Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anatomy of a Backlash

When the Black Eyed Peas performed during Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show one detail was obviously askew: it was terrible. The over-amplified montage of Peas songs interspersed with special guests and robot dancers was just bad - and everyone agreed, at first.

But a funny thing happens on the way to general consensus, a new phenomenon called backlash/anti-backlash. The initial judgement of spectators and critics feed off each other and form a gigantic wave of disapproval that seems almost unwarranted and misguided. An then, seeking a fresh outlook on the situation, writers reconsider and the reverse happens.

First, capturing the blind outrage of the moment, The Village Voice's Rob Harvilla posted his take just hours after the game, in the midst of the zeitgeist of halftime pop star backlash:
So the Peas wore porno-Tron outfits, don't so much sing as just yell at you semi-rhythmically, have no good songs other than "I Gotta Feeling," and had to literally airlift Usher in just so they had one guy available who could do the splits.
Yup. That pretty much about does it. But this is the Internet, where less than 24 hours later another music writer had - surprise - a different take on the half time extravaganza.

This second writer (at a newly-minted pop music apologist retreat) was posed with a consistent, nagging challenge: how to say something new, interesting, and controversial about a universally accepted truth.

"If You Hate The Black Eyed Peas, You Hate America" sounds like a satire piece, one that intentionally pokes fun by ridiculing music snobs and riding the the anti-backlash wave at the same time. But with stats, figures, and derisive asides the piece plays as a sugar coated pop music apology rather than an insightful analysis.

From the piece:
Crackers don’t like the Black Eyed Peas.
Dumb. And also, not very funny. Reading on...
Much of the vitriol against the Peas returns to the idea that they are not “real musicians and real artists,” in contrast to the Who and Paul McCartney, two previous halftime performers.
Really? Most vitriol I hear comes from well-versed electronic music fans who think the group are just vapid hook-and-meme generators. Sounds more like a wild reach at a counter attack.

There is, of course, some value in re-assessing the other side of an opinion in an attempt to discover any overlooked granule of worthiness in something as clearly simplistic as the Black Eyes Peas. But using multiculturalism and rockist arguments as a crutch without addressing the actual merits is perpetuating this phantom notion that everything has two sides, all pop culture has intrinsic value.

The now-common practice of re-evaluating and second guessing everything breeds an environment where the new Kayne album is not actually good, the president might be a Muslim, and Ronald Reagan is a great American hero.

In the 21st century there are no truths we hold self-evident.

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