Friday, April 22

Pop music, spam, frozen food, and product quality in general

For reasons I don't fully fathom, I was singing old Tragically Hip songs to myself this morning. When I got to work, I looked through my (rather impressive, if I do say so myself) desktop collection of CDs for the some old Hip albums. I didn't find any (I think they're at home). But I did find some contemporaneous albums from Our Lady Peace, which is another late-90s early-21st-century CanRock band that got limited play south of the border after exploding in treacly chunks of ubiquitous, radio-friendly distorted guitar all over the Canadian airwaves.

You'd think from my description there that I'm about to pull a Pitchfork on OLP here, sneer, and dismiss them as too 'Hoi Polloi' for a jaded, cultured man such as myself. And I have to say, it's tempting. The thing is, I actually enjoy their music. Even with lyrics like
There's nothing left to prove / there's nothing I won't do / there's nothing like the pain / I feel for you / there's / nothing left to hide / there's nothing left to fear / I am always here
I still enjoy the music! In fact, if I was at home I'd probably be rocking out in my living room. (Rocking out is discouraged at the office. Don't ask me to share how I know this.)

There's two ways to approach my liking OLP's music: either it doesn't actually suck, or it sucks and I like it anyway. I hold it's the latter, actually; if it's wrong to like hooky stadium-rock power chords layered under a mediocre but oh so angsty frontman's voice, then I don't wanna be right. I choose to set my quality bar for music such that OLP gets a passing grade.

So how did this happen? How is it that something as popular (admittedly, in a smallish Canadian market) as Our Lady Peace is also decent? What happened to the assumed negative relationship between popularity and quality? Could it be that there's actual positive pressure on quality, even in the mass market? I don't have a direct answer for this, but spam (the email kind) and frozen food also seem to exhibit this same behaviour. The only spam that gets through the spam filters at my ISP and at work with any regularity is stuff that's actually legible English; sometimes the occasional "saturday spaghetti incredible anguish china basketball" gibberish message comes through, but not very frequently. It's almost as if the spammers are discovering that the best way to write an email that actually gets read -- an email that has the chance of generating a sale -- is to write it with sufficient erudition as for it to be indistinguishable from email that I actually want to read. Similarly, most of the cookbooks on my shelves say something to the effect of "If you can't get fresh, use frozen; it's almost as good, and besides it's available year-round." You mean I can have blueberries whenever I want, and people who cook for a living won't frown at me? Score!

So it seems that there are ways in which the market (or is that The Market?) exerts positive quality pressures. People don't buy crap frozen fruit. At least in the mid-90s, radio music was listenable. Even spam's getting higher-quality, for heaven's sake.

How do we extend this pressure to the rest of the public sphere? Is this a Long Tail argument in disguise -- the more I can find, the more I'll like -- and hence mostly only applicable to information consumables like music, or is there something that can be done to raise the general quality of the goods that (as "productive members of society") we consume?

1 comment:

Pharaohmagnetic said...

Wow, I love this blog. But of course, I could be biased.

So Fraxas, how do you know that they discourage rocking out at work? (Whoops!)

My only thing to add is this: I always get Our Lady Peace confused with I Mother Earth. Their music sounds the same, their careers followed the same arc of listenability towards radiocraptasticism, and their names follow the same (pronoun)-(feminine term)-(hippy term) formula.

Wait until I start a band called Your Matron Rainbow.