Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, August 13, 2005

(Updated with 2nd thoughts at the end.)
Indie Rock and Normative Privilege: I’m with Franklin.

In some respects flowing from the normative privileges of white, straight, middle class, northern, urban, male -- which most indie rockers are. One benefit: press attention disproportionate to sales. By contrast, a folk singer-songwriter like Bob Franke, who as I understand it makes a middle class living from his music, isn’t going to get written up in the “Voice.” Or even Greg Brown, who probably makes an upper-middle class living. They’re both straight white middle-class males, but from the hipster urban perspective, the singer-songwriter folk thing looks suburban. And that’s not cool.

Or gospel. A Black church in my neighborhood plays an almost death-metal variety of traditional gospel -- intense heavy minor chords, heavy beats, and traditional Black gospel singing with a serious edge. Where does that come from? Is it this congregation’s unique style? Or are there gospel acts out there selling in the range of my friend’s friend Jesse Sykes? I wouldn’t know, but I also wouldn’t be surprised.

That ‘94 article on the Seattle Indie Rock scene that I wrote about last week: Calling one particular scene “the music community” is all about normative privilege. (To be fair, the author only used the phrase once, but still.)

Of course, the easier access to mainstream press that flows from Indie’s normative comfort is as nothing compared to the privileges of race and class and sex that most of its practitioners already enjoy. To name just one: studies prove, every year, in almost every town in America: a white person with a credit profile identical to that of a black person has a good chance of getting a better interest rate on a loan than the black person, just because of skin color.

That’s why I was puzzled by Jordan’s response to Franklin’s post, when he argued against the presumption of normative privilege and said, “You get the frame of reference you set for yourself.” Even in the aesthetic realm, I don’t think things are that simple, and I’ve read numerous accounts of black, or female, or gay artists saying, “I don’t want to be thought of as a black, or a female, or a gay artist; that’s not the frame of reference I choose for myself.” I don’t know of much evidence that the Normative urge to box the Other into a category of Difference has been lessening. I’m glad “Will and Grace” is a hit TV show -- seriously -- and Samuel Jackson has gotten some great roles, but he’s not getting the Sean Connery-type aging Lothario roles. Lots of white actors are, and they’re not all particularly pretty men.

I did appreciate Jordan’s exhortation to by all means DIY, “But D as much of I as Y can imagine.” Yeah!

2nd thought: It does seem that we as a society are making progress in broadening the definition of "the norm," especially in subcultural and "high arts" scenes, and even somewhat in the mass culture "pop" world. Long way still to go, but I shouldn't pooh-pooh.
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