What’s Yr Take on I-V-vi-IV: A Relatively Non-Combative Post About “Let It Go,” Criticism and Karaoke
A few nights ago, I got rowdy on the Internet and said mean things about poptimism. Again. I regret it, and deleted most of it, because what I wrote was mean-spirited and probably hurtful to quite a few people whose work I like and respect. I was frustrated in general, really, related to Popular Things And Whether We Can Dislike Them — I had just extensively visited the comments and/or response pieces to my 2011 Game of Thrones post — which no doubt added to my over-the-top vehemence. But I sincerely doubt it would have happened, were it not for a post I read on VICE that day, entitled “Radiohead is for Boring Nerds." Obviously, this post wants to be provocative, and I only read it because the title was obnoxious, so: Mission Accomplished. But sheesh, is this ever the worst piece of arts criticism I’ve read all year:
You know that one friend who is REALLY into Radiohead?
No, I don’t. This is because I live in the year 2014, where no-one I know talks about Radiohead, because they’re a rock band that released their biggest single twenty-two years ago, and the average college freshman was in fact two years old when “OK Computer” came out. In my time, Radiohead are not an urgent topic of conversation. But please, Encino Man, by all means, continue to blow my mind with your iconoclastic take on this matter.
If you’re a Radiohead fan reading this, first of all, congrats on being way, way smarter than the rest of us simpletons who just want to listen to a song with a goddamn hook or a beat that isn’t in some weirdo 179/4.26 time signature.
I mean, I don’t even like Radiohead very much. I listened to them a lot in college, and I have an enduring fondness for “Let Down” because it’s so anthemic, but I probably haven’t listened to a Radiohead album in years. So I’m not invested in defending the band. This just bothers me as argument qua argument. Radiohead’s inaccessible, it sounds like noise, there are no choruses, there are no sweet guitar riffs, where’s the hook, where’s the beat, it goes on and on and on. Also, they’ve only released one song, “Creep,” that’s fun to sing at karaoke, and if a song isn’t fun to sing at karaoke, then fuck that song. Fuck it right in the eyeball. There is only one purpose for all recorded music, and that is “being fun to sing on karaoke night.”
(This is actually a blog post about big pop hooks and songs that are fun to sing at karaoke. Just FYI.)
—Whatcha got there?
—This is something just for you.
—Something just for me?
—What’d you cut it with?
—Oh you’ll see. You’ll dig it.
—After all I meant to you…
⍀True Detective, “Who Goes There”
Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.
⍀Susan Sontag, “Notes On Camp”
One of my favorite things about HBO’s latest hit, True Detective, is how the show pivots without effort from funny to overserious to macabre to sexytimes. I mean, and it doesn’t do this in a dextrous way. It lists and reels like a drunken boxer who is also a boat without a rudder/keel. Not to be smarmy, but the show has a tone problem. Well, or, the whipsaw tone problem may just be a condition - perhaps a sensibility. I know I run the risk of embarrassment to give this idea the whole essay treatment, but what I really think best describes a lot of True Detective is the camp sensibility. True Detective is heterosexual camp, and Rustin Cohle is a camp icon.
The most erotic scene in True Detective is not one depicting flouncing titties or a jiggling ass. It occurs 3/4 through the fourth episode, where Cohle re-infiltrates the Iron Crusaders, an East Texas biker gang. The stakes are cut-your-balls-off high, but the scene is pure seduction. It hinges on Cohle working his way back into the role he played when he was in ‘deep cover’. He meets up with Ginger, his old contact in the gang, at a biker bar that’s part backyard bonfire and part Thunderdome.
Cohle makes his play to get to Reggie Ledoux through Ginger by proposing a far fetched drug trade. In a beautiful exchange, Ginger offers a bump of powder on his hand for Cohle to snort. Cohle almost swoons. The two talk with their faces so close that they must feel each other’s hot breath.
Cohle plays simultaneously the role of femme fatale, biker scumbag, and undercover cop. The scene is highly artificial, as stylized and articulated as the police station interrogation room dialogues. It’s straight, but it’s almost too straight. The scene, and really that whole spectacular episode, are so decisive and deeply felt. Marty stupid-resolute to Maggie, “I love you honey, and I ain’t giving up.” The insane long shot of Cohle dragging Ginger through the housing project. It’s like True Detective has a tight-grip on the throat of what the viewers want, and Cohle is the icing on top.
In the introduction to her "Notes On ‘Camp’", Susan Sontag says, “the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.” Sontag’s “notes” are themselves highly stylized in their lack of adornment. Rather than proceeding “solemn and treatise-like”, she sets out 58 numbered points broken up by various sayings by Oscar Wilde, an historical-spritual cause and effect of the camp sensibility.
Rustin Cohle, one of the two protagonists of True Detective, functions similarly as a pivot point of the show. Detectives Papania and Gilbough interview Cohle, Marty, and Maggie in the present day timeline in order to learn more about Cohle’s possible involvement with a more recent murder. The entire show is set up around the mystery that Cohle represents, both physically, as a character-suspect, and philosophically, as a metaphysical account of the universe.
I think there’s something almost uncanny about camp. Sontag says, “to perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role.” Camp plays with perception or function. When a person or object functions as the object or function, but not the object or function itself. It objectifies desire itself, leaving an obvious residue of asness, artificiality.