20 July 2012

Eclectically Selective

ArtsJournal.com's featuring of a new article published via the NewMusicBox for their 7/20/2012 mailing


I've been yet again inspired by, and find myself relating to, an article that has been insanely signal boosted via the power of ArtsJournal.com. Thankfully, this week there are no questionable images to be ripped apart, so I proceed with a fair amount of calm and steady, analytical interest.

Eclecticism, Elitism, Exclusivity, Education and Everything Else. That's a lot of "E's," right? Just an amusing English language coincidence. Three authors from three different outlets, Issac Schankler from The New Music Box, (the signal boosted article) Shamus Kahn from The New York Times and Bethany Bryson in the American Sociological Review, have each talked, at different times, about musical tastes and the significance of correlations between one person's tastes and another's; highlighting different elements of the correlations and drawing separate conclusions about them.

Thus far, among the three of them, there seems to be observances of:

  • Connections between new elitists fueling their elite status with a blatant showing of eclectic musical interest, over restrictive particularity in musical style (paraphrasing of Khan's main point,) 
  • Eclectic interest being correlated to at least a partial correspondence with education and monetary flexibility (paraphrasing of a point raised by Bryson,)
  • "Stereotypically “high class” or “elite” genres [like,] "opera...jazz...atonal music...also tend to be excluded." (Cit. Schankler)

I didn't even have to fully dissect each piece before intrigue and questioning set in, which is how we've arrived to this point. Interestingly enough, I'm looking to follow Schankler's point of view and the 'newness' he brings to the table, which means we're just continuing to sequentially comment on each other's work. By the fifth paragraph in Schankler's piece, at least these two stances have been put out into the open, though only one is asserted by Schankler himself. The other below, is from Bryson's work, cited by Schankler:
"Tolerant musical taste is found to have a specific pattern of exclusiveness: Those genres whose fans have the least education-gospel, country, rap, and heavy metal-are also those most likely to be rejected by the musically tolerant."
 It seems there are a great deal of (ironically) selective conclusions being drawn up about what it means when an individual decides to call themselves an 'eclectic listener' -not only in the definition sense, but also in the sense of what the implications of applying that description to oneself are. Based on the various paraphrasings and quotes given, contradiction is definitely sneaking around the edges of this topic and why shouldn't we bring it to the forefront?


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So the clearcut elitist sector has now made having a wide range of enjoyable tastes, an 'upperclass thing.' At the same time, there's a remaining attachment to directional parallels between eclecticism and level of attained education. (The more educated one is, the more likely one is able to/likely to be self-descriptivally eclectic....) Okay, okay, this is getting too wordy, even for me. The following is crude, blunt and meant to make a "let's move faster" point.

Educated=Eclectic=Elite=We're Not Excluding! (...unlike past elitists.) 

Yet, if you're still calling yourself elite, then that's a defined, single sector -whether defined by appearance, lexicon, money or otherwise. Therefore, trying to come off as more 'open' through the portal that is your mp3 library, comes across a little small and moot, doesn't it? 

Furthermore, both Bryson and Schankler appear to conclude that despite the lingering attachment to the education/eclecticism parallel, genres on either end of the 'smartness spectrum' are being cut out of the picture by whom Bryson calls, "the musically tolerant." Perhaps though, we ought to consider the fact that Bryson used the word "tolerant" and not "adventurous" or "flexible" or Khan's word, "eclectic," because tolerance, despite how society loves to throw around the word for just about every variety of lifestyle nowadays, doesn't necessarily stand proportionally alongside enjoyment or appreciation of a person's object of tolerance. 


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If we are being even more honest, there's a certain level of inanity in even saying a person is musically tolerant by baseline standards of what tolerant means, because turning away from very specific genres hardly translates to one who embraces everything under the art that is music; thus, "musically tolerant." Then there's the presumptuous idea that fans of the four genres Bryson has mentioned, "gospel, country, rap and heavy mental...have the least education." 

While, if I had to give a point-blank answer, I would at least partially concur that eclecticism can be connected to abundance of education and or finances, (lack of anyone -teacher, family or otherwise- to "teach" you about music and a lack of money to buy music to discover on your own, would result in a lower level of general exposure,) I would not agree with the second idea that liking a specific style reversely implies you don't have as much education as someone else who does not like that same style. 

The fact that I'm to imply the elitists of today are chopping off genres at both ends, tells me the conclusion drawn about this group of listeners has nothing whatsoever to do with smarts or lack thereof, in contributing to them being "elite." (unlike the flow-chart like statement I put above.)

Having eclectic tastes makes you elite. Fine if you want to think that, but as Schankler states early in his piece, "you certainly don’t need to be painfully wealthy to have eclectic tastes," and if the other assumed requirement for eclecticism is education, then the elitists really need to look back at themselves in the mirror and figure out just how educated they really are. The genres they are shying from, (especially those marked by "least education,") are the ones that could most likely be analyzed, explained and described by their associated fans, with the greatest amount of complexity and (again ironically,) eclectic historical origins.

2 comments:

  1. There are some good points you make. There is certainly an overabundance of snobbery when it comes to music...as if you had to pass some sort of test to get in a club to appreciate a certain "type" of music. Also you didn't mention differnt levels of music appreciation...For exampe while I may not admire a particular song for it's lyrics but I may really enjoy the music or recording production values...Anyway thanks for your comments on this topic!
    Pat Byars

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  2. Hi Pat,

    Thanks for visiting, reading and commenting! It's always awesome to find fresh readers!

    You raise a valid point about my lack of specifics around people's level of enjoyment vs. dislike. To that end, perhaps you would take a bit of time read this post I wrote last year about Spotify, which in fact, touches on that very point concerning personal appreciation.

    http://nice-dice.blogspot.com/2011/09/spotify-is-like-that-secret-band-thats.html

    I do think it is important to distinguish between outright genre avoidance vs. someone who perhaps just needs or wants time to warm up to a particular style. If it's the latter choices, you are right: This doesn't make that person's feelings about a music style any less valid or valuable, than someone who is a diehard follower.

    happy reading, and please do come again! :)
    -Kira

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