Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Defense of (my girl) Katy Perry

by Cody Kilgore

In response to Paul's Pop Goes the Music

Growing up, I distinctly remember my father’s musical tastes. It didn’t vary; you couldn’t have heard more country music than came from my father’s car radio unless you lived in Nashville. Dad was hard core Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton…the list goes on. Old school country, I think they call it nowadays. I still call it fingernails on a chalkboard.

I shudder to think what might have happened to me if that had been my only exposure to music throughout my childhood. Really shudder. But, I was fortunate to have two brothers that were six and seven years older than me and experiencing their teens when I was just beginning to pay attention to music, in the sixties. I cut my musical teeth on the Beatles, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane (before that Starship crap). I was saved. I was even spared much of the pop 40 stuff, I think. Either that or I blanked it all out and the really good music stuck with me.

When I myself became a teen, I was into album rock (or so we called it). The station I listened to back then stayed with the heavier stuff and had times at night where they spun entire albums, or a collection of albums, from one artist. I was into Aerosmith, Styx, Queen, ELO, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Yes, and Van Halen, to name a few. Okay, more than a few. To me, these were superbands, larger than life, and their music was intricate, smart, and loaded with thought-provoking lyrics. They would come through Kansas City and pack the arena halls, even the outdoor stadiums, with people my age flocking to experience their music live. They were shows, but the power of their music was still the raw energy that drove most of the performance.

My music tastes since then have gone through a series of phases, but those bands are still a large chunk of my iTunes list. I even spent a great deal of money getting them back after years of neglect and garage sales depleted my album collection. That music of your youth, I think, stays with you.

But since then I have had the British phase that was prompted by the MTV explosion of the 80’s. Then I had a Bohemian phase, defined by mostly underground and punk bands of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Then I started listening to music that was then called alternative, until alternative became a nametag given a lot of music I would now call mainstream, borderline pop. I still have, and listen to, a fair amount of that music, but not as much of it populates my playlists as much as my high school music still does.

Lately my tastes have been fairly wide-open, although I will have to say I listen to more reggae influenced and college station music than anything. I watch the reviews in Rolling Stone and try to dial into the college station scene as much as I can. It keeps a fresh infusion of new and different music coming in, keeps me from getting musically stale. Sometimes I think there is nothing better than finding some good new band that has not been picked up by the pop stations and played into a numbing repetitiveness. Dave Matthews was in that category for me for a while, until he went mega-everything.

However, like Paul, I have a teen daughter, and that means I have to fight for control of the car stereo dial. Sometimes I win, but most days I just give in. Some days I can tune it out, make it sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher coming over the speakers, and other days I can’t. The days I can’t: when some super hit is playing and Megan and Kylee are singing along with it, or worse—when I am chauffeuring Megan and three of her teenage girlfriends to the mall and such a hit comes on. Ugh!

I’m certain I am getting into territory here where I am going to sound like my dad, and probably his dad before him, but there is very little about pop music today to like, unless you are a doe-eyed teenage girl with a heart as naïve and gullible as the ocean is wide, or a teenage boy with hormones raging through your bloodstream. It all seems so synthetically produced and so simple in lyric that a concert might consist of someone with Dr. Seuss level rhyming skills on stage with a computer hooked up to massive speakers. Check that: I think I just insulted Dr. Seuss.

Sure, we had our Bee Gees and disco when we were teenagers, but…well, no, there is no defense for the Bee Gees or disco. Sorry. What was I thinking?

I will say this: if you can set aside the production characteristics and revenue-generating motivation of the music of a couple of artists out there, you can see something interesting shining through. My arguments for this, oddly enough, are based on my evaluation of artists like Katy Perry, Black-Eyed Peas, and LMFAO.

During the 60’s—that all important time to us—a new genre in literature emerged called postmodernism, where the novel itself was self aware. Those authors broke rules, mocked the reader-writer relationship, and tried to convey their meaning sometimes in just the way the novel was constructed or written. Some of those novels (some of the greatest written) forced us to look at things we assumed, did, or took for granted, and rethink them, because they forced us to see them from a different perspective. (By the way, postmodernism was my focus in my major, if you couldn’t tell.)

Katy Perry has had several hits so far in her short career, but there are three that stand out from the rest (according to my teenage daughter’s Sing-Along Hit-O-Meter): I Kissed A Girl, California Gurls, and Teenage Dream. Take a wild guess who she is poking fun at guys. Yep, it’s us. And she is laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of male psyches. If you have any doubt about this, just take a moment or two to watch her videos for each of these songs and a clip of her performance of Teenage Dream on Saturday Night Live last week. It seems pretty obvious to me.

Katy Perry writes and sings postmodernism. Who’d a thunk?

The Black-Eyed Peas do pretty much the same thing, although they parody men and women, as well as the music industry and the relationship of fans with the music industry. It’s not all just party music pop. Fergie’s video for Fergalicious is just as obvious as Perry’s Teenage Dream. The message: “you lusty little idiots.”

But my analysis that yields the opinions of their music, that they are a little more intellectual than what can be seen on the surface, creates this big question for me: if these people are this sharp, why don’t they produce something more obviously intelligent? They seem to be wasting their talents on something less than they are capable of creating. And the self-aware message in their music is pretty lost on their teen audience; they don’t, I think, have a clue about the subtext contained in what they are listening to and singing along with.

Which means that even if this is a demonstration of something like the intelligent music we thought we grew up with, it’s not going to be seen or remembered by this generation as such. And if you miss making your point, you’ve missed your purpose by a mile.

Music changes, as do our tastes. I guess that’s part of the beauty of it. And the music that we identify most with is the music we think reflects the voice of our lives, serves as a narrative to it. For each generation it will be different. We likely understand today’s music little because we are not immersed in the teen culture today and not aware of some the current nuances of it. But some of those nuances are as much produced by the music woven into the teen culture as they are a reflection of it. It’s kind of an “art imitates life” question, where you are not sure which spawns the other.

So, let’s face it, Paul. We’re not teens anymore (thankfully). Now it’s our role to be disdainful of their music. Our music, the good stuff, is just Dust in the Wind.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pop Goes the Music

I figure one of two things is happening, pop music today really sucks or I'm turning into my father.  God help me either way.

Being an 80's kid and a lover of metal music -along with just about every other genre of music- I listened to what's been derisively called hair, sleaze or pop metal.  You know the stuff, Poison, Ratt, Mötley Crüe and the like.  I didn't just listen to it, I loved it.  Perhaps it was the excesses of the 80's the music represented, the excesses of sex, drugs and everything else rock-n-roll, that appealed to me.  I think a lot of it had to do with it's blues foundation as well as the classic metal influences that drew my attention.  Whatever the reason, I loved me some hair metal!  The more hair the better.  I sometimes miss the attitude and swagger.  I miss the party.

Now, I also love my dad, I love his music.  He introduced me to Muddy Waters and The Beatles.  We used to play vinyls of Elvis and Bobby Blue Bland...on the same night.  My dad is the only person I know to have had the complete recordings of Jonathan Edwards.  His music tastes were diverse and eclectic, that's why I was surprised to hear him say to me one night, "Why do you like that Ratt Poison?  It's terrible!"  I was traumatized!  I tried to sell him on hair metal with Whitesnake, a band heavily influenced by the blues, but he would have none of it.  To him, hair metal was the end of music as an art form.

Now, pop music has gone through many changes and hybrids since the 80's hair metal scene, and I've paid attention to some and not to others.  Still, I've kept myself fairly abreast of pop music's fluctuations and have considered myself tolerant, until lately.  I've noticed a change.  The question is, is it a change in me or in pop music?  I gotta know.

Having a thirteen year old daughter has exposed me to today's top 40 radio; and I have to admit, I listen begrudgingly.  There's a hodge-podge of  rappers, many times featuring some other artist, several teenage heart throbs, and that because of the provocative videos they produce, a spattering of country musicians and maybe a few adult contemporary artists thrown in that makes up the top 40 and I can't seem to find anything on there I can appreciate.  Lil' Wayne, seriously?  I keep hearing that Justin Bieber has great hair, but great music?  No way.  Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are cute, but is that enough to lionize them in the top 40's current Pantheon?  Uh, no.  And can someone tell Lady Gaga Madonna already did that?

Here's the thing, I find the music industry patronizes us, the music consumer, with some of the most banal and uninteresting music ever produced.  It's as if all you need to sell a single is sex appeal, either in the lyrics or packaged in a music video.  I have been told I should try Katy Perry, that she's not typical pop.  So I listened to Teenage Dream.  I wish I had that three and a half minutes back.  I've been known to watch American Idol on occasion and every time a rap artist graces the stage I start to contemplate never watching the show again; not because I think rap is horrible, but that the rapper's performances are horrible.  I always wonder why anyone would pay to see that live.  Has the music industry run out of good music to market to us?  I wonder.

Now, I know everyone has their own tastes in music and I respect that, but I'm trying to understand the direction pop music is going in.  I hear the music industry is suffering from slumping sales and from what I hear on the radio I think I know why.  Still, I have my Led Zeppelin and U2 albums I can listen to, so all's good.  I can throw in the ol' ear buds and get lost in what I consider symphonic bliss, despite the drivel oozing from top 40 stations.  I have some hair metal albums I throw into the rotation as well.  Oh yeah!  Still, I can't help but wonder if it's more me than the music.  I really could be turning into my dad.  Well, as long as the tunes are tasty...

And if I have to hear that song, Hey Soul Sister, one more time I'm putting a fork in my ear!

We're all Clones...

Fox News ChannelImage via Wikipedia
In response to the last post or the one before that... I forget.

I think the acrimony in our country has less to do with meta-debates over socialism and democracy and more to do with plain old marketing.

I agree that it is incumbent upon us as media "consumers" to realize that each brand is doing it's dead level best to sell a particular product. Fox knows its demographic and sells to it.  They give the faithful what they want.  They know that there's a certain amount of men watching Fox And Friends in the AM at a certain time and so they throw a couple of Hooters girls on the set to promote some lame wing special. They also know what stories to run that will excite and inflame their audience.

CNN is no different, MSNBC... the list goes on and on.  These are companies that are in the business of making money, first and foremost.  We lose sight of that far too often.

There's a profile somewhere in CNN's headquarters of their typical viewer: (white, upper middle class, college educated with at least a BA in something, prefers a Mac over a PC, lives in or near a large city, eats sushi three times a month).  They can try to make it sound like they are a serious news organization and that Fox is all about sensationalism, but they are both trying to give their typical viewer exactly what their typical viewer wants.

And because people want to belong to a tribe, they gravitate toward the same stuff that people in their tribe gravitate toward.  Do you know how many people that I know that drive Volkswagens AND own a Mac?  A lot. The same holds true for the shows we watch, the restaurants we frequent and... our politics. 

I watch Fox News off and on throughout the day.  I also switch to CNN occasionally and I begin each morning listening to NPR.  I also have an AP Mobile app for my iPhone and I check it two or three times a day to get news updates.  But I am an exception to the rule.

Most people stick with their tribe unaware that by doing so, they are limiting their knowledge and their perspective.  I am guilty of it with Apple products.  I probably could have a better phone than my iPhone for a lot less money.  But there is nothing in this world that will make me want to switch. 
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Thursday, September 9, 2010


 In response to Cody's: Polarity

My son and I had an interesting conversation the other day.  He's studying World War I in his history class and we were discussing the politics that led to it's advent.  I pontificated like I knew what I was talking about for far too long.  Our discussion wandered, as they often do, and he asked me if I preferred the phrase "European style socialism" or "social democracy" to describe the governments of Europe.  I told him I guess European style socialism.  He informed me his history professor hates the term European style socialism because it's misleading and that social democracy better describes the governing and economic realities there.  I shot back with it being nothing more than a semantic difference and hardly an issue.  Then I gave it some more thought.

In Cody's Polarity, he writes about the ongoing political rancor that's so divisive these days, the polarizing figures that foment said rancor and the mass media's role in the whole matter.  I couldn't help but stand up and yell, "Preach on, brother!"  It seems we don't discuss our differences anymore, but rather we draw a line in the sand and dare the opposition to cross their own peril.  Why all the acrimony and hate?  Cody asks this question; "Something or someone has raised the rancor of the rhetoric these days. But who, or what?"  That made me think about my son's professor's disdain for the phrase European style socialism as opposed to social democracy.  For me it helps to partially answer Cody's question of who or what is behind the "us verses them" mentality these days.  I'll try to explain.

Think about the rhetorical difference between those two statements.  The phrase European style socialism will have a significant negative effect on American free market capitalists because of the juxtaposing definition of socialism.  The idea of government ownership of the means of production is anathema to free market economies like ours in the U.S.  The term socialism conjures images of Marx and Lenin, Soviet style totalitarianism and the human rights abuses of China to some, to others a lack of choice and long lines as governments nationalize social services.  Social democracy gives a completely different perception, one of a government for and by the people with a concern for social issues.  The negative connotations of socialism are negated by the idea of democracy.  Now, both of these images are too simplistic, as socialism is far more complex and diverse than most people know (me included), but I still think I'm pretty close to the mark here.  After further reflection, I had to conclude that the history professor was right, the idea of social democracy does better describe Europe than the alternative.  So why do I think of European governance in the context of classic socialism?

Well, that one is easy to answer; it's because of the the choices I make in getting information.  I watch Fox News.  I read  Reason Magazine and the Drudge Report online.  I consider myself fairly opened minded, but I do gravitate towards conservative sources of information.  And I choose more conservative sources because I tend to agree with conservatives more often than not.  My values are validated by conservative ideas.  Information that I can use to support my positions is found in conservative media.  The debate of political issues is couched in the rhetoric of conservatism in the media I consume, and phrases like European style socialism is part of that rhetoric..  Believe me when I tell you I'm well versed in the rhetoric of conservatism after years of conservative media immersion.  It can act like blinders sometimes.  And I would say that to be true of the liberal steeped in liberal media dogma as well.  There's been many a time I've found myself discussing something with a liberal who would not deviate from the talking points issued from on high.  Regrettably, I'm sure someone could say the same of me at times.

So, who is responsible for the vitriol that divides our nation?  Well, the media is complicit, so are our politicians.  In fact, you can follow the money more times than not to see who is partially responsible.  But the ultimate responsibility falls on you and me, the individual.  The media does it for the money, the politician does it for the vote.  There's probably several reasons why the individual chooses one side or the other, but we choose all the same.  The shame is we allow invective and acrimony to enter the debate.  I guess that is partly because of the media, but what media we consume is our choice, too.  Just like European style socialism is apart of my vocabulary because of my choice of media.  Still, I'm thankful for freedom of choice and wouldn't have it any other way..

With that, a partial answer, as I promised.  It's important to consider our potential complicity in all matters, and when it comes to agitating I'd say we all do our part to stir the pot.  It's something a lot of us do well.  Maybe too well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Newest Opiner.

Hi, my name is Diane.  I’m a wife, mother, teacher, portrait artist, student, and blogger… although not always in that order.

I began blogging earlier this summer as boredom buster.  You see, my kids are in college, my husband works out of town, and school was out for the summer.  It was just my poodle, Pierre, and myself.   Pierre isn’t very talkative and for some reason Target won’t let me bring him shopping.  (They blame the health department, but I think they just don’t like his under-bite.) Thus the boredom that desperately needed to be busted.   

Blogging had been rattling around in my brain for a few months, so I decided to give it a try.   I chose to blog about teaching because if nothing else, I could at least share my enthusiasm.   Maybe someone would even read it! 

Once my blog was underway, I went looking for those readers.  I stumbled across an innocent looking forum: the ‘bloggers coffee shop’.  Did you know that looks are deceiving?  While the bloggers inside are very helpful, innocent wouldn’t really be applicable.  I was hooked!   There I met many bloggers, including two of the contributors to this blog.  They couldn’t chase me away, so they invited me to contribute to the Opine Apparatus.  (I think they just want me busy so they can hog the forum.) 

I share some of the same opinions of my fellow bloggers here at the Apparatus.  However, other ideas have some wonderful potential for dialog.   So, let me tell you where I stand on some things.  

First, I am a Democrat who comes from a long line of staunch Republicans.  They mean well, they just can’t help it.  I used to be a strong Christian, however fellow Christians cured me of the affliction (as well as the republicanism) so I’m not really sure what to call myself now.  I respect the religious beliefs/non-beliefs of others.  However, I do not respect those with the “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude commonly found in fundamentalist Christians.

I do believe we should be careful with our environment.  Even if global warning wasn’t true, and I believe it is, we should still be careful with our environment.  For example, as a teacher I’ve seen the rise of asthma in children presumably due to pollution.  Polluted waters and other ecosystems kill wildlife and disrupt the food chain. There are too many examples to mention in this post.

George W. Bush?  No.  Obama? Yes.  That discussion could take a while.

I’m looking forward to Opining with my fellow bloggers and others who leave comments.  For now, Pierre and I will go for a walk.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


by Cody Kilgore

I have to wonder if this has been said by almost every generation, but it strikes me that there is a great deal of arguing going on these days. It seems like every issue sparks intense debate, if not downright nastiness, from people that are always on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum on any, or every topic. Middle ground is rare.

Take for instance the recent spate of oil rig disasters that have happened in the Gulf of Mexico. You would think that the destruction that the BP rig caused would be appalling to just about everyone. But, when I took up the banner--along with thousands of others--to boycott BP, there was no end to people that would argue with me over the benefits of fossil fuels and the virtues of Big Oil, no matter how moderate a position I tried to communicate.

Any proposed answer to our recent economic problem is met with both praise and tongue-lashing. It seems someone always feels that they are about to lose something, whether we do something to help resolve it or do nothing at all. Even those that seemingly would have no vested interest, or would stand to lose or gain nothing feel passionately (and express it so) about something that might offer assistance or an advantage to someone else. Sometimes the argument boils down to a simple disagreement over what it fair (whatever “fair” may be).

Just the mere mention of President Obama, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or any Clinton is enough to light up my Facebook page with a litany of comments. But, that is understandable; I don’t think any of them serve as good examples of people willing to listen, understand, and find compromise with opposing views. Instead, they all seem willing to state, or stand for, the starkest opposition of the differing position.

I used to think the level of emotion I see demonstrated on behalf of one point or another was reserved for some of the deepest moral conflicts we’ve all been called to decide on, things like abortion and the death penalty. Not anymore. Those things still divide us deeply, but they seem to have lost some of their importance by virtue of how vehemently we argue almost anything these days.

There is a distinct tenor of "Us vs. Them" boiling up in our culture and I am not sure how it has evolved to the level that now exists. Something or someone has raised the rancor of the rhetoric these days. But who, or what?

I know we owe it, in part, to the ability we are all afforded by the internet and television to gather news and information and dispense our own communication. News comes to us faster now than ever before, and we are able to reach out to more people faster as well. And in that speed and volume of incoming and outgoing information, there lies a vast opportunity for varying interpretations, representations, facts, and opinions. Often, it's a blend of all four of those things.

It is an inarguable fact—an intention, even—that mass media impacts and influences both perception and opinion. Even in the act of writing and publishing this, I am engaged in that same effort (although no “mass” will likely read this). I hope, however, that I am influencing people to do what I think is the exact opposite that many in the media intend to do. I would like us to pause and examine differences personally, and try to ignore the media lords of mass exploitation, on both sides.

I won’t name any one person as being to blame, even though you are probably thinking their names (or the names you believe I would blame) as you read this. I know there are perpetrators on both sides, although I would argue that certain ones are far more inflammatory than others. My difficulty with these people is that they use imagery and language and slant to exploit people’s emotions and fears in order, quite frankly, to make money.

If you believe they are out to save mankind, or save our culture from dishonor, or save all of us from our immoral selves, you have bought too far into their message, and you would be better served to think more for yourself. Please turn off the tube, and step away from the remote.

I once heard an interview of an author who posited that we have several generations already in existence who have absolutely no idea of who they truly are personally, because the entirety of their personality and behavior was formed by what they saw on television. I know that seems like the often-argued point against mass media and it’s “dumbing down” of our culture, but he was speaking to something beyond that. He thought it went beyond forming our opinions; he believed it shaped how we think and feel, act and react, on the most basic levels. He believed that we learn more about those things now through our exposure to human behavior we see played out on our sets and read in print, where before we learned it through interaction and experience in our personal environments. I think he had a point.

And I think that makes it all too easy for those who want to make a buck by fanning the flames of hatred. In our willingness to be the blank slate for the people who can issue little more than spiteful commentary, we hand over to them our will, our independent thought, and the power of our one voice. It is as if it is easier to let them do our thinking for us, tell us what we should believe about anything in the public sphere, or even about ourselves.

I have to wonder where we would be today, or what the tone of our discussions would be today, without the influence of mass media. Or, what would it all look like if we were only without the venom spewed by shallow, self-promoting show hosts whose main interest is only in stirring the pot. How would we all relate, if we were left to decide things for ourselves in the absence of such influences? Would there be such a division between us?

I think a much needed Emersonian “Self Reliance” is too rare these days. Emerson once espoused, when we were a very young nation, that we had to stop framing ourselves and defining ourselves as a nation and a culture by our comparison to what it was we left behind, and that we needed to make a clean break for ourselves. He proposed this not only in politics, but in art and literature and education, and within our collective and personal psyche. He believed in the confidence and power of one’s dependence on their individual thought and action. Thoreau, mulling in the solitude of Walden’s pond, professed the same, and went further in saying that we didn’t need a government or collective entity to act or think for us, in matters that are most important.

The common thread of those two admirable men (or my take on them) is that we need to think more for ourselves, define ourselves and our thoughts and opinions more individually, and that when we do, a personal strength is constructed that little can chip away at. Such a resolve, I propose, would make agreement, and disagreements, easier.
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