The End of Criticism?
Posted by s woods on December 12, 2007
Steven Rubio has an interesting post up about the Rhapsody music service, its association with Robert Christgau, and the venom (four pages of it) spewed by Rhapsody-subscribing
assholes readers about Christgau, and about music criticism in general.
“As you read through the messages, it becomes clear that it’s not just Xgau that the writers hate. They hate the very idea of criticism. Note the problem described above: what gets the writer’s ire is that Christgau dares to give bad reviews to albums the writer liked. Apparently, the sole function of a music writer should be to list the tracks on the album and then get out of the way.
“I think this relates to the growth of artificial intelligence software that predicts our taste preferences. These programs don’t exist to help you appreciate art … they exist to help you find the stuff that already agrees with your tastes. They assume that the listener doesn’t want to be challenged. The rhetoric suggests otherwise, of course … they always claim that their method is the best way to discover ‘new’ music. But by ‘new’ they mean ‘things that are like all the other stuff you already like, only you haven’t heard it yet.’”
I think there’s some truth to all that, but my question is, has it ever really worked differently? Are we talking about a fundamental difference in the reasons people choose to listen to the music they do, or are we simply talking about the means by which they do so? Hasn’t radio been courting like-minded listeners for eons? (And haven’t listeners, in turn, long gravitated to the stations which filled their particular niche?) Ditto music magazines? Ditto live circuits and “scenes”? Have there been more than a handful–if that–of music magazines over the years which have seriously ever challenged their audience’s core assumptions and tastes? I don’t mean these as rhetorical questions–not entirely.