Drowning Out the Punditocracy
It’s now been a week since the U.S. presidential election. When last I wrote, the results were not yet in. But if your reading material consists of any other publication besides Oklahoma’s Sapulpa Daily Herald, you know the outcome. CNN actually claims to have set new records for viewers on election night this year, but the coverage hasn’t stopped since then. And I’m still watching it. This campaign has lasted longer than any in U.S. history, but we still can’t get enough.
One of the discussions I’ve been continuing to follow closely is the question of media bias, which is a charge that can and indeed has been leveled by all sides both before and after. Wearing my music journalist hat here, though, I find it all rather curious.
In “big J” journalism, the goal is for the folks covering the news to be completely impartial. Walter Cronkite claimed to have never voted in an election out of concern that casting a ballot would compromise his neutrality. Yet in this same world, the way the media covers music and other cultures is designed to be completely partial—it’s all about a critic telling us whether something is good or bad, rather than telling us enough information about something from which we should then be able to make up our own minds.
There’s been a discussion of late on these pages about the importance of discernment. I agree to its importance, but I have issues with proscribing what others’ discernments should be. My own listening quest has been a constant attempt to keep judgment (the evaluative scales that say something is better or worse than anything else), not discernment (the ability to comprehend something deeply on its own terms), from preventing my learning to appreciate something—e.g. some critic or anyone else telling me something is bad and I shouldn’t pay attention to it. I’ve never allowed anything to simply wash over me; I’m too busy analyzing it. But I strive for that analysis to have nothing to do with my own aesthetic preferences, and indeed hope that what I am analyzing will wind up expanding my aesthetic horizons.
When I was young, I was told that minimalism was bad, but it became a fundamental part of my musical language and remains so to this day. In recent years, everyone has been saying that serialism is bad; the attacks on serialism have made me learn to appreciate the row and compose with it. Being simultaneously inspired and influenced by minimalism and serialism seems contradictory, kinda like being a Joe Liebermann of music perhaps, but I believe that once you ignore what certain pundits say is the only path is when you will find your own path.
Of course, everyone has opinions, even Walter Cronkite, and it’s impossible to completely ignore them. But we should always be questioning them and trying to be as open as possible, especially if we are in a position where what we think has the potential to influence what others think.