& "The Feelies"
Reflections on the Driving Forces in Mass Culture
by Robert Winter
SYNOPSIS: Contemporary pop culture is largely about providing icons for us and our feelings.
Insights into mass culture can come at the strangest times. Consider the following:
During the Christmas season I attended a Messiah sing-along in a large metropolitan concert hall, where except for solo vocal parts that were performed by professionals, Handels Messiah was sung by the audience itself. There were a large number of us, almost all singing and pretty well following the music; and between the powerful sound that we in the audience produced and the more polished tones of the professional soloists, the effect was inspiringeven majestic.
I was so pleased to have had a part in this endeavor that somewhere along about the "Hallelujah" chorus, it occurred to me that if I were to encounter some hypothetical alien in a space ship, I could say with pride, "This is the human voice."
But I had only barely begun to savor this satisfaction when a more perverse thought entered my mind: To the same alien, how would I explain the voice of Willie Nelson?
Now, Im not some kind of highbrow-only music snob, and I like a lot of Willies music. But if you wanted to assemble the genuinely finest vocal "instruments" in humankind, would it really occur to you to include Willies voice? I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but am I the only one who thinks he sometimes sounds like an old chicken farmer?
Actually, Willie is by no means the only recording artist whose popularity appears to somewhat exceed his actual vocal gifts. I say this with the up-front acknowledgment that I like pop as much as the next person, and that there are some genuinely good sets of pipes out there in popdom. But all in all, it is just not reasonable for anybody with a musical ear to believe these are the finest voices our society can produce. In fact, you can often hear better voices than the average pop recording artists in a decent-sized talent show.
So what is it, exactly, that marks certain pop singers for contemporary stardom?
(c) COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
It may be as important that we enjoy identifying with pop musicians as that we enjoy listening to them.
Even in sports, celebrity nowadays has as much to do with symbolizing as with achieving.
In their arts and artifacts, cultures often reveal what's absent--and longed for--in people's lives.
|"Retro" product styles reflect a craving for
things (and times) of substance.
|Our choices of manufactured experiences in movies
reveal a great deal about our concerns in real life.
|The artifacts of our mass culture tend to be masterpieces of marketing--but of what else?|