news to be on E!
  • Justin Bieber causes outrage by being 2 hours late to performance – parents demand apology – erm – this was seriously considered headline news for television.

It is for this reason that I normally think about looking at other news networks. Al Jazeera for instance, or RT. I’m a little bit tired, annoyed even, at the level of irrelevance at news stories sometimes. I grant that there are lots of things of public importance that are pretty depressing, like the economy, and all the issues that are related to the economy. However those are of great importance to an informed democracy.

Also a good news agenda should introduce stories that we don’t normally think about. With that in mind I have lately been admiring Vice magazine and their website. In  a sense I am desperately shocked that I would ever have to admit this, but I find that the reportage and breadth of topics addressed by Vice magazine to be very enlightening – Vice magazine are often known for a degree of cynicism, having very unusual and sometimes just gross stories, however they then come up with things like ‘calling out the Thigh Gap phenomenon‘ (warning – contains objectification) or their story on the invisible minority of gay Palestinians. I’m currently part of a blog where one of my jobs is to monitor news stories and report on interesting things, I always am in favour of linking to Vice stories, but the very informal writing style, and gratuitous use of words like ‘fuck’ make me think twice about the audience I want to link this to.

I have to face it. Vice Magazine are doing a great job, I consider them a good news source in a world where the Guardian puts forward transphobic articles and ignorant commentary from people who basically say ‘I told you so!!1′ about the 2008 GFC without too much awareness of that old thing called ‘post hoc ergo procter hoc’, or when the BBC think news about Justin Bieber and a guy who dresses like Batman is proportionally important. Many Vice reports are outright crass and in fairness the publication doesn’t make a reputation for being too serious. However it says a lot when something like Vice can be cutting edge when it comes to having their ears to the ground on social trends.


The face of the High Street

I thought I’d write something relevant to the urban spaces that many people live in. This week it was announced that two common features of many High Streets: HMV and Blockbuster, have found financial troubles and have effectively gone into administration. I reacted in two different ways when I heard these two stories. The first reaction was to HMV. I felt a bit of fondness for the brand because of its history and my own personal experience with it.

In my small archive of possessions I have inherited a vinyl collection of Chopin Nocturnes by Alfred Brendel, and one of the distinctive features of it is the name of the publisher: His Master’s Voice. At first I didn’t recognise the name, but the dog standing by a grammophone had a strange familiarity. I think it is a good sign of a brand to have such a notoriety that its identity as a brand becomes part of what makes it a cherished item. I felt it was the continuity of an old vinyl of a classic piano recording being part of a commercial product of a (then) currently existing brand. In that way I thought it was sad to see HMV go. As an aside. I’ve always been saying to myself how I wanted to visit the Curzon cinema above my nearby HMV to see an art film or live streaming opera, but I never got around to it. It seems now I won’t get the chance.

One of the things I thought were interesting has been the various conversations people have had on twitter and the bloggosphere about their fondness of the experience of buying CD albums and singles and how that experience is mainly consigned to memory for the large amount of the public. Although there are many independent retailers around, many of them occupy niche spaces that are to the effect of excluding certain kinds of music.

When I heard about Blockbuster, I was reminded of a conversation with a friend a few days earlier. The conversation went to the effect of: why hasn’t this company gone bust already? There was a distinct sense in which Blockbuster was a blight on a certain Clapham high street in the backdrop of trendy and relevant shops. The irrelevance of Blockbuster as a generalist retailer for games and even providing the service of rentals seemed to me like something that was a blight on the modern high street.

In this same week I’ve been following a few online discussions about my local area. The local MP posted in a local online site that a decision to oppose a betting shop replacing what used to be a high street bank branch has been overruled in favour of granting permission to set up a shop. One of the discussions I’ve heard a lot from my local area (particularly from my involvement with a community group, and the odd conversations I hear before gym classes/badminton social games) is how the perception of the high street is changing locally.

The perception is that many shops come and go, and this is largely due to the difficult economic conditions of today, many people attempt to make a local trading shop or place a franchise to find that within a few months it cannot sustain itself. As such there are a lot of changes to local shops on a monthly basis. The shops that stick however, reflect more of the current customer behaviours and spending interests. In my area this tends is said to be (to the annoyance of many): fried chicken shops, bookies (Betting shops) and so called Pound Shops. For any non-British readers, a pound shop is a retailer which sells items usually at low value (often £1). The success of the pound shop reflects both the way in which business need to be adaptable to their customers and market conditions but also seem to be divisive in terms of opinion

I’ve heard a lot of derision about the chicken shop; the pound shop and betting stores. Usually it is the clientele that is the butt of people’s dislike. I wonder sometimes if it is a covert form of class intolerance. I also suspect part of it is genuinely a perception of accessibility and the unfriendliness of these places to those unfamiliar with it. As someone who was a teenager in the 2000s, I am no stranger to the chicken shop, and in a sense I am neutralised to the negative opinions of them. I can also recognise that it is part of the repetoire of masculinity that enjoying a chicken shop is a key staple in socialising with my friends. I enjoy the fact that there’s somewhere to get unhealthy food after midnight when I’m coming home after a 12-16 hour day at work. Or on a friday/saturday night the presence of a takeaway is very welcome. I can appreciate that with a late opening venue also comes a lot of noise from customers. One time I was at a local chicken place and I saw that its packaging was provided by the Met Police, and it contained information about knife crime. I have to admit that was pretty grim.

I’m always sceptical about the perception of social decline. However it is undeniable that the kinds of local trends and spending patterns reflect the prevalence of a generic customer profiles. I recall being present at a presentation by a local councillor who stated frankly that while many people may be unhappy about the kinds of shops renting properties on high streets today, it is much better than an empty shop. Adaptability seems to be the name of the game: in terms of how employers want their workers; how businesses and organisations need to survive; and I suppose in terms of how consumers are affected by their changing budgets. The main worry people have today I think is that when an iconic and prevalent presence leaves; the worry is not whether anything will take its place, but whether that thing will be just as memorable and cherished.


Valuing the Humanities: a panel discussion

Yesterday I went to see a panel discussion at the London School of Economics under the auspices of the Forum for European Philosophy. There was a fairly varied panel present. Martin Rees, a person with a great many titles: Astronomer Royal, President of the Royal Society, Lord of Ludlow, Master of Trinity College Cambridge and of course, a professor in Astrophysics. An unusual choice was a Richard Smith, known as a one time editor of the British Medical Journal and by his own testimony holds a passionate appreciation of literature, philosophy and poetry. The other ‘humanist’ panel were Prof. Martha Nussbaum, who is well known for her work in international social issues such as gender relations in India and her recent work seems to involve some familiarity with south-east Asia. Finally and by no means least was a certain Professor James Ladyman, a philosopher of science who has also been known in broadsheet media as a stern critic of the managerial style of academia since well before the annoucement of the Browne Report.

Some interesting points were made, some of which give a lot of historical and cultural context which is often forgotten by the knee-jerk and short-termist politics and journalism of the present day.

Democracy and the humanities

Nussbaum made the point that the humanities have a vital role in well functioning democracies. The humanities have an important role even outside democratic countries. Nussbaum gives the example of China, Singappore and India, which has invested much into their technical and vocational institutions which provide professional qualifications. These countries, according to Nussbaum, have realised the worth of humanism and the skills that come from learning about the humanities and have introduced courses as a crucial component to vocational/professional training. These skills are important to the corporate world in the understanding of other people and how one might deal with different personalities or castes.

How to make an appeal

A case should be made for the intrinsic value of the humanities, but in the discourse of public reason, it is important to appeal to a terminology and set of factors that politicians and the public would be appealed by, which would involve an instrumental form of reasoning. As such, many academics have to subordinate or submit to the logic of capital in how funding is allocated. This means that if one is to concede to academic funding and the mechanisms which organise it, certain key factors are hindered, such as freedom of the pen, and allowing the authority of the management-style administration of the university.

Professor Ladyman noted about the absurdity of the management reasoning, in one meeting he noted that the university authorities proposed that they had to do something to ‘invigorate’ the economy, or how important philosophy is in fighting extremism, for instance, with tackling movements like intelligent design proponents. Ladyman pointed the absurdity in this: while he is being asked how to tackle extremism as an academic, Bristol City Council has cut a scheme to teach english to Somali immigrants: one of the most vulnerable groups in the community. Ladyman makes the important point that the agenda imposed by HEFCE of ‘impact’ for ‘good research’ is absurd. The standards of excellent scholarship are internal to the subject of study. Also, the ‘impact’ of an intellectual development is hardly known immediately. Ladyman cited a great many examples:

  • G.H. Hardy, author of ‘Pure Mathematics’ once said that ‘Quantum Mechanics and Relativity’ have no relevance during his contemporamous early 20thC. Now, think about superconductivity, or the GPS technology. Consider the potential impacts of quantum computing. Impact isn’t the implicit reason why good research comes about, sometimes it is just about knowing more about a specific subject.
  • Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions and work on logic and foundations of mathematics became the staples of further mathematical logic, and spruned on developments in artificial languages and essentially foundational issues in computer science.
  • Philosophers who during the Enlightenment talked of the fundamental political values of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ led to the intellectual emergence of the founding of the United States, as well as the liberal democracy around Europe. Consider the ‘impact’ of a certain Second Treatise of Government

The case of the sciences

Lord Rees came from a completely different background to talk about the humanities, but unusually for a panel discussion (especially one which would involve philosophers), there was widespread agreement about the value of the humanities, but practically speaking, it had to take until the motion of increased tuition fees was passed before any reactionary talk happened.

Consider by contrast the ‘Science is Vital’ campaign, which launched well before the Browne report came out. The Science is Vital campaign anticipated that there would be a threat to cuts and many figures rallied for the cause, such as Guardian’s ‘Bad Science’ Columnist Ben Goldacre, one-time ‘Belle de Jour’ blogger Brooke Magnanti and Richard Dawkins. There was not such a co-ordinated effort for the humanities. An open question was asked: Why is this? The suggestion made by a few audience members was because the humanities are not a unified body. You will have philosophers who often define themselves as ‘analytic’ and deriding ‘continental’ philosophers (I’m guilty of engaging in this line of thought), and social-theory leaning intellectuals in the arts who are so much talk and not enough action. The lack of action and a co-ordinated political effort is a testimony of the challenges that the Humanities face in creating a decent campaign.

It is up to the unusual suspects to speak up for the humanities. A certain Astronomer Royal, for instance, or medical scientists like Richard Smith who emphasise the importance of humanism in health. Richard Smith spoke of how inappropriate it is to train people to be doctors from the age of 18 where they have little life experience or humanistic education. In the US, for comparison, medics have to complete a liberal arts education before technical training.

Context over the short term

The issue of the government deficit is in a sense a distraction. The Humanities were at risk long before the Lehman Brothers’ crash. The Humanities were under threat from within and without. The decision to increase tuition fees will be implimented in a few years, a time where there may or may not still be an economic crisis. This decision is made on a reasoning of short-termism but its impact is long term. It is not exclusively the blame of the present coalition government, as the state of the education system has faced challenges and decisions made by the conservative and labour government s of the past three decades. Students, who are 18-21 years old are the least to have such a grasp of historical context. Its important to know of the past struggles and campaigns for higher education over the past few decades.

The panel discussion ended with an amusing quip by chair Mark Lawson (famous for his broadcasting on Radio 4) who said: I have to go and interview Ronnie Corbett now. An interesting juxtaposition to end a discussion titled ‘valuing the humanities’.


History through youth cultures and the commodification of ‘genres’

At the moment I’m doing a book review for the book: “Sells like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture and Social Crisis” by Ryan Moore. Since I’m allocated only a few words for the review I’d have to be brief, and clinical in an assessment. For this blog, however, I would like to wax lyrical and passionately on whatever I want to. This is a monograph which is part cultural history and part social analysis. Th narrative of this book begins in the mid-late 1970s. At this time, Punk, Heavy Metal and Hip Hop emerged almost contiguously. I interpret the book as making the claim that it was from the same social conditions that such youth cultural constructions emerged as symbolic responses to the contemporamous situation, and the malaise of the time.

Social History and Youth Cultures

When we look at the late 1970s in the US, there is much of a comparison to today. The time of prosperity is over, the economic ideologies of Keynsianism/Liberalism and Fordism are replaced by Post-Fordism and Neoliberalism. Where Liberalism  represented investment into urban spaces and publically funded projects for social innovation and growth; neoliberalism represented the cutting of the public funds over the presiding priority over the free market. Where Fordism represented an economy comprising of predominantly production and manufacturing based employment which precipitated an economic renaissance and age of upward social mobility; Post-Fordism represented downward social mobility, the decline of production and manufacturing industries and the rise of the service industry.

These aforementioned social changes had far reaching implications: employment became scarce, the public sector was in decline and there was an increase in service-based vocations. Punk and Heavy Metal emerge as thematic responses to these phenomena either through the confused mix of political identification and awareness paired with nonchalant irony of Punk; or through the mysticised and proletarian-friendly imagery of Heavy Metal, which externalises a symbolic ‘other’ that is derided and representative of the lack of oppurtunities of upward social mobility and economic stability, or the authority figures that constructed this situation.

It is far to say that the ideologies of say, Punk or Heavy Metal are consistent, or unitary. Location, or ‘scene’ has a distinct impact upon a genre, and its underlying values. There were distinct conflicts or nuances in the portrayal of how such genres may be historically understood. Much of Punk can veritably be described as a hedonistic endeavour with little social criticism but poseur ironic distance where by contrast there are more politicised circles and offshoots which make distinct ideological statements, such as the Staightedge which eventually became an autonomous subculture.

Heavy Metal in the 1980s

A lot can be said about the chapter on Heavy Metal. Of particular note was Moore’s own personal testimonies (and interviews) that he addresses in this chapter. Moore was admittedly into the Thrash scene, which was a symbolic and musical combination of Hardcore and NWOBHM. The case of Thrash metal represent, in a similar way of the Straightedge movement to apathetical punk, a critique of a genre. Thrash Metal tried to respond to the contemporamous social situation and create a social criticism. Thrash Metal was a critique of the contiguous emergence of Glam Metal’s hedonism and emphasis on ‘rags to riches’ celebrity stardom and the crash and burn of having the rock star life.

Interesting about these metal movements are the inconsistencies of seeing a ‘scene’ as a unified or consistent entity; famous Thrash metal band, Anthrax which emphasised social issues, such as in the song ‘Indians’ [as in Native Americans] had members in a side project ‘Stormtroopers of Death’ which had racialised characterisations. Glam Metal likewise perverted masculinity by the band members dressing in makeup and female clothing. This was percieved as an oppurtunity to attract female fans to a genre which is typically completley male, and to depict aspects of male sensitivity with the iconic archetype of the girlfriend who works while the rock star ‘tries to make it’. This archetype led to the joke (so Moore tells us): “What did the stripper do with her asshole before she went to work? Drop him off to band practice”.

In Penelope Spheeris’ ‘The Decline of Western Civilisation’, fans admit to the homosexual urge of wanting to ‘fuck’ the members of glam metal bands such as poison because of how girlish and attractive they looked, irrespective of identifying with being a homosexual. This kind of masculine brutish sexuality was not too far from the Glam Metal scene, for while bands such as Poison and Twisted Sister dressed like women, they were still patriarchs. The women they dressed as were reminiscent of the Hollywood Strip sex workers. By dressing as women, they promote the symbolic sexual objectification of women as they make themselves the object. By having sex with groupies and feeding financially off of various girlfriends and fans, the Glam Metallers were less of revolutionaries than wasters. In similar irony, the Straightedge movement which emphasised nonconformism had distinctly militaristic and conformist tendencies. Of course, who expects consistency from teenagers.

Heavy Metal after Thrash has an interesting history. Moore’s history is by his own admission a narrative which is predominantly from US fans (his narrative of Punk addresses the emergence of UK Punk following Malcolm McClaren’s importation of the New York style). Heavy Metal is known nowadays to have an emergence in mainland Europe, which has led to very interesting and unique flavourings. The predominance of US culture as culture sui generis or as a global narrative is quite powerful but not a comprehensive story. I am intending in a future post to write about Black Metal as it emerged from Norway in the 1980s and exploded in the 1990s. That story is one which take places in particularly different and perhaps unique socio-historical circumstances.

The folks from Olympia, Washington

The chapter that I’m currently reading is one which personally strikes me the most, even more than Heavy Metal (which I quite like), I have had personal experience of the 1990s, and in my earlier years, lived through many of the records of my older siblings. I’m just a bit too young to be a Generation X-er, but I been close to a few (such as on this blog’s authorship).

Kurt Cobain, like Hendrix before him, or even Joplin (Janis, not Scott [perhaps my love for Ragtime will be in another post]), has been reified and made into a cultural demigod, or saint. So much so that ‘Kurt would be turning in his grave’ is an oft- said response by Sinistre in critical interpretation of ‘Alternative’ music. I’ll try not to dwell too much on the well-trodden story of Nirvana and its famous blonde rogue, but perhaps one detail is very interesting. Cobain was based in Olympia, Washington initially. Rather than the more trendy and commercialised Seattle: home to American cultural exports such as Pearl Jam, Starbucks and Fraser Crane.

In Olympia was a distinctly Do-it-yourself scene. This DIY approach to promoting music was also a forum for raising social issues, particularly for young women. I was genuinely surprised to discover that in the same place where Cobain started out, was where the Riot Grrrl (sic) movement also proliferated. Cobain was sympathetic to the aims and feminist sensibilities of the movement and was friends with key figures in the Riot Grrrl scene (I had to look these people up as I am completely ignorant) such as Tobi Vail and Kathleen Hanna.

Reading about the Riot Grrrl movement upset me in the nature of the issues that they addressed. Through zines, self-defence courses and other such fora of organisation, the Riot Grrrl represented a truly grassroots movement where young girls could find expression and raise the consciousness of issues that affected them, which included abuse, sexuality and mental health. Distinct themes were established which created solidarity in terms of shared experience, such as sexual abuse and experiencing self esteem issues/eating disorders. I’ve yet to discover the music of the Riot, I must admit. This is a case of where the scene is so much more than the music that comprises it. Of course, a musicological analysis never hurts. One has to use his music theory education at some point doesn’t he?

Back to Grunge. The story of Grunge can be encapsulated in the commercial success of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ at the end of 1991. In a sense, the ‘real’ Grunge music was the music that culminated in Nirvana’s success, and very much came before in the lesser known bands such as Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone. The so-called commercial ‘big four’ of Grunge are in many ways an artificial grouping: Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were more of a Hard Rock band and Alice in Chains are now recognised as a Heavy Metal band. The cultural influences behind Cobain’s Nirvana were quite diverse, and much overlooked, such as Pavement or the Pixies. This in itself was the story of Nirvana’s success. The story of Grunge’s immediate implosion came from the commercial apprehension of the brand grunge, and the branding of generation x.

Advertisers learned to take advantage of the nonchalant generation x audience, and some caught on and saw its fakeness. Moore cites Sprite’s slogan ‘Image is Nothing’ as an example. The female deoderant ‘Teen Spirit’ (from which the song ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ was named) was marketed with the implication that everyone knew the song with slogans that tried to capture ‘a scent of a generation’ and such. Nirvana and so-called grunge ceased to become an underground genre of authenticity, but became a category in the local Tower Records or HMV. ‘Alternative’ as a genre took a commercial degree of success in trying to make formulaic what was once organic in an underground scene; to replicate the ‘grunge’ sound effectively became the thing that destroyed its meaning. Perhaps this is the best and clearest example of how a marketing of a genre’s ‘authenticity’ is the formula for it’s demise. It is for this reason that I don’t see how ‘folk’ can be a musical scene but a genre.

A thought on authenticity

Authenticity is a category or concept that seems elusive to me in popular music (I use this term in a broad sense). For some genres, maintaining a connection with the grassroots and the core fanbase is crucial to authenticity. Indie fans are often derided for boasting some special knowledge or claim to a band, it is often derided of indie fans that they boast ‘I knew x before they were cool’, and the Joke by Guardian columnist (so-called indie professor) Wendy Fonarow: ‘(Q): How many indie bands does it take to change a lightbulb? (A): Oh, you don’t know?’.

Authenticity seems to be like one of those concepts Wittgenstein described as a family resemblance. Perhaps there is no unified notion of authenticity, but it should be said that the varying notions of authenticity whether between musical genre or geographical scene WILL have an impact on other genres. Classical music, for instance, has many considerations of an ‘authenticity’ of a recording which I think very much draw from the categories of popular music. Perhaps it is in this way that ‘classical music’ becomes as a commercialised medium in continuum with popular music (and therefore, perhaps there is no such thing as classical music as we knew it; in the tradition going back from Gregorian Chant to Mozart to Schoenberg).

How classical music becomes youth-culturalised

Classical music autheniticity have emerged as a result of various factors: new technologies in recording, as well as restorations. In the late 20thC, organ restorations have allowed for instruments from the 18thC and even before, to be played. One can now enjoy Bach recordings played by organs from Bavaria; or Gabrielli played by period instruments. Recording technologies also play a complicated role in authenticity. On the one hand, there is the old story of how recordings have commodified music away from live performances. This discourse is quite well worn in popular music so I will not go further into this. There is also another sense of technological authenticity, where the ‘flaws’ of a piano piece are seen as perfections: Glenn Gould’s piano works often are quite low quality by today’s digital standards (his humming during piano playing is notorious as well); Performances where ‘bum notes’ or mistakes are seen as ‘interpretative uniqenesss’ characteristic of the likes of Vladimir Horowitz or Sviatostav Richter. Classical music afficionados have become spoiled by numerous recordings and it has become an art to ‘interpret’ the same piece by different recordings and record label publications. This is no different than how one might compare listening to ‘Heart Shaped Box’ between ‘In Utero’ and its recording on ‘MTV Unplugged’ (note to readership: persons of a certain age know see how tired and repetitive it is to make Nirvana comparisons – that’s exactly how tired it is to talk about Sviatostav Richter compared with Evgeny Kissin for many piano music afficionados).

Glenn Gould himself acknowledged the difficult place of technology in the social role of classical performance. Gould saw recording technologies as the ‘death’ of live music, but also an oppurtunity to portray the perfection of a musical performance. Countless takes so that a recording is right on every note, and rigorous studio processes can make an allegro more pronounced (play the tape faster) or gives a fortissimo more oomph! (up the volume). As social changes affect popular music scenes, so too do discourses of authenticity and technology affect all music as a whole.


Is the ‘New Atheism’ for the win?

Like Ozymandias, I look at the world with multiple screens at once with a randomly circulating feed of different sources in my antarctic base (well that’s almost true, anyway). A lot of my RSS fees seem to indivate that there is a gradual success of the new atheist movement.

THe decline in the communal role of religion has the inevitable effect of institutional changes. Declines in numbers of church-goers or clergical members could be said to be based on this grassroots decline. I suspect that the increased interest in institutional organisation, namely, offices, councils, and authorities, is driven by our lack of interest at the local  and communal basis of religious life.

An initial distinction should be made. When we understand the ‘new atheism’. We should distinguish between a cultural mindset whereby we see an increased amount of criticism about supernatural beliefs, against a set of authors. What a Dawkins or a Hitchens belives is not to define those of all atheists and secularists, just imagine the irony of perceiving them as prophets or authorities. They probably see themselves as saying what we are all thinking, and to some extent they may be accurate.

There is some criticism of this movement, and a lot of it is good. I’ve made point of in the past at how the ‘new atheists’ are ignorant of the ‘old’ atheists. They are also putting forward arguments which aren’t particularly hard hitting. Antisophie once wrote that she is ‘Anti-stupid’, and it seems to me that a sense of dogmatism or complacency is made about the argumentative worth of atheism, or a dogmatic acceptance of the falsity of all religious beliefs tout court.

It is an interesting fact that there are a slowly mobilising group of professional analytic philosophers who also happen to be Christians. There are some metaphysicians who are usual suspects of being a Christian in this issue but what has taken me by surprise is that a number of philosophers of language and epistemologists are Christian. Looking at their names and my vague familiarity with their work; they tend to be either do quite formal and technical work, they are foundationalists and are the kinds of philosophers who love to use symbols. In short, they are no fools

It is much to my amusement that I heard that William Lane Craig took part in a debate with Christopher Hitchens. This is a joke. William Lane Craig has written on issues such as the philosophy of time and the relation of physics to Christian doctrine; and Hitchens is famous for being a friend of Princess diana and being an editor for Vanity Fair. While I do not question the eloquence or writing style of the latter, I don’t expect him to have a view about Eternity or perdurantism that is superior to the likes of McTaggart. It’s the pugilistic equivalent of Mike Tyson against a parkinsons-ridden Cassius Clay.


The anti-secular

As a default position, I would say that I’d consider secularism to be a reasonable notion. That is, if we are to understand the notion of secularism as the separation of the influence of religious groups onto social and civic institutions. That said, it has come to my attention of two things that seem interesting cases.

1. Judaism has a system of ethics which is referred to as ‘law’. The significance of Jewish law that makes it really distinct is that a great many issues are considered under the Jewish framework of beliefs. Whether to turn a light on or off on the Sabbath is considered to some, a difficult issue. What kind of car should one buy, what food to eat and so on. It would be absurd to say that one should not be allowed to be informed by a religious conviction or doctrine or system of beliefs, but this seems to stand in a tension (but by no means a contradiction), with the notion that religious institutions should have no influence over social and civic affairs. There seems an important sense in which the notion of the secular is lacking in acknowledging this.

2. There is such a thing as an Islamic bank. I don’t know too much about it but I do understand that it has different problems and different benefits. In the current climate where finance and the financial system is in turmoil, it may seem an interesting and perhaps welcome difference to consider doing things differently. What makes an Islamic bank ‘Islamic’? The early bankers (so Max Weber will have us believe) were Calvinist protestants, we wouldn’t say that those early banks were ‘calvinist banks’ or ‘religious banks’, but happened to be in such and such a social background and situation that most of the banking founders were protestant calvinists afraid of going to hell*.

*Caveat: Consider the Weber thought as a counterfactual, in the sense that Weber’s actual historical evidence and account is wholly questionable.

We need more terminology about the notion of the secular.


25 things about you

I have noticed a few dozen people in my facebook network to be taking part in this ’25 things about you’ craze.

It goes something like this:

tag 25 people in a note,
say 25 things about yourself
those 25 people (if they are fuckwits) will say something about themselves

It’s kind of a self-indulgence thing, or only interesting if you want to bone the other person, or tell someone you want to bone something about you.

Michael was going to write an article on this, but actually say 25 things about himself, I suitably chastised him, and am putting this article in its place

Antisophie (edited by last laugh Michael)