Seven Footnotes from Issue 12

1.

In the 1990s, one writer uniquely positioned to think through the dilemmas of humanitarian bombing was Slavoj Žižek. A card-carrying member of the relatively hard left, with a fondness for self-consciously “Leninist” (by which he meant reductive, power-political) formulations, Žižek was also Slovenian, a native therefore of the first country to fight a war with Slobodan Milosevic, and a former comrade of the Serbian leftist intellectuals who in the post-Soviet era had become, some of them, vicious nationalists and quasi-fascists. In a moment of rare lucidity, therefore, Žižek nicely termed the argument over the Kosovo intervention a “double blackmail”—to support it was to support American imperialism in a part of the world it had previously been content to ignore; to oppose it was to support fascism. Žižek pointed out that the West had coddled Milosevic and in many ways encouraged him, so that it was in effect bombing its own man. (Not the strongest argument, given that Milosevic was a product of Communist Yugoslavia, but generally speaking not wrong: the bad guys we go after—Saddam or Qaddafi—have usually been “our guy” at one or another time.) Žižek pointed out, moreover, that the bombing was an example of rank hypocrisy; the US has often turned a blind eye to ethnic cleansing, and at other times actively encouraged it. And yet he refused to oppose the Kosovo war. For a serious person of the left, it made no sense to support or oppose it. No one was asking, and either way you’d be wrong. What the left needed to do was build a political movement powerful enough to do things differently from the very start, so that the choice wouldn’t come down to bombing versus fascism, which are two sides of the same coin, but a just world versus bombing/fascism. That was the choice one had to get into position to make.


2.

It’s now possible to not make eye contact with up to ten people at once, thanks to Google’s new social networking platform. Google+’s stated purpose is to make “sharing on the web more like sharing in real life,” which is true only if “in real life” is understood to mean “on the rest of the internet.” Instead of occurring in our inbox, group videochats—called Hangouts—open in separate windows, like pop-up ads. Each face moves inside its own rectangle, forming together a mosaic of talking heads. What sadist would take cable news as a model for conversation? It’s like building a hotel using the blueprints for a prison.


3.

ICP and Eminem had a long-running beef that began in 1997, when Eminem was a little-known battle rapper about to release The Slim Shady EP. He was passing around a flyer at a club regarding his release party. The flyer read, “Featuring appearances by Esham, Kid Rock, and ICP (maybe).” Eminem handed one to Violent J; this being the first time the two had ever met or spoken, Violent J objected to Eminem’s presumptuousness. After that, barbs went back and forth. Eminem called ICP talentless; ICP contended that Eminem was a commercial product made by Dr. Dre and MTV, and recorded a parody of “The Real Slim Shady” entitled “Slim Anus.”


4.

Heidegger had tenure at Freiburg, Hegel at Jena, James at Harvard, Wittgenstein at Cambridge, Arendt at the New School. Thoreau early in life taught school with his brother, but otherwise returned to Harvard only for its library. Of the two main figures at the late edge of a pre-university moment in two peripheral countries, Emerson became a star of the pre-university American lecture circuit; Kierkegaard went to Berlin for Schelling’s lectures but defended his dissertation (The Concept of Irony) in Denmark and published independently. Both retained the marks of their nations’ premodern institution of ideas and conduct, the Church.


5.

The Will to Power, §919. The note importantly clarifies: “This is something different from the blind drive to love oneself: nothing is more common, in the love of the sexes as well as of that duality which is called ‘I,’ than contempt for what one loves.”


6.

Pitchfork was not the only music archive emerging on the internet at this time. In 1992, an ex–folk musician named Michael Erlewine began publishing a print volume called the All Music Guide, and in 1995 he took the Guide online. Where Pitchfork’s coverage was limited by the relatively narrow tastes of its tiny staff, Allmusic.com aspired to true comprehensiveness, with separate sections dedicated to Pop/Rock, Country, Latin, Reggae, Classical, R&B, Jazz, and other genres. The site rated albums on a five-star scale, and accompanied reviews with bulleted lists identifying a record’s “Moods” (“Austere,” “Suffocating,” “Intense,” “Nocturnal”) and “Themes” (“Feeling Blue,” “Late Night,” “The Creative Side”). With a three-year head start and funding that Schreiber could only dream about, Allmusic initially seemed on its way to internet dominance, but the site’s rather bland comprehensiveness would turn out, somewhat counterintuitively, to be limiting. Erlewine’s error can be found in the assumption that what people wanted was an encyclopedic survey of music itself. Pitchfork knew that what people actually wanted was an encyclopedia of musical taste.


7.

By 2002 the music industry was casting around for more radical means of innovation. On June 11 of that year, the first episode of American Idol premiered on FOX. Critics were not especially enamored of the show—one headline read, “On ‘Idol,’ the Only Losers Are the Audience’s Ears”—but nobody cares what TV critics think, and the show has been a ridiculously durable hit. By the end of the first season, American Idol had even managed to produce, in Kelly Clarkson, a genuine star. Ever since, articles about American Idol have almost invariably included the word “juggernaut.” Because American Idol is a singing competition, it’s had a negligible effect on the actual sound of popular music, in which beats and instrumental textures are primary. (In any case, the whole point was to give Americans better versions of the sounds they already knew and loved.) The show mattered most as an example of how the music industry might rescue itself: by moving into a medium that had maintained its ad-based revenue streams in the face of the internet. Record sales may have been in freefall, but the price of a thirty-second spot on a major network continued to rise steadily in the 2000s. Today, American Idol remains the music industry’s most reliable means of intruding at will on some kind of national consciousness, and some music critics will “live-blog” episodes of a show that has no musical interest whatsoever, just because it’s something that everyone watches.

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