Friday, 10 October 2008

rebel selling

This is a screen grab from LastFM before they ruined their design. Putting that to one side for the moment, the interesting thing about it is that, after 'rock', 'alternative' came in as the second most popular tag. A screen grab from today shows much the same pattern.

[Aside: It's interesting how 'seen live' is a major label too. Like Kevin Kelly has said when stuff gets superabundant it gets cheaper to the point of being free. When this happens things that can't be copied become more valued by both the ordinary people, hence the tag's popularity, and record companies, hence the money in music now being in touring.]

There is more than a strong whiff of irony about one of the most popular tags being 'alternative': 'popular' and 'alternative', at first blush, cannot operate in the same place in a Gaussian distribution.

Now, it could be something particular about LastFMers: they might be alternative sort of folk. There's that. It's part of the reason the 'alternative' tag is so big. But, there's a greater truth too: 'alternative' is the driver of capitalism and culture.

Bakunin, Nietzsche, Sombart and Schumpeter all saw capitalism not for the homogeneity it created but as a fundamentally creative (and thus destructive) system. Capitalism and culture can be stated as the effort to escape sameness.

But you get information problems here. There are too many alternatives. Just like brands are there to help solve this problem, so certain things become pin-ups for 'alternative' to avoid the crippling effects of having too many alternative things. These things are then popular for being alternative.
Here, then, 'alternative' and 'popular' can operate the same place on a Gaussian distribution: everyone is trying not to be mainstream.

(Another irony here: counterculturalists believe they are rebelling against 'the system' when they are most probably contributing towards it, because rebellion is in the very spirit of capitalism. This could be problematic: "
Not only does it distract energy and effort from the sort of initiatives that lead to concrete improvements in people's lives, but it encourages wholesale contempt for such incremental changes [The Rebel Sell])


faris said...

we should talk, my friend.

Will said...

Most def. Just popped over to you and seen you're a Chris Morris acolyte too. We now have even more to talk about.

"The headlines tonight: Portillo's teeth removed to boost pound. Exploded cardinal preaches sermon from fish tank. And where now for man raised by puffins."

I have heard rumours that Armstrong and Bain (Peep Show and Thick of It guys) are teaming up with him on something.

I may have to buy a television just for that.

faris said...

yep..see the fund mentalism post - not sure if that's what they are involved in tho...