The Null Device

Hatred makes the world go round

A 1992 essay by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys about the positive value of hatred:
That’s the thing about negative energy, about hatred. It can be positive. It throws into relief all the things you know you like. It tells you, by elimination, what you’re about. Sometimes you can only define yourself by what you hate. Hatred becomes an inspiration; it makes you think, “What I’m doing now I totally believe in, and I don’t care what other people say.” Guided by hatred, you don’t have to follow the herd.
Of course, these days it’s more fashionable to be positive. I hate positivity. The problem with positivity is that it’s an attitude that’s decidedly about lying back, getting screwed, and accepting it. Happily. It’s totally apolitical. It’s very, very personal and one-on-one. It’s not about changing society, it’s about caring about yourself. In fact, it’s totally about ignoring one’s economic role in society, and so it works in favor of the system. Just look at work years of personal consciousness theories have given us: those icons of the status quo, George Bush and John Major.
While this essay was written in 1992, when the World-Wide Web was confined to a particle physics institute in Switzerland, it is arguably more relevant than ever in today's relentlessly (and profitably) boosteristic online culture of Like buttons, Tumblr blogs, Pinterest and an online culture of comment whose language is lopsidedly positive, and much poorer in expressing hate, dislike or even a neutral interest without approval.
Positivity is fundamentally middle-class. It’s about having the time, the space and the money to sort out where your head is at. Therapy is just another side of positivity. It’s a leisure activity, a luxury for people who don’t have any real cares. It’s new age selfishness, the new way of saying that charity begins at home. And positivity makes the world stay the same. Hatred is the force that moves society along, for better or for worse. People aren’t driven by saying, “Oh wow, I’m at peace with myself.” They’re driven by their hatred of injustice, hatred of unfairness, of how power is used.
Tennant doesn't spare the pop music of his peers at the time:
Another thing I hate, and another inspiration for what the Pet Shop Boys do, is the way people misunderstand pop culture. It annoys me that after more than twenty-five years, Top of the Pops, Britain’s most important pop-music TV program, changed the rules so that you have to sing live. Why? Because the people in control are the kind of conservatives who think that in the ‘60s, everything was much more talented than they are now. It’s all about Rolling Stone rock culture, which is essentially a fear of the new. Rolling Stone’s idea of a musician is Jerry Garcia, from the 60s. Look at all the ‘new’ artists – Curtis Stigers, Michael Bolton, Lenny Kravitz – all of them living in the past. I think you have to live in the future. Or at least in the present.
One could argue that some progress has been made; that, while today's popular-music practitioners are expected to have at least the equivalent of a Master's degree in pop-music history, and to be able to produce an extensively footnoted mix CD of influences to lend support to their works, they are freer to mix and match influences from the past half-century or so of the pop canon, rather than slavishly retreading one particular epoch of rockist purity. Though that's possibly due to the rise of YouTube and Wikipedia, something that the backward-looking rockers of the early 1990s didn't have.

There are 2 comments on "Hatred makes the world go round":

Posted by: Greg Thu Mar 29 19:29:03 2012

It's a standard joke now that all pop/rock music made today is a rehash of some earlier sound, so it's interesting that people were noting this as early as 1992. It was actually a common debate in indie circles ten years earlier, when there was basically a war between two forms that we might now call "post-punk" and "rock revival". The latter, heavily derided at the time, went on to win spectacularly when American grunge took off in the 90s.

I think the best way to understand what has become of rock is to look at the history of jazz, which went through the same process only several decades earlier. Jazz in one form or another was the leading form of pop music in the first half of the 20th century. Trends came and went but they were variations on jazz. Then in the late 50s and 60s rock took off. Jazz responded by going "modern", eschewing pop sensibility and becoming irrelevant to the young. Jazz has not evolved since then - anyone doing jazz now simply chooses one of the pre-70s eras to copy.

Posted by: acb Fri Mar 30 09:40:26 2012

One could argue that the baton of progressive jazz was taken by prog rock and then post-rock, and that anyone wanting to make music that functions along those lines will be doing so with a core of rock instruments (possibly augmented by more jazzy instruments such as chromatic percussion).

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