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Mar 142013

John Roderick recently lamented that “Punk Rock is Bullshit” at Seattle Weekly, writing,

For those of us who grew up in the shadow of the baby boom, force-fed the misremembered vainglory of Woodstock long after most hippies had become coked-out, craven yuppies on their way to becoming paranoid neo-cons, punk rock provided a corrective dose of hard truth. Punk was ugly and ugly was true, no matter how many new choruses the boomers added to their song of self-praise. It was this perceived honesty that we, the nascent Generation X, feared and worshipped. But over time punk swelled into a Stalinistic doctrine of self-denial that stunted us. The yuppies kept sucking, but by clinging to punk we started to suck too.

At SF Weekly, Manjula Martin responded with “The Jazz Age Is Bullshit,” a nice bit of satire on Roderick’s piece and an enjoyable skewering of generational nostalgia (to my mind). Martin writes,

We took this music, which was different and new and hated by our parents, and developed it into a vibrant youth subculture based on one core principle: to rebel against the prevailing social and political standards, and to do it by partying hard on the dance floor and wearing clothing with a new aesthetic. But man, it turned out that once I got a little bit older, the Jazz Age totally disappointed me. And now jazz means something different than it did almost a century ago when I discovered it. Now, young kids get into jazz who don’t even know what jazz really stood for. Jazz has failed us. So can we finally admit to ourselves that the Jazz Age was bullshit? Because it was. Here’s why:

It seems like something our students might be engaged by, as part of discussions of countering and/or taking an approach in WR101, or in WR121 sections in which music and pop culture are the foci.

Portrait of a Generation

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Feb 102013


Once there were wristwatch tanlines, now there are iPhone pocket lines…

This example of generational visual rhetoric could be useful for discussions of Hochschild, etc. in WR101. To me, it raises questions about the difference between rapidly changing fashions versus once-faddish behaviors with longer impact on identity and behavior. (But maybe that’s just me?)

Alanis Morissette lyric probably goes here

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Nov 202012

Many of you have probably already seen a piece making the webbish rounds this week, “How To Live Without Irony” by Christy Wampole. Here’s the opening:

If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.
The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.

To judge by the comments (at least, the last time I read through them) the response among NY Times readers has been positive and concordant. Not so much among readers elsewhere, both those within the generation being critiqued and those within Wampole’s own generation who see irony as more crucially Gen X than she acknowledges (a criticism I agree with, by the way). Particularly good, I think, is this response from a writer I’ve been enjoying quite a bit lately on various sites, Stephanie Bernhard:

You know how it’s okay for you to make fun of your siblings, but it’s totally uncool for anyone else to take a jab at them? This is more or less how I feel about my much-maligned generation. So my sisterly hackles rose as I read Christy Wampole’s Saturday New York Times Opinionator column “How to Live Without Irony,” which is a rather reckless attempt to tear down the perceived culture of an ill-defined group of “Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s.” The article is so grating to my twenty-something ears that it’s easy to imagine there’s some truth to David Roth’s joking tweet, which suggests the Times posted Wampole’s piece exclusively for trolling purposes. If this were the case, silence would be dignified; since it’s probably not, I’ll indulge in a few indignant words.

If you’ll allow me a sommelier moment, this pairing will go nicely with Hochschild and other readings about generations and youth culture in Reading Culture. It’s also a good example of countering as one text directly engages — and disagrees with — the other, as well as a case of a text working for one audience but not another.

And finally, on a sad personal note, thanks to Wampole including her age in the essay, I know that every player in this argument between generations is younger than I am. So get off my ironic lawn, you kids.

Two readings on music & generations

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Jun 192012

For those who include a “Generations” unit in WR101 and/or those teaching WR121 with a focus on music, here are a couple of recent readings I can imagine provoking great classroom discussion.

First, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered” at The Trichordist lays out a concise, considered, and informed argument against the “pirate culture” of downloading music in which I expect many of our students participate without much reflection:

Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.

Second, “Constant Forward Movement: Taylor Parkes On Can’s Lost Tapes” at The Quietus offers a smart but accessible exploration of how a band’s aesthetic and artistic choices are part of a larger matrix of political and cultural conditions. That overlaps with the punk readings from Reading Culture, but in this case it’s probably a musical and historical moment they’re less aware of (and as educators isn’t it our job to make sure our students leave college with a greater appreciation of German progressive rock?).

Jaki Liebezeit was playful when he suggested that Can could be an acronym for communism, anarchism, nihilism, but it wasn’t supposed to be a joke. This is a side to Can which is often forgotten, but they were as much oppositional as anything else, an extreme reaction to their own past and present. There’s no other way to make sense of them; the unity, the exquisite restlessness, the way they work so very hard to transcend time and place. Can’s relationship to the mood of post-war Germany is more than a footnote. It doesn’t define them, but does provide a context within which they’re easier to understand, and harder to reduce. This was “alternative” music, not (just) in the sense of consumer choice; a demonstration of a different way of living, an impression of freedom. Way out, as a way out.

What’s a Sellout? Art and Commerce, Now vs. Then

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Sep 132011

Once upon a time, the careers of two highly respected, hard working underground bands, the Long Ryders and the Del Fuegos, were destroyed by one decision. Their offense? They did a commercial for Miller Beer. It’s hard to believe nowadays, in an age where scoring a commercial is a potential career-maker. It certainly doesn’t send bands’ fans into a debate over whether it equates to “selling out”.

But back in the mid-‘80s it sure did.


This would be a great example to use if one of your WR101 units focuses on generations. I suspect we could also have a pretty good cross-generational discussion of this within FYWP faculty, too. That protective, idealistic music fan of the 80s and 90s sounds pretty familiar…

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