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The Ol' Philosopher

Hip-hop News (or Newsies Delight)

What’s the difference between what we’re calling “news” nowadays and popular music? Sample. Remix. Mashup. Grab a little from here, grab a little of that. Throw it on Twitter. Throw it on Facebook. Put it on a blog. Rinse. Repeat.

This came up from a comment that was made on a Facebook group I’m a part of:

They have a Twitter post in there. Let me double check though. Sheesh I miss the days when a story was a story.

“…when a story was a story.”  My first reaction?  “Sheesh I miss the days when the medium was the message.”

Has the internet finally killed McLuhan?  Besides the fact that he’s been dead for quite a while, I mean. We got hung up on “global villages” and extending our senses without noticing that “medium” doesn’t mean much anymore.

I have absolutely no business talking about popular music. I will look like the complete idiot I am because I know very, very little about it. It’s not a point of pride.  It’s not something I apologize for. It’s not that I don’t like music. I love music. I just don’t follow it much. I hear stuff I like all the time. I just don’t care enough about it to nerd out on it. I’m probably missing out, but I’m OK with it. I’m glad other people do.  I do know the process of making music is digital, though. Deciding to “be analog” is an artistic choice that comes with its own baggage. It used to just be the way things were. Sampling started pre-digital, but it got a lot easier to scale when digital came along. Anybody could do it. And they did.

I look forward to the day we have to explain a dual-“turntable” digital DJ mixer to a space alien. It’ll be a good warmup for explaining Twitter.

I’ve been thinking for a while that the processes described in Joshua Meyrowitz’s No Sense of Place have been accelerated and magnified through social media. He describes in his book how broadcast television broke the connection between physical and social spaces. Simply put, television showed everyone how the other half lived. Or at least it purported to, anyway. The effect was disruptive. The Civil Rights movement and the other social upheavals of the the 1960s and 1970s tracked right along with the rise of television as a dominant force in American society.  People saw how other people lived and said “holy crap, we’re getting screwed.” And they went out and did something about it.

I’ve been OK with this idea, but it hasn’t quite clicked for me yet. What’s happening now is similar to what Meyrowitz described, but I’m not sure it’s just that there’s more of it happening faster. I think it’s the matter of resolution.  Just like analog-to-digital processing can sample at rates far above human perception,¹ social media allows us to drill down below the level of broad group-level descriptions. We knew that what we saw on television back in the day wasn’t real representation of anyone’s specific life, but it was probably some sort of average. Now?  We can see down to the pixel or the sample. Facebook and Twitter shows us the trees and now we realize don’t really understand forests anymore.

My students are in the process of writing final projects for the semester and one of the things I keep urging them to do is revise, revise, revise. Write and then go back and fix it. You’re not going to write a finished product in a first draft. You’re used to reading final drafts. They didn’t start out looking that way.

We used to live in a world where we based what we knew off final drafts. Now we’re just waiting for the next remix.

Still not done with this.  Have to think about it more…


¹And I don’t give a fuck that you think you can tell the difference between a sampled file and an analog one. Compression?  Sure. Not all perceptual compression is going to fit everyone’s specific sensitivities. But not mere sampling. Your ego is exceeding your hardware.