Straw Men and Ghettos

Part One: Sator Arepo

Bizarre. Mr Swed has a piece up celebrating Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 50th birthday, and describing the accompanying festivities—some of which were web-based; you know, in teh intertubes. But before all of that perfectly reasonableness, we get the following as an appetizer:

Classical music online: Salonen, Sellars and Mozart

You can see a discussion about critics not writing their own titles here, but I am pretty certain that in American usage it’s customary to use a comma before the “and” in a list of more than two things. Just sayin’.

I do not unconditionally celebrate the Internet,

That’s odd. Because, you see, I’m reading what you wrote on the internet. The LA Times is, besides not being my local paper (ugh), not worth the price of subscription. Because, you see, I can read it for free on the internet. And yet, somehow [hint: ads, ads, pop-up ads, more ads] y’all still manage to get paid. Oh, sorry, you were saying?

particularly its intrusion into classical music

Agh! Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Man 1: “You got your internet into my classical music!”

Man 2: “You got your classical music into my internet!”

Sheesh, seriously? Because it’s like all kinds of 2008 and shit. “You kids get off my lawn!”

As replacements for the record store, Amazon and iTunes have become necessary evils.

Meh, I’ll grant you that it’s easier to find a decent margarita in Boston than find a good classical record store anywhere.

Typical commercial downloads are sonic shadows of the superior sound of CDs.

Yeah, but on Amazon.com you can actually purchase CDs. Classical ones. Really! Lots of them!

Blogs ghettoize critics.

I…you…what? Wow. Ghettoize.

You have music degrees. I have music degrees. You have a job at the LA Times. I have a computer in my mom’s basement, am 13 years old, have an acne problem, no girlfriend, and eat cereal for every meal.

Fuck. This whole “bloggers are unqualified to express their opinions” deal has pretty much played itself out, don’t you think? Surely in the sports blogosphere it came, publicly, to a head and imploded.

If you feel “ghettoized” by a bunch of unpaid amateurs/academics freely expressing their opinions while you sit at your desk at the LA Freaking Times, you have some sort of victim complex. My sister’s a psychologist, shall I send you her number?

YouTube is pretty much a toy.


But there was no denying the Internet's potential as a genuine window onto the wider world this past weekend. Two recent European events of great interest to Angelenos went online, and that felt like a breakthrough.

Oh, goodness gracious. That whole first atrocious paragraph was just a straw man for you to knock down.

You’ve discovered that the internet can be cool and useful! You’re John Fucking McCain!

Crap. The internet is a “genuine window onto the wider world” and, in other news, rain falls from the sky.


Part Two: Empiricus

Hold it right there cow-guys and gals! Just to let y'all know we're not exactly done, here's an eye-catching color. Sator Arepo graciously allowed me to ride the tail end of his post, because I cried, then whined, then cried some more for inclusion (I’m only 11, you know. So I can still get away with such things. Also, I don’t have acne yet, but I do have a little soul patch down you-know-where—I’m almost a man, dammit!). Really, though, I’d like to add my four halfpennies, because I feel strongly about some of the topics brought up herein and therein. And away I go, in letter form...


Dear Mark (May I call you Mark? Or is it Mr. Swed all the way up there on your critic pedestal? Hello? Fine. Mark it is.),

Listen, Mark. I don’t think you were specifically referring to our blog, when you said, “blogs ghettoize critics.” However, I can’t help but to think that we are a part of your so-called “intrusion into classical music,” because, after all, we are a blog and we criticize the critics of classical music, hopefully disrupting your consequence-free world. Thus, I feel the need to respond.

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t have contempt for you, nor any critic. What we think of you as a person is not correlated with your writing, nor for whom you write. Most critics, in fact, seem to be jolly folk, with a good sense of humor. What we read of yours never leaves the page...er, the virtual page. What we dislike, on the other hand, is the content of what critics like you write. That’s where we take issue.

Early on in our endeavor, I can see how one might have thought otherwise. We certainly had our faults. And as you say, “the internet—It doesn’t keep secrets.” In the beginning, we were, perhaps, a little too aggressive, too scathing, or simply over-critical. But, we have changed. For the most part, I’m happy to say that we’ve have corrected many of our errors of journalistic naivety. While the message hasn’t changed, our tone is more civil, cussing is less directional, and the points clearer and, hopefully, more prescient.

Even in our mellowed tone, we still take issue with bad writing and thinking. Again, to qualify myself, we value the service that critics provide. In my opinion, we need experts to break-down the music. There’s too much for one person to learn in a lifetime and critics can help bridge that gap. As musicians ourselves, however, it is heartbreaking to read each and every ill-informed, misconceived, deceiving and, yes, prejudiced generalization that critics type, like, “blogs ghettoize critics”—oh, to think of the poor soul at the paper-end of the process reading that dreck! To judge things at your level is a privilege, not a right. And we hope that, if you don’t do your job well, there’s some recourse.

Our blog is where that happens. We’re not calling for your heads; we don’t want out-of-work critics. We simply want to discuss the issues that concern how we talk about and judge music. Hopefully, by doing so, we can ameliorate our poor level of musical dialog for the benefit of your readership, the average, non-musical person. To quote my namesake:

[...] the greatest indication of the vast and limitless difference in the intellect of human beings is the inconsistency of the various statements of the dogmatists concerning what may be appropriately chosen, what avoided [...]

Okay, we also want to poke fun in your direction, like a slap on the wrist.

That said, we can be wrong. In fact, we have been wrong. This is why we feel it imperative to seek others’ input, retorts and comments. We don’t moderate our comments section, because everything we write is, in the end, open-ended. Everyone’s input is valuable. It’s an ongoing discussion.

And this leads me to the internet, specifically blogs. Mark, as you noted, there is “no denying the Internet's potential as a genuine window onto the wider world...” Everything is at your fingertips, no doubt about it. The internet is replete with choices. There are countless blogs about this and that and classical music. Everyone gets their say. As with anything else, however, there will be same proportion of the good mixed with the bad, like good criticism and bad criticism. What is inherently special about the internet is that you, the reader, get to choose what and who you read, unlike, say, when reading the L.A. Times. And I think it goes without saying, but, without a readership the newspaper dies. So, too, do blogs. Yet, the good ones have a way of sticking around and the bad ones fade away. Whatever you choose to read, your experience of the internet and blogs is only what you make of it. So, you see, there is no reason to generalize about blogs ghettoizing critics. You've shown perfectly capable on your own.

Finally, a note about who is qualified to write about music. Honestly, I don’t know the answer. Mark, I received my master’s degree in music from Mills College, too. So, before you knock critic-bashing blogs, in general, it might be helpful to keep in mind that some of us have the same or more musical qualifications than you. Alright? We are qualified ambassadors of music. So get off your high horse, partner. We are qualified to speak about music, wherever we choose, even on a blog. And we do so for the love of music and the people who love music, not for the money that accompanies a job--that would be a luxury. If maintaining this blog were an actual job, we’d proofread it once in a while.

Mark, I hope you will join our dialog,



anzu said...

Wth. I thought one of you was a 1006 yo whiskey connosieur and the other of you was a 687 yo chess prodigy. Sheesh. You can't believe anything that you see online anymore.

I know you guys don't like it when I point out grammatical minutiae (but since you're in the business of critiquing other people's writing, I feel somewhat justified, though if it is seriously annoying, I will stop.) Anyway. . .

Re: whether it's customary to put a comma before the "and"-- you are partially correct. It is called an Oxford (or Harvard or series) comma, and if you're writing stodgy academic pieces per Chicago style, then you include it. If you're SFCV, you include it, too. But in journalism, (which is what you review), most publications follow the AP Style guide, which for the longest time, has eschewed series commas, but there are all sorts of exceptions to this rule (e.g. if the phrase gets long and confusing), and I believe the 2002 edition now favors them, but I can't say for sure. One of the journalism people should be able to tell you, if you really want to know, though I suspect not.

Aaron said...

Well, Anzu said what I was going to say about the series-comma thing. It used to be a tipoff about where a particular book was edited - if the book in question used the Oxford comma, it was probably edited in Great Britain, and if not, probably in the US.

These days, I think either way is generally acceptable usage, although there are circumstances where not using the Oxford comma can be confusing, which is IMO a good reason to use it all the time.

After all, as Joe Morgan reminds us, consistency is a virtue.

Anonymous said...

A Britisher writes: in UK English you don't include a comma before "and" in a list, except in special cases like this:

"Our menu today includes sausages, steak, fish and chips, and eggs."

What's going on with Mark Swed? He's on a really poor run at the moment.

Sator Arepo said...

It's my understanding that the comma is common [forgive near-pun] in American usage but not British. Or do I have that backwards? Crud.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Obviously that was snarky and not the main beef with the piece.

(For reasons beyond my control I'm up and at work early.)

Matthew said...

I suppose it's an Internet cliche to see a comment thread take off on a trivial point within a blog post rather than the more important subject at hand, but yes, you got it right, the serial comma is more common in the US than the UK, although the Oxford Style Guide hedges its bets based on context. And Anzu's right about it being almost universally rejected in newspaper style guides.

Incidentally, the newest Vampire Weekend single is called "Oxford Comma" and apparently makes reference to the whole serial comma mess, although I stopped listening once I realized the song was going to do that annoying indie-rock thing of putting the best riff right at the outset of the verse, rather than saving it for the chorus, so the whole song seems gradually collapse like a leaky tire.

I was going to joke that any ghettoizing tendency on the Internet would give me more street cred than I've ever had in my life, but I think it's just the wrong word. My guess is that Mark is referring to the Internet's comparatively unfavorable signal-to-noise ratio diluting the reach and influence of individual critical voices. I actually find that an interesting problem since, possibly because any profits are small to non-existent, the market hasn't yet shaped the online discourse towards a few monopolistic sources of information. The question is: once people figure out just how to make significant money on this platform, will the variety of voices concentrate or explode?

Aaron said...

Incidentally, the newest Vampire Weekend single is called "Oxford Comma" and apparently makes reference to the whole serial comma mess, although I stopped listening once I realized the song was going to do that annoying indie-rock thing of putting the best riff right at the outset of the verse, rather than saving it for the chorus, so the whole song seems gradually collapse like a leaky tire.

I don't know about that. I really like the solo on that one.