Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Fargo Rock City": Inclusion and Group Identity

I mentioned on Friday that I was in the middle of Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman.

There is a lot to like about this book. First, Klosterman writes the way I think (and try, with considerably less success, to write). Second, I like popular music generally, and there is educational value in learning about glam metal from a true believer. Third, I'm convinced that the chapter about being campus Drunken Fun Guy was written about one of my roomates. (No, not this one, but the one who demanded to be given a breathalyzer when the cops broke up a kegger even though A) he wasn't driving, B) he was obviously, visibly and aggresively drunk. How he didn't get on the ground floor of this, I'll never know. But I digress.)

In the end, though, my favorite of the book's themes is how a band's fanbase is largely self-determined - it often has less to do with the music the band is playing then with who else is listening. I think KISS is crap, but metalheads of a certain era love them, largely because the metalheads of that era love them. Sound circular? Well in a way it is. Klosterman alludes to it thusly (emphasis mine):
The Keyboard Issue was like a secret handshake. People took it seriously (and sometimes to unjustified extremes), but disliking the concept of keyboards wasn't really about the bands or the music. It was actually about the fans. It was a sign of credibility for someone in the metal subculture. It seperated "metal fans" from people who were along for the ride. Keyboards strayed outside the metal ethic, just as long hair and self-indulgent guitar soloing were unacceptable in the punk and harcore scene
Integral to any group identity is the ability to exclude. And this dynamic is hardly confined to music. Consider the WaPo's rather headscratch-inducing article on "Angry Left Bloggers" from yesterday. RIA's response in part:
It's hard for me to imagine wanting to vote for anyone who would meet with the approval of O'Connor and her ilk; in fact, that might very well be a disqualifying factor in and of itself.
I'm not picking on RIA here: the individual blogger as portrayed in the article (the article really is something of a hachet job, down to the most unflattering photo they could find...) is, to say the least, lacking in personal charm and decorum. And it would quite rightly call into question the judgment of those who chose to associate with her, ergo...

But the really interesting thing to me is who serves as the gatekeeper. In my completely unscientific observation, those who do the most to police group membership are those closest to the boundry themselves. A subset is the 'excessive zeal of the convert. To quote Groucho, "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members."

Lest I give the impression that the book is all high-minded or something, let me reiterate, it's about glam metal. The treatment is at most semi-serious, and usually not even that. He even takes about 20 pages playing the "how much would you have to pay me" game, where he rates various albums by, wait for it, how much you'd have to pay him to never listen again. Most of those listed are shit, According to Pooh, and I might pay you for me to never have to listen, but it's not about me. Plus, he agrees that "Apetite For Destruction" is the bomb, so he has some sense.

Verdict: You'd have to pay me more to not read the book then you'd have to pay me to not listen to most of the records discussed. And I mean that in a good way...

note for the two of you counting, this is only #4 in my 50 in 52 resolution. Yes, I'm behind, but not by as much as it looks, since I have about 9 open right now. I lack attention span...

No comments: