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The Girl from Ipanema Takes On Health-Care Reform [Oct. 25th, 2009|01:58 pm]
[mood |busybusy]
[music |Fine Young Cannibals: "Ever Fallen in Love?"]

Is there any music more democratically egalitarian than elevator music? It seems to me that any other form of music privileges some at the expense of others--classical music, rap, rock'n'roll, even pop or "top 40," each of these has its demographic, its fan base, to whom it will appeal. The playing of such musics in any space will, then, bring more enjoyment to this demographic, while bringing no pleasure--or even displeasure--to the rest. It would seem that the only way to be genuinely egalitarian, then, would be to play elevator music: the only genre of music that has no demographic, that offends everyone, that is guaranteed to bring no more pleasure to your neighbor than it does to you.

In How to Read Lacan, Slavoj Zizek writes:
Lacan shares with Nietzsche and Freud the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy: our envy of the other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the other should be curtailed, so that everyone's access to enjoyment will be equal. The necessary outcome of this demand, of course, is asceticism: since it is not possible to impose equal enjoyment, what one can impose is an equally shared prohibition. (37)
Zizek goes on to make a point about our "permissive" postmodern societies, and the forced enjoyment of substances deprived of their true danger--decaf coffee, sugar-free desserts, etc. But this leaves the original point standing: that "justice" is only realizeable under current conditions through the universal prohibition on enjoyment--In other words, that the only truly egalitarian situation would be one in which nobody gets any enjoyment.

...But would this not make our current political system the "best of all possible worlds" after all? The two positions available in American politics today, after all, are partisan deadlock, and bipartisan compromise. Either everyone insists on getting what they want, and nobody gets anything; or everyone makes compromises, and we all get what nobody really wants...Is this not the truest democracy available to us, then? The inverse of Habermas's "consensus politics," this dissensus politics would seem to tuly make all equal in their utter disappointment...

The problem, it seems to me, comes in the way we have implicitly accepted the idea of politics as consumption: just as the passive listener "consumes" the elevator music, we all too often conceive of the political subject as a passive subject, "consuming" politics. And as long as such is the case, then the "real-world compromises" that comprise representational democratic politics are indeed about as "egalitarian" as we're going to get. But we must not lose sight of the fact that this is an illusory egalitarianism, presented as a spectacle for the passive spectator's consumption. To appropriate a phrase, "Politics is not a banana." Democracy is not simply a matter of walking through a salad bar, saying "yes" and "no" to the various, presented options.

[User Picture]From: mavinga
2009-11-12 07:04 pm (UTC)

Commenting mostly on the idea that elevator music offends...

I agree that it offends for a number of reasons, but I suspect it's mostly because its very design makes assumptions, not so much about one individual, but about all individuals. It's designed to be pleasant, or at least not unpleasant, to all. In an individualistic culture, that may not be a favor, but an offense which is how generalizations tend to be received. It's important to point out that the designer, and the 'DJ', if you will, make and impose these assumptions.

If time seems to show that, despite the aspirations of its design, the best that elevator music will evoke is no effect to the point of being easier to ignore than silence itself and if, at worst, it eventually has a sour, or offensive effect; would it not be that most would agree to specifically reject it first and opt for anything else or no music at all?
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[User Picture]From: archas
2009-11-12 08:59 pm (UTC)
Ah--I think that two things you've said really catch my attention. First, this idea that elevator music is written to be palatable to, not just the average person, but to the universal person. I think that's right...and it can serve as the signpost to an interesting lesson about "universal" humanity--whatever a "person" is, once you've subtracted each and every thing that makes people different, unique, quirky, etc. As Wittgenstein asks somewhere, what does a face look like when it has no expression? Or: what would a day with no weather be like? Heh...

Second: this idea that elevator music is "easier to ignore than silence itself." Such a simple idea, but so insightful! It's something I don't notice enough--elevator music comes from whatever it is that makes silence uncomfortable; this need to "fill in the gaps," etc. Piping in even offensively bland music is regarded as better than the silent alternative! And this is why, as I think you're pointing out, elevator music continues to be made and sold...

Thanks! I suspect I could write an entire "philosophy of elevator music," just using it as a jump-off point to explore a number of cultural and political issues...(But would it end up being a bland book; and one which people just read because it's better than not reading anything at all?)
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[User Picture]From: mavinga
2009-11-14 11:00 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you make me laugh!
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