Monday, November 7, 2011

PPC (Public Pop Culture)

music: Dirty Beaches - Horses

What in the end is more antisocial: blasting your in-car sound system or boom-box, or walking through a city wearing iPod headphones? The former is a contribution to civic vitality, even if it feels like noise pollution; the other is withdrawal from the street life. Music was meant to spill out into public space. You think of hip hop (with its block parties and party jams, literally music of the streets) and rave (appropriating buildings or public land), but also the poignant stories of people huddling in silent awe around the radio or someone's record player the week that Sgt Pepper's was released. The iPod is fundamentally asocial. OK, you get people who plug their iPods in at parties, but at best this is an update of the host's mix-tape, at worst the vastly expanded update of the boor that takes over the music centre and imposes his taste on everybody else.

The excerpt above is from the book I'm currently reading (still reading, yeah, I know, I'm such a slooow reader): Simon Reynolds's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past. I'm loving the book and I have so so much to learn from it. However, I do not share Reynolds's stand on the headphones-in-public issue. Quelle surprise.

What's so great about what's going on in the street that you have to experience it with all your senses? Using your mp3 player as a way of isolating yourself from street life is just a natural response when you do not identify with what's going on in the street. Ppl being loud on their phones, ppl being rude, traffic, construction / road workers, etc. etc. - it's all noise pollution. On some days you might be fine with it, on other days you'll want to mute it.

And you learn to appreciate the invention of mp3 players when you don't have one on you and desperately wish you had one on you because the sound of being in public makes you cringe or downright infuriates you.

These days I'm mp3-player-less. I mean, I still have my mp3 player. Not an iPod. I can't afford an iPod. I have a lame mp3 player with a 1 Gb memory that runs on a AAA battery, which is not exactly environmentally friendly, but then again I don't use it that often as I don't go out that often. I'm trying to stay away from earbud headphones, and until I get a new set of headphones, I have to go out into the world without my mp3 player. That can become quite a problem during my train trips to/ from Cluj. There will be ppl who will be talking w/out adjusting their volume, like they're the only passengers, and sometimes I find it difficult to concentrate on my book. As if that weren't enough there will be the occasional "boor" who appoints himself the train DJ. Because the music he has on his phone is oh so incredibly awesome.

The day after I had read the above excerpt, i.e. on Friday, I was once again taking a train to Cluj and resumed my reading only to be later interrupted by a self-appointed train DJ. I wanted to say sth but refrained myself as you never know what nutjob you might be dealing with. (And at seeing this man get off the train I concluded I was wise in keeping my mouth shut.) At first I got really angry because he was playing the exact type of music I did not want to be made to hear. Then I jokingly told myself I should maybe try to appreciate the anthropological potential of the situation or at least take it as a counterargument to Reynolds's ideas - music is not always meant to spill out into public space. There's a reason headphones exist and that's not only to allow you to isolate yourself from street noise but also to shield you from other ppl's crappy taste in music. Because, seriously, who would want to sit through this playlist?

  1. unidentified manea
  2. unidentified manea
  3. Rihanna - Rude Boy (skipped)
  4. Lady Gaga ft. Beyonce - Telephone
  5. unidentified manea (skipped)
  6. unidentified manea
  7. N & D - Vino la mine
  8. unidentified manea (skipped)
  9. N & D - Vino la mine

Need I say more?

(This is very similar to the type of music my cousin had on his computer a few years ago: maybe a few of the latest international hits, Romanian music, and plenty of manele. His "DJ-ing" was also very ADD-like - he would rarely listen to a song till the end, if what he was doing could even be called listening.)

What's interesting is that more and more ppl are using their laptops on the train (I only used mine twice on the train and I was pretty nervous about plugging it into those sockets). So now you have ppl watching movies in public. I remember these two girls watching a movie together and thinking they were being so rude. I mean, who wants to hear explosions and screams and all that? It's just rude. I don't know how else to say it. You either watch it with headphones on or you don't watch it at all.

Later on last Friday, coming back home, I got a seat next to some cool college kids. I resumed my reading of Retromania and after a few pages I put it down for a sec. The guy next to me asked me if I wanted to watch a movie. (At first I thought he was looking at my other seat neighbor, but no, he was looking at me. Um yeah, that's how huge my insecurities are - even when sm is looking at me and talking to me, I'm not sure if they are looking at me and talking to me.) So I said yes, because why refuse a movie? (although I had just satisfied my cinephage appetite with Tomboy and Din dragoste, cu cele mai bune intenţii/ Best Intentions.) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. I had not even heard of this movie but the title told me everything I needed to know. It was a Hollywood movie. And no, we were not rude. We watched the movie with headphones on (he had two seats). But then I started feeling rude and like a huge egoist because I realized oh wait I'm not gonna be able to watch the entire movie. Ugh, I should've switched seats with my other seat neighbor and let him watch the movie. What a greedy cinephage I can be sometimes. So I saw half of Percy Jackson, courtesy of my seat neighbor, and the other half the next day, at home.

This got me thinking not so much about the way we consume movies in public (others have ruminated on this subject more successfully than I could) but about what movies we choose to watch in public. My snobby preconception is this: ppl who watch movies on the train will not choose any art house type of movie. They will go for the blockbusters, or for whatever is new on their torrent site of choice. I kinda doubt Romanians check the rating of a movie before watching it, so I wonder: are they concerned the movie they're watching in public, maybe sitting next to a potentially judgmental elderly person, may contain extreme violence and/or (full-frontal) nudity? Do they play it safe and go for a Pixar movie or sth aimed at teens? Anyways. Thank you, kind stranger, both for the movie and for the unintentional food for thought.


George said...

Si, atat? Doar v-ati uitat la film :)? Hraneste-ne dorinta de romantism.

Btw, don't you think that you are too self aware sometimes?

plectrude said...

Ce pot spune? Am plecat ca o cenuşăreasă înainte de terminarea balului, i.e. a filmului. No, seriously. There was no romantic innuendo, sorry to disappoint.

(If you're looking for romance stories, you're in the wrong place, my friend.)

Dar apropo de potenţialul romantic al transportului în comun, chiar a doua zi citeam asta - - şi mă gândeam: hm, hai că nu e chiar aşa de rău la noi.

And I don't think, I know I'm too self-aware. That can be annoying, I am aware of that (see what I did there?) but ppl who do not have an ounce of self-awareness are also annoying. My goal is to someday wind up somewhere in the middle and stay there.