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Tonight in Aesthetic Stalinism, er, Trotskyism

[ 109 ] February 7, 2013 |

When I think of a nice bedtime story, I think of Trotskyite music reviews. Here’s a lovely review of the new Alicia Keys from noted music publication World Socialist Web Site:

“Girl on Fire” is the album’s most recognizable single and its title track. One hears it everywhere. The song lifts a section of its melody from Berlin’s 1986 power ballad “Take My Breath Away.” Like that song, the single features its share of melodramatic qualities, as Keys’ reaching vocals herald the triumphs of a girl—any girl will do—against the odds. A repetitive and bombastic work.

“Girl on Fire” was also the song played by Keys during her recent performance at President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural ball. As the president and his wife looked on, Keys sang and changed her song’s lyrics to celebrate them. “He’s living in a world and it’s on fire,” Keys sang, “filled with catastrophe. But he knows he can find a way.” “Everybody knows Michelle is his girl,” she added, “together they run the world.”

This was pretty shameful, although predictable as well. Keys belongs to an affluent layer for whom race, gender and sexuality—and themselves, mostly—are the chief concerns in life and who have no difficulty at this point accommodating themselves to the actions of the Obama administration. Unfortunately, in fact, they hardly give the matter a thought. Such an accommodation with power and money, however, does not go hand in hand with serious artistry and an important treatment of life.

Is it any wonder so much of this music feels so thoroughly empty?

Sleep tight.


Comments (109)

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  1. That is fantastic. Also, with a few changes (names etc.), it could be used to review virtually any pop album (you’d have to tinker with the bit about the inauguration to suit) or, really, anything for that matter.

  2. Vance Maverick says:

    Why do they bother making a comment about the melody, when what matters to them is only a (certain type of reading of the) text? I’m not sure it’s worse than most reviews, but it’s more obviously off-target.

  3. brandon says:

    You all are familiar with the Maoist International Movement’s movie reviews, yes?

    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “This Disney-esque fantasy film deserves not to be banned under the
    dictatorship of the proletariat.”

  4. Scott Lemieux says:

    Needs more rambling about how anyone who claims to like Alicia Keys must be a Doritos-eating hipster.

    • brewmn says:

      Wow, really touched a nerve by daring to criticize the great Beyonce, huh?

      Afraid someone’s going to post that video of you singing “Single Ladies” into your hairbursh on YouTube?

      • FLRealist says:

        You didn’t so much criticize her as say, “I don’t like her, so no one is allowed to like her.” It reminded me of my kids when they were younger. They were cuter though.

        • brewmn says:

          Bullshit. My inital comment was the TGB is “not that talented,” and really a throwaway in a comment meant to agree with the point of the OP. The rest of your paraphrase is how you took it personally.

          Look, if you want to have another 100+ comment thread about Beyone’s awesomeness or the lack thereof, I think I’ll pass. But do please try to avoid lying about me in a public forum.

          • John Protevi says:

            I’d like to subscribe to your newsletter where you explain how Madonna was a musical trailblazer.

            • brewmn says:

              Subscribe to this instead, Clever Dick:

              According to CNN, Madonna is “arguably the most influential female recording artist of all time.”[106] Critical theorist Douglas Kellner described her as “a highly influential pop culture icon” and “the most discussed female singer in popular music.”[283] William Langley from The Daily Telegraph noted that Madonna “remains a permanent fixture on every list of world’s most powerful/admired/influential women.”[284] She is featured in the book 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century, published in 1998 by Ladies’ Home Journal.[285] In 2010, Time magazine included Madonna in the elite list of the “25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century”, where she became one of the only two singers included, alongside Aretha Franklin.[286] Madonna also topped VH1’s countdowns of “100 Greatest Women in Music” and “50 Greatest Women of the Video Era”.[287][288] She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2008—her first year of eligibility—for “influence and significance on rock and roll music.”[289] Additionally, Madonna ranked seventh on VH1 and People magazine’s list of the “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of All Time.”[290] Her worldwide commercial accomplishments have gave her multiple Guinness World Records citations, including the title for the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time.[157] Madonna has sold more than 300 million records worldwide.[291][292] According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she is the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century and the second top-selling female albums artist in the United States, with 64.5 million certified albums.[293][294] In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Madonna at number two, behind only The Beatles, on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, making her the most successful solo artist in the history of American singles chart.[177] In 2011, Rolling Stone declared her as the all-time Queen of Pop and stated that “Madonna is a musical icon without peer.”[295]


              • John Protevi says:

                No one could have expected a copypasta from Wikipedia.

                • brewmn says:

                  I never claimed to be a student of her music, or her influence. But only a moron couldn’t notice the relative absence of dance-pop divas from the popular music scene in the late 70’s and the locust-like infestation of them after she hit it big. Hello, John Protevi.

                  And at least I backed up my claim with something. Care to take a stab at arguing she hasn’t been hugely influential? Or is more obnoxious snark the best you can do?

                  And no, “because Camille Paglia said so” doesn’t count.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  But only a moron couldn’t notice the relative absence of dance-pop divas from the popular music scene in the late 70′s and the locust-like infestation of them after she hit it big.

                  Yep, if there was one genre the late 70s lacked, it was female disco singers.

                • Hogan says:

                  the relative absence of dance-pop divas from the popular music scene in the late 70′s

                  I think there’s a “white” missing in there.

                • John Protevi says:

                  Your inability to support your positive assertion does not entail an obligation on my part to prove the negative counterpart to that assertion. This is a handy primer on the burden of proof and attempts to shift it.

                  In any case, your copypasta shows Madonna to have been commercially successful, not that she was a trailblazer. Even her being influential doesn’t show that.

                • brewmn says:

                  [response to Malaclypse, Hogan]

                  Not sure Madonna should be considered a “disco” singer, but OK, before her there was Donna Summer and…

                  But arguing that Donna Summer or Chic was more influential than Madonna is like arguing that Arthur Crudup was more infuential than Elvis Presley. All of the biggest that worked that dancepop vein came after Madonna.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  You said there were no female dance divas. In the 1970s. Now you decide that some don’t count. That blur you see? Goalposts.

                • Hogan says:

                  All of the biggest that worked that dancepop vein came after Madonna.

                  Post hoc ergo what now?

          • FLRealist says:

            You’re the one who reacts nastily if anyone says anything complimentary about her.

            • brewmn says:

              Rather than relying on your selective memory, why don’t you go back over that thread? The people I reacted “nastily” to weren’t saying nice things about her. They were lobbing ad hominem attacks at me for the apparent thought crime of saying the she “wasn’t all that talented.”

              There were a few people who objected to what I said about her that I agreed with or didn’t respond to at all. What I mostly responded to were repeated personal attacks.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I don’t particularly care for Beyonce; I’m just amused by people who think that anyone who doesn’t share their particular musical tastes is either a hopeless consumer drone or an insincere “hipster.” It’s perhaps the laziest and most irritating form of argument not regularly practiced by Tom Friedman.

        • Origami Isopod says:

          I won’t say that no one has ever heard “hipster” used to deride someone who does not have “mainstream” musical tastes, but I have mainly heard it used to refer to someone who derides other people’s “mainstream” musical tastes, for very flexible values of “mainstream.”

        • brewmn says:

          Given I was commenting on a blog that recently lauded the very laud-worthy Robbie Fulks, I made the assumption that the crossover between regular readers of LGM and ardent fans of Beyonce to be exceedingly small. Hence my skepticism as to the sincerity of many of the objections (mainly of the “if you don’t like Beyonce, you’re a narrow-minded, boring old fart” variety) to my comment.

          If that assumption was in error, and my skepticism misplaced, please accept my apologies.

          • Uncle Kvetch says:

            Dude, I didn’t really see that many “ardent fans of Beyonce” in that thread. I thought my own take was the much more common one: “Not my cup of tea, but enormously talented.” Or if you prefer, “I don’t particularly like what she does, but there’s no denying she does it damn well.” Somehow you turned that into the Official Beyonce Fan Club raking you over the coals for thoughtcrime.

            And “trailblazer” or no, I’ve seen enough live footage of Ms. Ciccone to conclude that she’s a truly mediocre singer at best. You can like her music better than Beyonce’s and no one’s going to take that away from you, de gustibus and all that, but c’mon.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I’m puzzled by your assumption that if you like Robbie Fulks you therefore couldn’t like any music that doesn’t involve white guys playing guitars.

            • brewmn says:

              I’m puzzled by your assumption that not liking Beyonce and liking Robbie Fulks means “you therefore couldn’t like any music that doesn’t involve white guys playing guitars.”

              There are oceans of music between generic dance-pop and a white guy with a guitar. You should check it out sometime.

  5. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Absurd as they are, those music reviews (and the site they’re on) would be Trotskyist, not Trotskyite.

    Just sayin’.

  6. grouchomarxist says:

    Awful as the review was, those special lyrics for the Prez were even more vomit-inducing. On so many levels.

  7. Tom says:

    Dismissing race, gender, and sexuality as concerns of a privileged elite is….well, it’s an interesting rhetorical move, if nothing else.

  8. Bob says:

    I might take this post seriously if its author hadn’t written this a couple days ago:
    “What’s very much not a good class-conscious novel is Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, which is about as anti-union as American literature gets. Big unions, mean state hospital nurses, just another institution bringing down our independence, right Ken? Better to pass out acid like candy I guess. Was shocked to see one of the people surveyed list it.”
    Dismissing one of the great post-war American novels because its politics aren’t to your liking would seem to be the very definition of aesthetic Stalinism. That you obviously didn’t understand the novel in the slightest only adds to the absurdity of the critique.

  9. LeeEsq says:

    I wonder what Marx would make of the attempts of his disciples to ensure that all forms of culture and entertainment are properly Marxist. The relentless ideologizing of everything is one of the great weakneses of many Marxist movements and theorists. Sometimes people need to relax and be able to enjoy non-ideological entertainment.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      True, but the “personal is political” basically ended any such ideas among “progressives.”

    • Data Tutashkhia says:

      Sometimes people need to relax and be able to enjoy non-ideological entertainment.

      Yeah. Too bad it can’t exist.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        Well, true, but people still need to relax and enjoy entertainment, and quite often the ideological component of said entertainment is outweighed by aesthetic, nostalgic, or other components. Even radicals have “guilty pleasures.”

        All you can really do is encourage people to recognize the ideological underpinnings and factor that into their tastes. Going all-out against anything that’s not ideologically “pure” gets you nowhere.

        • LeeEsq says:

          Its also important to note that its possible to misinterpret the author’s ideological component or point. Mad Men, which I never really liked, is clearly meant to criticize the rampant sexism and generally oppressive society of the early 1960s. Many of its fans are attracted to the show because of the glamor of being a mad man.

          I’d also argue that there are some forms of entertainment that do not have an underlying ideology. A zany movie like Airplane or the Naked Gun has very little if any in ideology behind it.

  10. Carbon Man says:


    I agree with this particular subset of Marxists on this issue. No, really. Western progressives really are obsessed mostly with race, gender, and sexuality, mostly relating to themselves and their liberal urban elite overclass. Exhibit A: Erik Loomis.

    The Trotskyists are spot on, and the lyrics used were in fact a disgusting, slobbering suck-up to political power.

  11. Carbon Man says:

    We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where,don’t know when.
    But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      Closet case, please.

    • Malaclypse says:


    • kc says:

      For the genuinely interested lurkers, because there’s always one:

      Let us begin with first principles, because JenBob is an ignorant little shit.

      Trans people exist; they are neither ridiculous nor frightening. A woman is a person who self-identifies as a woman. A lesbian is a woman who expresses her sexuality with other women. A man may have a vagina, a woman may have a penis.

      None of the foregoing is a problem.

      And I see no Progressive really wants to go there–having to choose between the L or the T in LGBT.
      I’m curious, what’s your position on the Cotton Ceiling?

      JenBob’s Gotcha moment is frankly bullshit; tribalism to the extent of “support everyone with the right hat” is not a progressive value. Identifying as LGB doesn’t automatically get you Trans 101. There’s nothing that says women aren’t allowed to be misogynist, particularly when misogyny and transphobia are mainstream values.

      Regarding sexuality, there’s nothing wrong, nor inherently transphobic, with being a woman that doesn’t like penises. You’re into what you’re into. But if you’re not interested in a woman, or even an entire class of women, you don’t have to say that they’re not really women at all.

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