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No Protection

While I didn't articulate it well at the time, I still think Sasha and his editors missed the point with his recent article and subsequent Q&A on "Americans' fitful appetite for British pop."

Most of what Sasha wrote and said is on point, but I still disagree with the frame: why stick to this outdated binary, the major supporters of which seem to be George Bush and Tony Blair? Yes, the pop-music traditions of both countries are inextricably intertwined, but maybe a little extrication would be useful at this point. Giving the UK a kind of most-favo(u)red-nation status may be commonsense, but I wonder if the two countries really have more in common than the US does with, say, Mexico, or any other country whose immigrants have populated North America (north of the Texan border) over the years. Yes, both countries host majority-white populations, and English remains the dominant language in both countries; pop music throughout the 20th Century was largely a conversation between American and English idioms (or perhaps more accurately: Anglo and African-American idioms). But restricting one's focus on the whens and whys of cultural crossover to the US/UK dichotomy feels not only a little silly—does it really matter how many units the Arctic Monkeys shift in the US?—but also a bit like a willful attempt to shut out the rest of the world.

Je n'accuse pas; Sasha, as much as any high-ranking music critic, has always remained open to music from the whole world, so it's not that I wish to brand him an Anglophilic xenophobe. (Great name for a band with a van and a heavy Myspace presence, that.) But I do increasingly wonder if fixating on the mercantile exchange between the US and the UK obscures more important questions about internationalism, and North Americans' resistance to it. I was spurred to post this reading today's NYT piece on AZN, the Asian-American channel, formerly known as the International Channel. The International Channel, according to the article, "aimed to appeal to all immigrants" before narrowing its focus. What's disappointing isn't just the downsizing of their aims, but the limits of the original frame itself, unless they really did mean all immigrants and their kin, eg anyone not of Native American descent. Why, among US inhabitants, should only immigrants be expected to care about the outside world?

Obviously, the "immigrant" market is growing in stature and buying power, so the idea of marketing a TV channel to them (because TV channels, ultimately, are about nothing more and nothing less than marketing demographics) is a bit of a no-brainer. And in an era where even a universally appealing comedy like The Office needs a line-by-line US remake to appeal to domestic audiences—an era where bearers of a stamped passport are branded Bordeaux-sipping, coastal-dwelling, freedom-hating elitists by the country's true elite (eg, the blue-blood scions of wealthy, Yale-educated dynasties who paint their necks red every morning to appeal to the perpetually condescended-to NASCAR demographic)—perhaps it's no surprise that there is no International Channel to appeal to anyone with an interest in the world outside the Lower 48.

But let's remember that reggaeton—which appeals to "immigrants" and others alike—jumped from underground whatever to moneymaking opportunity almost overnight. Reading last year's many reggaeton profiles, one is struck by the fact that it caught the moneymakers by surprise. Likewise, the moneymakers might be surprised to find that there is a market for subtitle readers and eager Babelfishers. (I'm probably wrong, but grant me my wishful thinking.)

Of course, poor capitalist that I am, I'm conflating market impulses with my own (naďve?) pluralist ethics. And if the demand drives the market, ultimately my beef remains with the folks that get their yuks from "freedom fry" jokes. An article asking what's up with the Arctic Monkeys' sales isn't going to carbomb the United Nations—these are New Yorker readers we're talking about, after all. And perhaps Sasha's piece is more in line with my position than I initially suspected: it refuses to take the US/UK cultural conflation as a given. With the trans-Atlantic vapor trails being whipped to the winds, it might make for a good opportunity to lobby for more cultural criticism of non-North American phenomena. America's isolationist fantasies are getting old.


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Unfortunately, the links to the New Yorker articles don't seem to be working; if you hack back the URL it will take you to the most current Pop Music column on Scritti Politti, but I don't think this is the article you referenced.

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