Thanksgiving, Detritus Style

Nearing the end of our third year bringing you the finest meta-music journalism the profession has ever seen and having some spare time from the rigors of academic life, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something a little different. I’d like to take you on a tour, a very magical and perhaps mysterious tour—a brief look into the world of The Detritus Review.

For some time, the board of directors had entertained the possibility of leading guided tours through the halls and offices of the Detritus Tower, where all the (now classic) musical shenanigans sprout from the ether and bud into bulbous bundles of blogosphere brilliance. However, even The Detritus Review is not immune to the collective ill fortunes of capitalist speculation and, thus, that plan was scrapped.

But, in its conception, it was glorious. There were to be two guided tours each workday, lead by none other than the magnificent Gustav himself. He would have taken the tour groups, first, through the Great Hall, which currently serves as the main library and contains some of the most rare and curious volumes of forgotten cultural lore. This was to be followed by a brief stop to my cubicle or to Sator Arepo’s corner office to witness the feeding of his caged gorilla named Bernard. Also, there would have been a stop to the luxurious conference room, which we lovingly call “The Con,” after Star Trek. Here, the tour group would have been invited to watch a brief video history of the DR and be treated to an endless supply of Jolt and Doritos. And if that wasn’t enough, the tour would end with a stop by the newly added gift store, where you would have had the opportunity to purchase one of our signature line of poker visors! (My personal favorite: “I’m a Detritus Fish”)

Alas, any prospect that a tour of such grandeur takes place is now dead. Yet, I hope to fill some of your voyeuristic needs by inviting you to follow along with my thought process, step by step, beginning to end, while I search for and deconstruct an odorous pile of words, the end result of which will eventually find its way onto the front page.

How’s that sound? Great! Glad to have you on board. Let’s get cracking!


There are obviously many facets to the production of our posts, all with a degree of purpose and, hopefully, integrity. But before anything can be done, there are certain ground rules to which we must adhere.

Here is a brief description of just one of the criteria and how we come to negotiate it. For the most part, the articles we chose are found online. (I like to think we save trees from further embarrassment) This brings up several questions. First, does the source maintain journalistic standards or, at least, does it say it tries to? And, second, is the source aiming for profit? If yes to both, we feel we have the obligation to criticize it; this obviously means that newspapers will be our main sources. But if the answer to one or more of those questions is negative, I will consult the I-Ching chances are we won’t touch it with a ten-foot Polish person. Blogs, in the traditional sense, i.e. those not attached to newspapers, are generally off-limits. So ACD, consider yourself mostly-lucky.

There are certainly other things we think about before we deconstruct a music review, but I won’t bore you too much longer. Just one more thing: unfortunately, many of these ground rules were discovered after initial dissemination. We have since eliminated these faults, but would like to emphasize that apples are also vegetables, depending on how you look at them.

Okay, so you have a taste for where we begin. Now, let’s find an article and rip it apart. I have many of the major newspapers bookmarked, but my favorite way to go about finding an article is to take a random walk through a forest of armpit hair. The critics who write for major newspapers usually do a good enough job, so a little grunt work is often needed. I usually start by hopping over to onlinenewspapers.com, which is simply a directory of online newspapers, big and small, especially the small ones. And so I click on a random newspaper, like the Arkansas Times, where I found this:

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s ‘New World’
By Edward Wooten


Ah, the symphony has a new director. “How ‘bout that?,” I think to myself.

It was apparent even before the concert began that a new era was at hand.

Okay. Yeah. But I can’t really work with it, unless…

A more energetic setting of the National Anthem also signaled the arrival of a new era.

Hmm. Can I twist this to make fun of the National Anthem? Can I make fun of Arkansas-ionians? Is that even a word? Can I use that as an in? Ooh! I wonder if I can make fun of National Anthem connoisseurship?

Maybe I should wait a bit longer to make fun of this. Let’s read a little more, first.

([The director’s] predecessor had used the hymn-like arrangement first used at the Greek Olympics.)

Yeah! See, this can be funny stuff. I don’t know if he means that the ancient Greeks used the national anthem or if it was performed at the recent Olympics in Greece. Plus, hymn-like tunes are so yesterday, right? I mean, he’s insinuating that more energy is required to reinforce, or maybe reinvigorate, patriotism, or that the National Anthem is boring.

See, these are things that go through my mind as I read what may turn out to be a decent article. However, I usually require more substance than that, which was simply some awkward wording. Let’s see if there’s anything else.

The Bernstein was vigorously performed[…]

Well, maybe this whole “vigor’ thing can serve as a thread for this post? I mean, if you think about it, what our reviewer is responding to is the smoke and mirrors of fast and loud. Let’s keep this in mind, shall we?

The highlight of the program, however, was the Dvorak [“The New World”].

Okay. The meat and apples of the concert. This part usually contains some good DR fodder.

The significant themes and motifs in every section stood out.

Heh. That’s a limp thing to say. I guess it could be worth mentioning as an aside. What else can we use for our meta-review?

[The director] conducted the familiar second movement up-tempo just enough to eliminate the dirge-like performance it often gets[…]

Well, there we go! For some reason our author just likes fast. Maybe we can do a NASCAR joke or two (probably at the beginning). I’m sure this material would make a fine DR meta-review. Don’t you think?

The orchestra played throughout with the raw vigor that the piece demands.

More cushion for the pushin’! I think we’ve stumbled across the right article.

Sometimes it happens this quickly, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t want to give you the impression that we here at the Detritus Review don’t do any work or research; but sometimes fate intervenes and hands us a pile of words that begs for the royal treatment.

(It is a "ninth symphony," after all.)

Oh, this is just a long, fantastic purple cherry on top! How lucky are we?! How could we even hope to get through a review of a symphony concert without the slightest reference to Beethoven even though Beethoven wasn’t on the program? Beautiful. Simply beautiful; and, yet, stereotypical of clunky music journalism.


Alright, guys. We have an article, a thread, and even some material. So, now it’s my job to put all this into some sort of coherent narrative and to flesh out the jokes with a bit more precision. Once that is done, we can be a little creative and spice it up with some links and silly pictures, which may or may not have anything to do with the review.

I like to start this phase by coming up with a title that…


A.C. Douglas said...

Blogs, in the traditional sense, i.e. those not attached to newspapers, are generally off-limits. So ACD, consider yourself mostly-lucky.

While I understand the reasoning behind declaring blogs "off-limits," I question the wisdom of such a decision. Blogs that are primarily personal diaries or journals ought definitely be off-limits for reasons clear, but blogs that pretend to any sort of authority or expertise ought not to be, my blog, Sounds & Fury, included. The writings on such blogs are public, not private, and should be treated no differently from newspaper editorial or opinion columns that pretend likewise.

See how that should work?


Empiricus said...

You know, we here have had many discussions concerning this issue, many heated, many fairly sexy (I'll save those stories for later). And we have come to the general conclusion--not that we can't revise it later, mind you--that what we seek to criticize must be somewhat above reproach. Before most of the newspapers went online, there were few ways to make public criticisms of those who disseminated musical opinion. This is certainly changing now that the only way newspapers can compete with the internet is to join it. I think I speak for the three of us when I say that one of the most useful tools inherent to the blogosphere (and now many online newspaper articles) is the ability to have direct criticism in the form of comments. Yet there is still much resistance to this practice; many online newspapers make you register (with more personal information than, say, a Google or Wordpress account), before you can comment. That's troubling for me.

Now, if you're a fan of market competition, the internet is a fantastic, speedy microcosm of what used to take much longer. Therefore, while I agree with you that blogs that profess expertise should NOT be off-limits, I am confident that they will go away faster and with less consequence, independent of a meta-music critic blog's snarky babble.

Then, there's the issue of criticism for profit: there's the possibility for many more things to go awry. Readership is of utmost importance to newspapers and, thus, the motivations of (very few, but some) critics become, for us, suspect. When criticism is influenced by something other than the passion for or love of the subject, then the information imparted can have the tendency to be hyperbolic, erroneous, or misleading.

Finally, our heated exchange this past summer, in my opinion, was stimulating. We certainly have differing views, but that we could have such an interesting exchange is what the DR is about: the dialogue. Of the number of (I hope) smart comments I've left on newspaper's music reviews, I've never encountered anything like a dialogue (let alone a heated one) with the author, which makes it a one-sided conversation and them somewhat above reproach.

Mrs. Empiricus is tearing me away from the computer so we can go to "Thanksgiving," so I'll have to cut this short. I hope this clears things up a bit. Happy Thanksgiving!

A.C. Douglas said...

There are a couple of issues here.

First, regarding your remarks about the comments sections of online MSM newspapers, it's much worse than that one has to first register, which, to be perfectly candid, I not only see as no problem at all, but desirable. In fact, I would go even further were I an online MSM newspaper editor, and insist that commenters not only be registered but be compelled to use their real names in order to comment (don't ask me how real names could be verified; I've no answer for that). What's really a problem with online MSM comments sections is that commenters' comments can be and often are censored either by editing or by non-publication. I, for instance, am banned from commenting in the Guardian's comments sections ever since I publicly reamed in a Guardian comments section the Guardian's classical music critic Tom Service for his arrant ignorance of Wagnerian music-drama, and of Die Walk├╝re in particular.

Second, Why would you want culture blogs that profess to authority and expertise to "go away"? They should be encouraged, not discouraged, unless their profession is bogus, in which case a blog such as DR should ream them to expose the imposture. Such blogs will not go away on their own if left unchallenged. They're too precious to their authors.

Then there's the question of incompetent, sloppy, or otherwise less than professional writing on such blogs in terms of use of language. Culture blogs that profess to authority and expertise which exhibit this fault should likewise be reamed for the crime of lowering the quality of online cultural discourse. That's also something that should be fodder for a blog such as DR.

Well, you get my point. Of course, the writers of any blog that attempts such reaming had better be damned certain of their ground. Remember, all blogs share the same bully pulpit, and if one screws the pooch on one's reaming, one will get reamed right back P.D.Q., and with at least equal force. That's NOT a problem when one's targets are columnists in the online MSM as the smart ones will never respond because, well, they don't have to. They're, for the time being at least, Kings Of The Hill, and they're much safer responding to their online critics by not responding to or acknowledging them at all as responding is only to dignify those critics and give them credence. Of course, the author of a criticized blog could take the same position (I have on several occasions), but it's not nearly as much fun.

Oh, and a Happy Thanksgiving! right back attcha.


Anonymous said...

Happy dead turkeys.

While the DR's decision to criticize opinions-for-profit shows a clear anti-capitalist leaning, ironically it validates the very system in the man's nature the DR occasionally mocks in humor, for truth told the only opinion worth anything (immaterial) is the one that's worth something (material).

The Chinese have a saying, "things when rare are expensive." Such is the value of the myriad of comments that dangle at the bottom of the pages of the for profit news journals. The DR is good stuff. Figure out a way to get paid, 'cause I want to go on the friggin' tour.

This aside, I love the glimpse into Big E's Detritusal mind here. Bravo!


Tom Strini said...

I've been so busy trying to become a tycoon at www.thirdcoastdigest.com, teaching and doing the occasional TV show (artdigest.tv) that I haven't made enough time for DR.

But I will. I like you guys.

--Strini, an arts writer who really really wants to make a profit.