Saturday, July 2, 2011
Has Facebook, however temporarily, taken the place of rock music in erstwhile rock fans’ lives? Think of how much time people spend on Facebook— what are they doing? It amounts to more than socialization— people construct entire public selves, to lead active, public lives. This starts young, too— kids learn to bond over what happens on Facebook, rather than what happens on MTV (even if the position of most television hasn’t been as threatened, and remains a cultural idée fixe). What Facebook does, essentially, is to create a substitute for all-consuming “fandom.” The adolescent psyche declares: “I am who am on Facebook, not the person follows Metallica (or Morrissey or Radiohead or Bright Eyes).” It’s not that kids don’t take their fandom with them onto Facebook, it’s that the nature of rock fandom itself has changed, been abraded. It isn’t just Facebook that’s doing it— kids make YouTube videos, start blogs as well. The Net is a site for instant (if minor) stardom, and creates egalitarian social contexts in which anyone with an imagination can succeed. But the prestige of the rock star (who has done what you can’t do) has diminished accordingly.
Facebook makes everyone feel like a rock star. Everyone on Facebook is, to an extent, “in the biz”; like celebrities, they can create a body of self-signifying images. It used to be a cliché that celebrities up close look different (and often less attractive) than their films/videos; now, people who meet online are often stunned when they meet face to face, for similar reasons. Facebook pushes things so that everyone lives and functions in the public sphere. People talk about themselves as if they’re abstract entities, public property, complete with persistent mythologies and the hard reality of “who they really are.” That aura, of being “public property,” is cultivated by a large mass of people in America who without the Internet would have no chance or means of doing so. Even as the distant, omnipotent rock star isn’t needed anymore. What is the preferable system— a million little rock stars or twenty big ones? The “twenty big rock stars and no one else” model really only works if the twenty big rock stars deserve, through charisma and artistic ability, to be where they are, over the million hopefuls. I would argue that this is not particularly the case. Apropos of this, where science is concerned, you can’t fake it; you either have the goods (something demonstrably new you’ve discovered or accomplished) or you don’t. Rock biz is entertainment biz; much of it is fakery and flim-flam. Musically, it can be difficult to distinguish bottom-feeders from top-dogs.
To twist a Portland-ism, it might be good if rock stars really do get killed; even if the would-be million instantly develop inflated egos. On the other hand, the rock biz is already falling so badly out of focus that no one knows who to look at anymore. Some people prefer distant heroes who they can dream about. Others may drop out of the business if there’s no lofty material target to shoot for. Still, it does objectively seem that the advantages of the new system outweigh the disadvantages. Ideally, everyone should be able to live out their American Rock Dreams. If “living the dream” isn’t what it used to be, it must be acknowledged that that’s true across the board in America in 2011. This isn’t a time of bright and shining promise— for left-leaning minds, it’s one of general disillusionment. Many Americans feel that America (and with it, perhaps, the prestige of the rock star) has peaked. The Internet is as close to a new frontier as we have. It connects 2011 to the revolutionary 60s, even if many of our wallets reflect 70s level realities. Making yourself up may take the edge off, and allows creativity to enter people’s lives. As such, there’s little reason not to embrace the process as we see it taking shape around us.