The Null Device
As the Brit Awards drop the "Best Dance Act" category (recently won by bubblegum girl group Sugababes), replacing it with "Best Live Act" (it looks like rock stars are the new superstar DJs), the Graun's Alexis Petridis reports the decline of dance music as a genre:
Part of the problem, whatever anybody claims, was that the dance scene was entirely bound up with drugs. That meant that it had a short shelf-life for most participants: you simply can't keep taking ecstasy every weekend for more than a few years, and when the shine comes off the ecstasy experience, then the shine invariably comes off dance music as well. That wasn't a problem, as long as there was a high turnover of new initiates, all figuratively staggering out of Margate pier at six in the morning, convinced they had just discovered the future of music. But at some point around the millennium, that simply stopped happening.
In other words, rave culture had the dynamics of a pyramid scheme.
The longest lingering big fashion movement in club culture was the cyber-kids, who congregated around Sheffield club Gatecrasher. Their look seemed to involve adopting every daft passing fad that had ever taken hold on a dancefloor at once: they wore fluorescent clothes and face paint, sprayed their hair with garish crazy colour, sucked children's dummies, carried cuddly toys. Gatecrasher's management eventually attempted to stop them coming to the club, but the damage was done. For your average 16-year-old, the choice was fairly stark: you could either dress like a rapper or one of the Strokes and be in with a chance with the opposite sex, or you could dress like an imbecile and go clubbing.
Artist/musician/pundit Momus, who has a fairly nifty blog, has some words of advice for all the Americans who have been talking about moving to Canada/Europe:
For those of you thinking of leaving America today -- and there are many, I'm sure -- I'd say just do it. Walk away. Leaving Britain is the best thing I ever did. I lived for years there feeling like a political and cultural exile, trying to fight back with satire and a thousand subtle forms of stubbornness and resistance. But being an 'internal exile' is not good for the soul. My struggle with attitudes which seemed toxic to me started making me as hard, cynical and corrupt as the people and the attitudes I was fighting.
I became a world citizen. I started to think in terms of cities, and even districts of cities, rather than nations. I made my own cut and paste environment, a place where I felt comfortable and valued. I selected its elements from the internet and the parts of the cities I loved and went to live in. I count the moment I left my incorrigible homeland as the moment my adult life really began. I am now a much happier and better adjusted person.
If enough talented people leave the US, and if it keeps running up gigantic budget deficits by fighting wars, it will shrink to a manageable size. America is clearly on an identity quest. Let it become a red dwarf, shrunk down to its rural red states. Uninventive, intolerant, unproductive. That's its way of discovering 'who it really is'. Meanwhile, somewhere nicer, you can be discovering yours.
It's offical. The Lesser Evil has conceded, and we're about to see just how much darker this night can get. Expect increasing authoritarianism in the US, and quite possibly a full-scale world war, with mass conscription and those nifty mini-nukes BushCo are developing, Real Soon Now.
Oh dear, it doesn't look too good does it? Mind you, Ohio's still up in the air, though how much that amounts to is uncertain.
One thing we can thank George W. Bush for is that apathy is no longer hip. After September 11, conservative pundits went on at length about the "death of irony" and a rising New Earnestness of getting behind your leaders, doing as you're told and, if you disagree with the national consensus, keeping your mouth shut. They were only partly right; something did die out, though it wasn't disobeying one's elders and betters, but rather apathy; the grunge-slacker "yeah, whatever" that resonated throughout the 1990s has gone from the height of cool to the political equivalent of living in a trailer and sleeping with one's cousins. Not caring about issues is just not cool anymore.
The facts haven't changed: the US democratic system is centralised and structured in such a way to keep the levers of control well out of the reach of people. Both parties (and there are only two parties in US federal politics; thanks to the first-past-the-post system, the others cannot be more than spoilers) are primarily beholden to gigantic corporations and special interests. (Big Copyright is to the Democrats what Big Oil is to the Republicans; if Kerry wins, for example, reversing the Betamax precedent will probably be high on his corporate constituents' wishlist). Meanwhile, democratic governments sign more and more of their sovereignty over to unelected multinational bodies, as part of the "Golden Straitjacket" of globalisation. However, on the other hand, party discipline in US Congress is a lot less rigid than in Westminster-style parliaments such as Australia's; some political scientists claim that the US parties are best thought of as umbrella groups of unofficial sub-parties.
What has changed is the realisation that, even though powerful interests exert enormous influence, they are buffeted by public opinion, and an informed, activist public (or even a well-organised non-apathetic minority) can exert enough pressure to keep things in check. With enough awareness of issues, and the decentralised organising power of the Network Age, they can agitate for reforms; with awareness of the power of the media and the manipulability of reported facts, and decentralised means of communication, all of a sudden the Murdochs of this world are not the almighty kingmakers they seemed to be.
It is my hope that, in the foreseeable future, we could see the rise of a new golden age of public awareness and activism, where the public wakes from its sleep and demands, in no uncertain terms, more accountability from their leaders, and the devolution of decision-making power to be within closer reach of the public.