I've been taught that it is a breach of netiquette to reproduce comments from Google Reader. So I'm not going to relate a conversation I read a couple of months ago between two scholars I respect a great deal, though the gist was that Los Angeles jerk music was just too commercial.
Oh, they didn't use that exact term, but I got the drift. They talked about "genre-brands" and "entering into the symbolic circuits of consumer capitalism", and if they didn't use the preposterous, worker-demeaning term "affective labour" it was probably by accident. Jerk (which I don't think either of them dislike, by the way) supposedly was close in the way it presented itself to the commercial end of capitalism, and contained a bunch of aspects that supposedly pegged it as particularly interested in selling itself. This in contrast with Chicago's juke/footwork music, held up as a relative anti-capitalist ideal by comparison.
Well, I beg to differ. Juke is also consistently wonderful music, but it certainly plays much closer to the capitalist rules, and is in many ways much more in line with a capitalist ideal. And I think calling it "consumer capitalist" is making jerk's quiet rebellion a great disservice.
What was the most successful capitalist music product online last year? Obviously, such a product's quality is to be measured in the only language that capitalism understands: sales. Thus the most capitalist product in downloadable media was, by a good distance, neither Lady Gaga nor the Black Eyed Peas but the extremely successful album Only by the Night by Kings of Leon. It's aesthetic is entirely in a supposedly non-capitalistic, "alternative" mode, with a hand-painted album cover, sullen-looking, black-clad album photos, and a sort of supposedly earnest rock music that's miles from Flo Rida.
The same relationship exists with juke and jerk. Jerk is spreading to poor communities as far away as panama, but juke is definitely the most promising capitalist product - it's got major backing from the hot and hip, and is apparently all over London right now. And yet, it is seen as less commercial! So, bizarrely, is dubstep, perhaps the single most successful new electronic music form of the last decade.
A classic Marxist/rockist explanation of the success of juke and Kings of Leon and dubstep would be the idea of selling out, or in Marxist parlance the "parasitic" nature of capitalism, latching onto non-capitalistic creative scenes. From my point of view, though, a much better biological analogy is that of symbiosis, what a feminist like me would call intersectionality: the fact that capitalism closely associates and connects itself to other systems of power, other dichotomies that divide the world. Clear, unambiguous, oversimplified divisions like "mainstream" vs "alt" allows capitalism to thrive, and it in turn creates and nourishes the power dimension that these divisions rely on.
Take the rebel archetype, the idea of someone who's supposedly standing up to power. As it looks like right now, the rebel is a complete bourgeois, patriarchal, pro-violence invention of the romantic era - inevitably male, inevitably black-clad, inevitably seething with agression. Into this archetype all kinds of people get sucked in - how often have not delinquent street gangs, bikers, warrior groups been recast as "rebels" of some sort? And whether it likes it or not, juke fits right into the ideal: all-male, industrial-set, clad in mainly dour colours, hyper-competitive in a warrior mode, with footwork crews named stuff like "Wolf Pac" and "Terra Squad" (talk about self-branding, by the way). Of course the alt/"rebel" set is going to love it!
Only of course it appeals immensely to capitalism itself as well. Companies have profited majorly of that particular rebel stereotype, which is built immensely on consumption of a particular image. It's not only easy to package and sell, but the way it maintains the oppression of the poor/not cool enough, of women, of transgressive gays suits capitalism perfectly. In some ways, reducing the supposed left to a bunch of middle-class, revolution-dreaming, black-clothes-buying patriarchal rebels is capitalism's greatest achievement, because it totally neutralises any real opposition. Autonomic Marxism and capitalism really go hand in hand.
Jerk, by contrast, is a totally different kind of beast. It takes this particular capitalist dichotomy and totally fucks it over. Women are much more visible, the colours are bright, the competition is toned down (how non-capitalist is that!). And they stay away from traditional capitalist channels to a large extent, existing on hard-to-monetise youtube, releasing 96 kbps MP3s, dancing on streets and rooftops. It remains difficult to categorise and thus difficult to monetise; besides one moderate mid-chart hit, it's really not produced a whole lot of value to capitalism at all. And its ambiguties and lack of a clear archetype have created a lot more stirring in the general sentiment (see the skinny jeans debate) than juke and footwork ever could.
It's far from as clear. But clarity, of course, is a capitalist virtue...
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