Public Enemy are rubbish? If only more classic albums got this treatment …

The likelihood of a literature critic defending a piece by an intern expressing ignorance of Shakespeare, or Yeats, or Dickens, or whomever – pretty much zero. This is just another anti-‘authenticity’ diatribe which treats pop music as a lesser art form. What is a ‘canon’, after all? A body of work which is generally accepted as being a) hugely influential and b) of outstanding artistic merit. It provides a context, a shared history and even, yes, something to react against. I wrote more about this here.

The argument against “the belief that an objective response is possible” is a deeply disingenuous one, particularly coming from a critic. It’s premised on the mistaken belief that criticism consists of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ responses and should instead solely consist of ‘did I as an individual listener like this?’. The latter, of course, makes all criticism utterly pointless and redundant. It’s a sleight-of-hand move, someone denying their privileged platform, shrugging at their craft. Because at its best, criticism is an art. It tells us about the work in hand, yes, but also about our culture, our history, ourselves. People don’t remember great critics because they were ‘right’, they remember them because they cared passionately about their chosen subject, brought enthusiasm and knowledge to bear on it, illuminated it in new ways, pushed it forward. In short, they did not merely write ‘This is good’. They had more respect for their craft than that. This is why people found that NPR intern piece so awful – less that the writer was unaware of Public Enemy, more that they positively revelled in their ignorance and showed absolutely no curiosity about it. Any fledgling critic dismissing ‘classic’ works in a genre they claim to love because they were released “before I was even born!” is off to a terrible start in their career of writing about art for others. Really, what are they going to offer other than ‘I like this’? Again, no theatre critic with an avowed interest in modernist drama would snottily dismiss Brecht because of when his work was written. That’s not to say that they would necessarily love Brecht, they simply would not revel in the fact that they were ignorant of him.

The argument that criticism should consist of an individual response to an individual work, stripped of any attempts at context, is a very capitalistic one. It sees an album as a product to be consumed, the review as akin to an Amazon rating for a blender. “It did the job well”. Any critic who thinks they have nothing exceptional to offer, who celebrate being ‘just a listener like anyone else’, who patronisingly congratulate ‘young’ writers for their self-gratifying ignorance, should clear out of their privileged platforms.

Public Enemy are rubbish? If only more classic albums got this treatment …

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