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The Quantum-fied Self
music is just cuisine now and everything is cosplay
My high school ex-girlfriend - whose birthday gift to me in 2004 (a hand-painted copy of Monet’s Regatta at Argenteuil) inspired the tattoo that adorns the upper half of my left arm - has a theory about people who, when asked what kind of music they like, claim to like everything: They LOVE specific music, they just don’t trust you and they are lying to you.
Or maybe some people are just boring.
Music hits us, or most of us, in our emotional core. It is a pretty vulnerable art form, all things considered. Enjoying songs, even as a listener, is vulnerable because it implicitly highlights the hidden nature of our underlying emotional landscape, which we tend to either repress or control as a method of functioning in polite society.
Music is embarrassing because it’s personal and it’s a choice. We are responsible for our taste and our taste is a rejection of other tastes. Telling someone what kind of music you like is embarrassing, unless they like the same kind and then it’s interesting. Then again, maybe I’m just emo.
Well, so begins an essay I might have written five years ago. The problem is I no longer believe any of it. Because the most underreported and misunderstood phenomenon of the early 21st century is the death of mainstream and its knock-on effects. It used to mean something to be emo or goth or to like rap music but nowadays our entire society has gone culturally… polyamorous? For the first time in human history it’s possible to be wishy washy on the Beatles v Stones debate. Rather than representing opposite ideological dispositions and attitudes toward life, Beatles v Stones is just… Chipotle v Dos Toros.
Who the F are we? Once you get past the divine spark of consciousness it starts to devolve pretty quickly. Nothing these days seems to entail a rejection of anything else.
Just like the poly crowd has removed the transgressive thrill of sex, the death of mainstream has removed the transgressive thrill of subculture! Monogamy basically works because of the sacred ritual in which we sacrifice banging random hotties in order to demonstrate our love to the one person we *are* banging (well and also sociologically because it’s sexual communism). Some people would say polyamory works too but in my experience the poly folk end up needing some other ritual sacrifice to demonstrate their commitment (I tend to suggest “avoiding bacon!” to my poly friends when we discuss the appropriate sacrificial barometer to use, the proverbial line that MUST NOT BE CROSSED lest TRUST IS BROKEN)
The point (is there a point?) is that culture used to be warring camps, and mainstream used to have these absurd gatekeepers hemming and hawing and some of them would get upset when Conor Oberst talked shit to the president on late night TV. But nowadays it’s choose your own reality and nobody gets mad about what Conor Oberst says because everyone just yells about stuff they already think to people who literally already agree with them. None of this is news. But somehow this *also* results in the marginal cost of being a fan of anything is basically zero. Which means everyone *does* in fact kinda like everything because… why wouldn’t they?
Recently at a goth concert I was struck by the feeling that we were all at something a lot more like comic con than a goth show. There really were no people there who identified as goth other than for the evening. Then I realized, years too late, that everything in life is basically cosplay but the postmodern afterburner on this phenomenon is that there isn’t much left that isn’t cosplay because that was what mainstream was.
Growing up I thought cosplayers were weird. Now it’s pretty clear everyone is cosplaying all the time and life is basically half theater. Maybe this was always true and I’m just realizing it now? Judith Butler said gender is performance. Shakespeare took it a step further when he said:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
Uhh. Am I just getting older?
I think about this stuff a lot because I am occasionally accused of being a finance bro, something I still don’t know if I am (but u may have an opinion! leave it in the comments if u want)
Do I enjoy cosplaying as a finance bro in my professional life? Absolutely. Is there actually a functional difference? Unclear. But let’s not boil the ocean on this and don’t stay up all night figuring it out. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and we just need to get the ball over the finish line.
To be clear, I enjoy cosplaying as finance bro as much as I enjoy cosplaying as goth or emo. (BUT, I enjoy neither as much as I enjoyed cosplaying as Tuxedo Mask when one of my very kind ex-girlfriends cosplayed as Sailor Moon on a particularly memorable evening). This either makes me a bonafide ‘goth bro’ (I love this for me!) OR, I’m actually Tuxedo Mask (love this for me too) OR, I’m neither goth nor bro and this is all just what the aforementioned Conor Oberst is singing about when he gets done yelling at the president on TV and sings, at the end of At the Bottom of Everything:
I’m happy just because
I found out I am really no one.
And bringing it back to the aforementioned Beatles, what *they* perhaps meant in their song Nowhere Man:
He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nice tune, sure, but for what it’s worth, I much prefer the Stones.
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