"Many people feel that, when music is rolled along in the online stream, its context is washed away and its value risked. They aren’t just being wistful— they simply want music to be special, and that specialness seems threatened. The same goes for lovers and critics of almost any artform. They see the stream’s relationship to the art they love as parasitic: existing music, TV, art, books, comics— anything is simply raw material. At best this means the delight of discovery and the pleasure of curation; at worst it means art is ground up, swallowed, and forgotten."
Ok so this is an interesting thought that spawned a long, ponderous, pretentious essay from Pitchfork’s Poptimist. Some interesting bits in there, but the above quote is the main takeaway. I guess I take some issue with this. I think there’s a tendency to confuse proliferation with ephemera. I would argue that the sheer volume of cultural production in 2011 is substantially greater than that of 1991, or even 2001. There are more outlets, more opportunities for artists to share their work or get noticed. So yes, naturally, more of it will be noticed, highlighted and forgotten about a la Rebecca Black or Kreayshawn. How is this different than a one-hit-wonder? The other side of the argument seems to be missing from the article: has quality disappeared? Do we see fewer moments of excellence each year? Or is it that the ratio of quality cultural production relative to total output diminishes as we continue to get bombarded with the Bieber’s of YouTube?
The critic’s role, I think, becomes more valuable and more difficult in these circumstances. To wade through the junk, see it for what it is, and move on to that which will last and should be remembered. There’s more junk, but there’s also just MORE. Is there more that’s truly great that we’re missing or forgetting because it’s part of the constant flow? Hard to say. Is my brain so overloaded I couldn’t remember a few favorites of the last five years? No. Even the greatest years of musical output are marked because they had a few moments of excellence, not a constant stream of awesome.
In sum, there seems to be a lot of hand wringing about culture and stream and what might be getting lost or passed over. But imagine if John and Alan Lomax hadn’t stumbled upon Leadbelly and decided to make some recordings? To be sure, much has been missed throughout history.