Tonight in Aesthetic Stalinism, er, Trotskyism

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.

109 comments on this post.
  1. bob_is_boring:

    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:

    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:

    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. bob_is_boring:

    Indeed. One wonders what a proper Socialist melody is like nowadays, since everyone knows Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.*

    *this, of course:

    http://www.ubu.com/historical/cardew/cardew_stockhausen.pdf

  5. Scott Lemieux:

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

  6. djw:

    Holy crap that’s awesome.

  7. wjts:

    Oh, God. I remember reading MIM Notes in high school and college and marveling at their reviews of movies and music. Unsurprisingly, the only movie I remember ever getting a positive review from them was Alexander Nevsky.

  8. bob_is_boring:

    I particularly enjoyed the review of “The Matrix.” (Not as good as Zizek’s takedown though.)

  9. Incontinentia Buttocks:

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

    Just sayin’.

  10. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    #sectarianleftistnazi

  11. Mrs Tilton:

    “Humyn”?

  12. wjts:

    To show their disdain for the patriarchy, MIM always spelled it that way. And spelled “women” “wimmin”. And “America” either “Amerika” or, if they were feeling especially venomous, “Amerikkka”. “United States,” obviously, was spelled “United $tates” or abbreviated “U$”. All of the pieces were published under a pseudonym: MC(numeral), where “MC” stood for “Maoist Comrade”. First among equals, as I recall, was MC0. They really were a special bunch.

  13. John:

    They call Conan the Destroyer “outright progressive.” It all seems pretty terrific.

  14. dick gregory:

    They didn’t say what a drone The Rising was
    Running dogs of Springsteenism.

  15. grouchomarxist:

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

  16. M. Bouffant:

    That’s “United Snakes,” not that amateur stuff w/ the $.

    Dumb kids.

  17. Malaclypse:

    Although “A Bug’s Life” is obviously fiction and geared for young children, it manages to portray many small and large aspects of what MIM would call class conflict

  18. Tom:

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

  19. expatchad:

    GGkk!

  20. rea:

    Anyone who says Trotskyite is a filthy Stalinist . . .

  21. Bob:

    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.

  22. Erik Loomis:

    I didn’t dismiss the novel. I dismissed as a good labor union novel. The novel itself is excellent, although I’m not the biggest Kesey fan in the world. But as a “class-conscious novel,” no.

  23. LeeEsq:

    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.

  24. Uncle Kvetch:

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

    Can’t argue with that. Yeeesh.

  25. J. Otto Pohl:

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

  26. brewmn:

    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?

  27. The Dark Avenger:

    Yep, because Maoists=progressives.

    Is there anyone to the Left of Attila the Hun that you don’t despise, J. Otto?

  28. Data Tutashkhia:

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

    Yeah. Too bad it can’t exist.

  29. Bill Altreuter:

    That’s actually a better review of Springsteen’s body of work than 99% of the stuff that’s written about him. It’s as leaden as Max Weinberg’s drumming, but I suppose that can’t be helped.

  30. Cody:

    If you have time to wonder about gender discrimination against you, you’re obviously not working in the same gulag is me!

  31. Carbon Man:

    Wow.

    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.

  32. Chester Allman:

    You mean the Eric Loomis who writes regularly about labor and economic justice?

  33. Uncle Kvetch:

    Alicia Keys could have just sung a nice little ditty about waffles, but noooooo…

  34. Uncle Kvetch:

    Is there anyone to the Left of Attila the Hun that you don’t despise, J. Otto?

    Much better.

  35. Hogan:

    That was never intended to mean “the personal is nothing but political,” and very few people outside of the fringe left take it that way.

  36. FLRealist:

    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.

  37. joe from Lowell:

    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.

    Ooh, he got you good, Erik!

    Why don’t you ever write about class issues, huh?

    It’s like organized labor doesn’t even exist to Loomis!

  38. rea:

    It could have been worse . . .

  39. brewmn:

    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.

  40. Origami Isopod:

    “….mostly relating to themselves and their liberal urban elite overclass.”

    IOW, the “liberal urban elite overclass” is made up of women, GLBT folks, and folks of color. The proletariat is nothing but straight white cisgender dudes.

    Glad we cleared that up.

  41. The Dark Avenger:

    Here is a paen to the cinema, Leninist, of course.

  42. John Protevi:

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

  43. Scott Lemieux:

    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.

  44. FLRealist:

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

  45. brewmn:

    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.

  46. Origami Isopod:

    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.”

  47. brewmn:

    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]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_(entertainer)#Legacy

  48. Origami Isopod:

    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.

  49. Carbon Man:

    I don’t know what GLBT is (is that some kind of sanwich? Gravy with Lettuce Bacon and Tomato?). But gay men are, indeed, on average wealthier, better educated, and more urban than the population at large. They are, by far, the most influential minority in correlation to their actual miniscule percentage of the population in perhaps all of American history.

  50. brewmn:

    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.

  51. wjts:

    You didn’t address the fact they don’t make the kind of socks I like anymore.

  52. Uncle Kvetch:

    Gravy on a BLT sounds nasty. Gravy belongs on mashed potatoes, just as syrup belongs on pancakes and waffles. I’m all for fusion and experimentation but there’s a limit.

  53. brewmn:

    I have found some mid-weight ones at Target that nicely fill out the hiking boots I wear in winter weather. Beyond that, I got nuthin’.

  54. wjts:

    They are, by far, the most influential minority in correlation to their actual miniscule percentage of the population in perhaps all of American history.

    Yeah, that’s probably true.

  55. BigHank53:

    Please to be ignoring the 1% of the US population that controls 40% of the wealth. I guess they’re not a minority.

  56. Malaclypse:

    But you most admit, the way he almost managed to use “in correlation to” in a correct manner showed a bit of effort that we don’t normally see Jennie use. Dagchester is rubbing off on him.

  57. Uncle Kvetch:

    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.

  58. Uncle Kvetch:

    Dagchester is rubbing off on him.

    Do you think they might be the same person? Maybe JenBobSpeakCarbon is just Dagchester when drunk? Or vice versa?

  59. joe from Lowell:

    They are, by far, the most influential minority in correlation to their actual miniscule percentage of the population in perhaps all of American history.

    Nah, Episcopalians.

  60. wjts:

    Do you remember who makes ‘em?

  61. Malaclypse:

    I think they are different – dagchester is genuinely flakey, while jenbob is just dumb. But I’m not sure.

  62. Carbon Man:

    Point taken, but there’s a huge overlap between gays and Episcopalians. It really is The Gay Church now.

  63. Carbon Man:

    Controlling the media is a far more powerful tool than wealth, and Gays influence a good portion of it. Look at how over 1/3 of characters on primetime tv are now gay or lesbian, when they’re (at most, very generously) 2.5% of the population.

    Also, the “one percent” you speak f is almost unanimously pro-gay. The Koch brothers openly favor homosexual “marriage”.

    I am the 99%–heterosexual.

  64. Scott Lemieux:

    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.

  65. Origami Isopod:

    Gay men, of course, are the only non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered people in the world. Lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and gender-fluid people don’t count. Also, all gay men are well-educated and affluent.

  66. Origami Isopod:

    The portmanteau “Dagchester” sounds like a sandwich. Some kind of variation on a Dagwood. Whether it’s more delicious than pancakes, of course, is a matter of taste.

  67. Hogan:

    The ones on TV, anyway.

  68. Carbon Man:

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

  69. Uncle Kvetch:

    I think we need to close the Pancake Gap before we start worrying about the Cotton Ceiling. Priorities.

  70. Carbon Man:

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

  71. Carbon Man:

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

  72. Carbon Man:

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

  73. Hogan:

    You’re really into this, aren’t you? Go for it, JenBob.

  74. Carbon Man:

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

  75. Uncle Kvetch:

    Go for it, JenBob.

    I just hope he cleared it with his mom before he went posting her private emails all over the place.

  76. Carbon Man:

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

  77. Hogan:

    I don’t care.

  78. Carbon Man:

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

  79. Carbon Man:

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

  80. Malaclypse:

    Keep telling yourself that, Jennie dearest. But know that God loves you anyway.

  81. brewmn:

    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.

  82. Uncle Kvetch:

    Closet case, please.

  83. LeeEsq:

    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.

  84. Malaclypse:

    WHY WON’T PEOPLE RESPOND TO JENNIE’S REASONABLE QUESTIONS? EVERYBODY HERE BUT JENNIE IS GAY! THERE ARE GAY PEOPLE AND EPISCOPALIANS EVERYWHERE!

  85. Carbon Man:

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

  86. Hogan:

    So the Ts are really G? Although they think they’re L? Actually, never mind. Why should I be trying harder than you are to make sense of what you’re saying?

  87. Carbon Man:

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

  88. Hogan:

    MY POINT EXACTLY.

  89. Malaclypse:

    CENTRAL TO IT.

  90. John Protevi:

    No one could have expected a copypasta from Wikipedia.

  91. njorl:

    By that standard, an even smaller minority with even greater influence would be the undead.

  92. Malaclypse:

    Look at how over 1/3 of characters on primetime tv are now gay or lesbian

    Okay, so I’m an urban elitist who only watches Mythbusters and Doctor Who, but is it safe to assume that this is not even sort of close to being true?

  93. brewmn:

    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.

  94. Malaclypse:

    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.

  95. Hogan:

    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.

  96. Carbon Man:

    It’s absolutely true on primetime network TV. There are even whole shows now that are almost entirely gay, i.e. Glee.

  97. John Protevi:

    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.

  98. Malaclypse:

    So you count the characters you think are gay? Good thing you’re not obsessed.

  99. Hogan:

    Apparently it’s on the high side. Unless charismanews.com is a stealth gay site.

  100. Hogan:

    I think the counting goes “one, two, oh my God look at them all.”

  101. brewmn:

    [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.

  102. Uncle Kvetch:

    Where you been, Homer? The entire steel industry is gay. Eh, aerospace, too, and the railroads. And you know what else? Broadway.

  103. Malaclypse:

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

  104. Hogan:

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

    Post hoc ergo what now?

  105. The Dark Avenger:

    If the fringe left didn’t exist, J. Otto would’ve invented it.

  106. The Dark Avenger:

    That sounds like Lyndon LaRouche talking, which would explain a lot of things about our organic(in the scientific sense) friend.

  107. The Dark Avenger:

    I’D ADDRESS IT RIGHT NOW, BUT I’M FACING A TIGHT DEADLINE!

  108. kc:

    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.

  109. mattH:

    hehe, he said tight, hehe

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