Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Celine and Globalization

No, not that Céline.

That Celine.

I just finished reading Carl Wilson's book, which I highly recommend to anyone who's a music snob or wants to understand a music snob. I won't say much about the Bourdieu aspect of it, which I think makes a lot of sense. I'm more interested in his argument for music criticism that is more personal, "a tour of aesthetic experience, a travelogue, a memoir." He does this well for Celine, relating her to his divorce and his feelings about getting older, in ways that make sense of why he doesn't like Celine but why he feels conflicted about not liking her.

The most exciting pop music discoveries I've made in the past few years have all been foreign: MIA, Françoise Hardy, Fela Kuti, and Shiina Ringo. This is not to say that these are now my favorite artists, just that there's an extra element of surprise and pleasure in finding something slightly strange or exotic that still sounds great and totally accessible. All four make music rooted in their respective national traditions (although MIA is probably more globalized), but they all respond to dominant American musical genres. My personal aesthetic travelogue would include the fact that I'm not entirely happy with America or with living in America. So my attraction to this stuff is political and personal. MIA and Fela are both explicitly political, while Hardy and Shiina come from countries I've lived in.

One of Wilson's arguments is that because Celine is Quebecoise, people around the world hear her as just slightly non-American. He might have said more about why this is attractive to so many people right now, but the fact that she's huge in Iraq right now is a huge hint. People can hear the positive aspects of America, especially the rags-to-riches dream, without also hearing the music as culturally oppressive. My point is that my appreciation of foreign music (and movies too, probably) is the mirror image of their appreciation of Celine. Both tastes are structured around an understanding of America as the cultural superpower, both attractive and threatening.

Which is also to say that if I were Iraqi, then maybe I'd like her too. But I'm American, so I think she sucks.


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