May 25, 2008

how dare you make a glancing reference to a cultural phenomenon only I truly understand

Is there a word for that particular type of distress you feel when you observe someone outside your own reference group referencing something that only people in your reference group are supposed to know about? Further, is there a word for the faintly amusing situation in which the fetishized item is actually something that pretty much everybody knows about after all?

If there were, there would be many occasions to use them both.

David Brooks's reference to Vampire Weekend in his recent column on nerd and geek culture appears to have caused some distress, and Reihan Salam comments.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I'm not claiming, at all, to be immune to the whatever-it-is. Even though I do believe it can be amusing, I also think that pretty much everyone does this to some degree.

Recent case: a couple of months back I happened to catch a program of live Clash performances on the local PBS station. It was called The Clash Live: Revolution Rock, and it came complete with pledge breaks featuring the usual sort of PBS-y pledge drive people urging the audience to become part of the "revolution" by pledging money in exchange for tote bags.

Now, to my high school self way back when, knowing about the Clash seemed a real mark of distinction and I was pretty proud of myself for being the one person in my home room who was in on it. But out in the general world, of course, (and probably actually, unbeknownst to me, in the homeroom too) the Clash was in fact well on the way to becoming something like the biggest rock band in the world, or one of them anyway. And certainly in 2008, the number of rock-aware people who have never heard of the Clash has to be pretty small, if indeed it is not zero.

So why, when I was watching the pledge breaks, was I thinking to myself "wow, this is so weird" and shaking my head? It isn't the least bit weird, actually. But clearly a vestige my possibly ill-informed fourteen-year-old elitism is still there somewhere in my brain and it probably always will be there. (For the record, I liked the earlier performances better. That pudgy, dad-like PBS pledge break guy who preferred the Combat Rock era clearly had no business voicing that insane opinion and then having the temerity to offer me a tote bag. For the record, the Sandy Pearlman-produced second album is my favorite; but the first album -- not the bastardized 1979 American reissue but rather the orginal British import with "Cheat," "Deny," "48 Hours", and "Protex Blue" -- is the one to cite if you really want people to know that you know what you're talking about. And I'm the only one who knows that.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at May 25, 2008 03:11 AM | TrackBack

I also saw the public television spectacle -pledge begging and all - and I too was amused by PBS's self-congratulations on presenting a documentary on a band that everyone (even the numbest) already know about. But Frank, I do remember that you said at one time that Tim Yohannon and yourself hated London Calling, with your friend Tim (and you?) calling it "total crap." London Calling is one example of the uptight critics at Rolling Stone, Spin, Creem, etc. getting it right for a change.

Posted by: David at May 25, 2008 06:45 AM

That was Tim's opinion, and the opinion of quite a few "punk establishment" figures at the time. As I remember he used to say that only good song on it was "Brand New Cadillac." That was the first "sell-out" controversy I experienced first hand. I liked it a lot at the time. It's true though (and I know this is a minority opinion) that it's not my favorite, and I admit I think the album's Springteen-y element hasn't worn well.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 25, 2008 06:55 AM

I saw that PBS show late one night and thought I'd dreamt it.

While watching the movie Juno I couldn't help cringing at the talk between Juno and whatshisname about The Melvins and The Stooges.

I'm not a Melvins fan but that 'glancing reference' rubbed me the wrong way.

I don't remember the rest of the movie because I fell asleep wondering why I felt so uncomfortable with that dialogue and why it pissed me off for no good reason.

Posted by: Rob Cakebread at May 25, 2008 07:14 AM

I experienced apolasia (the word you were searching for) during your internet book tour for King Dork.

Posted by: josh at May 25, 2008 05:31 PM

What good is any subculture without it's tenacious elitism? No good at all, that's what.

Posted by: Leah at May 25, 2008 05:53 PM

i think that's the exact same feeling i felt when i saw the aarp commercial using the buzzcocks.

Posted by: k. at May 26, 2008 12:07 AM

I think most glib observations made by outsiders don't have to be wrong to sound as clanging metal to the purist. In fact, most observations made by the David Brookses about rock music being art for dumb people are actually pretty close to the truth. But those observations are still wrong coming from outside the very specific set of behaviors with which one should be familiar to even participate in such a discussion. Its like a person who's never drunk a drop of alcohol in his life calling his rummy friend a sloppy drunk. Of course he's right, but what the hell does he know about it?

Posted by: Nate Pensky at May 28, 2008 05:00 AM

In retrospect, Frank, it was probably your other friend Ben W. who I was thinking of who shared Tim's opinion of London Calling. I listened to his comments regarding The Clash on ESPN recently and it dawned on me that it was him. My favorite Clash LP is their first album, UK version, but London Calling is not far behind.

Posted by: David at May 28, 2008 03:54 PM

The biggest disgust I ever felt in this vein was watching "SLC Punk" on Showtime for the first time. Ugh. I was about as equally impressed with the "punk rock" episodes of Quincy and CHIPS.

Posted by: David at May 28, 2008 04:06 PM