Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Domino Effect

I was reading this article the other day

It’s one of those articles that basically confirms something that most people have always known, except with figures and in more scientific language. I think universities have whole faculties to do this kind of research; the 'newsworthy but not really surprising statistics' department.

People will like things that other people like, this is true. I mean that sentence literally; I don’t mean that people will pretend to like things that their friends like; I mean that people will genuinely like things, in which they wouldn’t otherwise be interested, because they are popular with a certain clique or compatible with a certain image. People do pretend to like music - I’ve done it plenty of times myself - in order to fit in. I’m not going to deny that, but there is another level of self deception, where pretending takes place at a much lower level, one that the conscious mind is largely unaware of.

There are two causes of this; the first is the aforementioned desire to belong to a certain clique, or just to give yourself some common ground with those around you. People are anxious to belong to something; it’s a core part of the way people think - we are social animals. In relation to culture this manifests in the formation of ‘scenes’; each with their own cultural touchstones, clothing styles and social norms. People get very attached to their ‘scene’, trying to find some kind of esoteric herd identity. One which allows them to slake their desire to fit in, without subscribing to the mainstream identity in which, accepted wisdom holds, individualism can’t survive. When a cultural product comes along that is perceived as a rallying point for a scene, people will flock to purchase this icon and confirm their allegiance by liking it. This is because most scenes are, under the façade of individualism and art, social groupings formed around the consuming of products; there is no defining code of conduct for a hipster, no set of beliefs; all that is required is that you buy some tight jeans, an Ironic T-Shirt and really like the killers.

A subset of this is the principle that you will try to like the music of the person whose pants you are trying to get into, for a while a few years ago I think I actually started to like the distillers.

The other cause for this faux enthusiasm is that of image. It is accepted that peoples’ self image is reflected in the things they like. Many, however, attempt to like things that they probably, deep down, don’t. This is an attempt to reverse the process – by liking certain books, bands or films people hope to persuade themselves that they are something they are not, something cooler. This is not to be confused with people lying about their likes and dislikes to project a specific image to others, I’m talking about actually doing it to yourself. Like the way that I drift from genre to genre like a deranged musical butterfly, I often wander if I’m just an indie kid in denial and that I don’t really like folk music, Jazz, hip-hop or Armenian trouser polka. I noticed a good example of this last night when I was browsing the (UKC online community) and I realised that pretty much all the American Literature students list On The Road by Jack Kerouac on their list of favourite books. I’ve read On The Road, it’s a good book, but it also ticks all the boxes for a certain sort of person: On The Road isn’t on the American Literature syllabus, meaning it saves the person the ignominy of admitting that they like the books they study: It’s a book that is internationally recognised as ‘cool’ and, unlike something more obscure it has the cachet of being a book that everyone has heard of but few have actually read. These factors make a good book into a great one in the eyes of many – I, for example, might have actually thought it was rubbish, I read it about a year ago and it could be the opinion that others hold of it that has elevated it in my mind. I don’t know.

I think that this is the cause that has the most effect on me; I’m not very sensitive to herd thinking. I do, however, belong to a kind of unspoken scene – the scene of the sceneless. To even speak of it is probably grounds for expulsion from the scene (that doesn’t exist) it is a scene of people who consciously try and avoid being in a scene. I listen to all kinds of music and pride myself on this fact. I’m constantly on the lookout for strange and unusual directions to expand my musical collection – over the summer it was folk music, for the last few months it’s been hip hop, now I’m heading in a Jazz direction - probably as much to uphold my self image as an eclectic kinda guy who doesn’t care what you think as it is because I like the music. Don’t get me wrong I do like this stuff but, I tend to exaggerate how much; for example, if someone said ‘Eliza Carthy?’ I’d say ‘hells yes’ despite the fact that I only like about three tracks from Anglicana and am not familiar with her other work. The thing that worries me is where this road takes me, before I know it I’ll be some middle class tosser waxing lyrical about the latest piece of fashionable world music at a dinner party.

And I don’t want that.

The thing is that I'm not sure if it's ever going to to be possible to distinguish music you like because of the music and music you like because of outside factors. You might take a disliking to a kind of music after getting a new group of friends but this might be as much due to the growing influence of the new friends as it is to do with the waning influence of the old ones. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter though, if you like it, go with it.

"ours is not to reason why/ ours is but to get down and shake serious booty" -- Alfred Lord Tennyson

I should probably get back to work.