I Want My Weimar TV!
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Well, no, actually, I don't. But I didn't want to recycle the "Weimar? Because We Reich You" title from my own video look at the Weimarification of America from last year, in linking to Bill Whittle's brilliant new video, exploring the origins of Miley Cyrus's debacle last weekend on the MTV awards.
Short of turning off the TV and the cable modem, none of us have a choice. We’re all going to watch our Weimar TV, because that’s largely all that’s left of pop culture.
It's worth quoting once again Allan Bloom's 1987 observation on the topic from The Closing of the American Mind:
This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.
Well, Miley is definitely in her post-Disney phase, and the result isn't pretty -- but it speaks volumes about the culture that creates it, and consumes it, as Bill states at the conclusion of his video:
It is as in the case of 1930s Germany, a culture whose elites, unlike the solid sensible middle, are bored, jaded, and above all filled with the self-loathing and self-hatred that can be described as nothing less than a death wish. And as the art becomes more and more grotesque it's not the cause but rather the symptom, of a bomb whose fuse has grown very short, and whose explosion and counterpoint has not been, or is likely to be, something that we're going to enjoy.
I doubt very much that Bill is predicting a literal repeat of post-Weimar Germany in America (and note that in the 1930s, socialist British elites weren't anything to write home about, either). But looking at the product on display during his own industry's annual awards night, screenwriter William Goldman likes to say, as Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard once paraphrased, "Every Oscar night you look back and realize that last year was the worst year in the history of Hollywood." The same is even more true of the MTV awards. And as Whittle asks, what comes after this?
At the minimum is a continuing dumbing down of pop music. If the Beatles and Motown seem like giants today, it's partially because each new generation of musicians seems determined to forget the skills that made the past generations seem so fresh.
Speaking of which, it takes two to twerk; don't miss Ace's observations regarding Cyrus' dance partner on MTV, Robin Thicke:
The old rule is that big hits sound like you've always known the song, whereas songs that will never chart require learning them and getting to know them.
Robin Thicke's immediately-catchy Blurred Lines sounds like a song you've known and loved your whole life.
There's a very good reason for that: It is a song you've known and loved your whole life. It's a straight-up rip-off Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up."
But Robin Thicke has a good excuse for this: He never heard Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" before, so he can't have plagiarized it.
Oh wait, that's not his defense.During an interview with GQ magazine in May about his career and the making of "Blurred Lines," Thicke said, "one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye's 'Got to Give It Up.' I was like, 'Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.' "
Well I'm sure they worked really hard to make sure it wasn't just a clone of Got to Give It Up."Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it. The whole thing was done in a couple hours."
Yeah, you know why you were able to write that song in 30 minutes? That's right, because it was already written. You weren't creating it, you were remembering it.
And that kind of speeds the process of creation along!
Thicke is now suing Gaye's estate to have the song declared "starkly different" than Got to Give It Up. We'll talk about that later, because it's boring and you'll stop reading if I write about that.
So for now I'll just assure you that despite a Rich Kid White Man ripping off a Beloved Black Icon, yet again, both races are treating this controversy with all the delicacy we've come to expect.
In The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom had his own thoughts on the state of pop music in the mid-1980s. As Mark Steyn wrote in his take on the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Closing of the American Mind, note the artists that Bloom had singled out by name for attack: Mick Jagger, who had just launched his stillborn solo career, along with Michael Jackson, Boy George, and Prince.
We know look back on that period of MTV with glowing nostalgia, compared with what was to come.
Listening to Thicke's wholesale pirating of the opening of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," and its brilliant sense of musical drama and space, along with all of the other elements of Gaye’s songs Thicke has borrowed from (to the point of being entangled in a lawsuit with Gaye’s estate), I'm reminded of something else Steyn wrote:
[Juan] Williams recalls that in 1956 "a gang of white men dragged the famous black singer Nat 'King' Cole off a stage and beat him because they said he was singing love songs to white women." They weren't wrong about that: my mom loved him. In the early sixties, he called up his record company, whose coffers he had enriched for many years, and hung up in disgust when the receptionist answered: "Capitol Records, home of the Beatles." I think we can guess how Cole would have felt about gangsta rap. Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg. Scott Joplin would have regarded today's "black culture" as an oxymoron. To eliminate a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace from your identity isn't "keepin' it real"; it's keepin' millions of young black men and women unreal in ways the most malevolent bull-necked racist could never have devised.
At some point, just a few years after Nat Cole phoned up Capital only to discover that the world had change, my dad looked at his enormous collection of big band, jazz, and swing records (including most of Cole’s albums) and also decided that pop culture had been radically transformed, and not for the better, and that it wasn’t a world that had a place for him. He would hunker down in the Jurassic media room he had installed in his sealed basement, and decided that in terms of pop culture, he would effectively live in the past.
Increasingly, I understand how he arrived at that decision.