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Just came across this interesting opinion article from Slate about the lack of "all" in NPR's All Music Considered. The idea in the Slate article that indie-rockers are THE most valued by NPR and their listeners, all of whom share similar backgrounds, and are most like them (and who are more often than not, the gatekeepers of cultural taste and history) hits at the perception game I talked about in a post this summer.
"Maybe a problem is how those [African-American] musicians are valued or perceived both in the general and black public and press, not on the quality of their work. An on-going dialogue 'Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Jazz Writers Tell Their Story at The Independent Ear discusses the lack of coverage of black serious music by even the mainstream black press but I think it also focuses a light on what all press in general deem important, worth covering or probably more accurately, what the editors believe the readers want to read...With choice of what is covered denotes the perception of "importance" or "worthiness" and I think writer John Murph put it cogently for some African-American musicians in an interview on The Independent Ear when he says, "...there’s the whole idea of what is deemed more artistically valid when it comes to jazz artists incorporating contemporary pop music. I notice a certain disdain when some black jazz artists channel R&B, funk, and hip-hop, while their white contemporaries get kudos for giving makeovers to the likes of Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Bjork."
And later I go on to write,
"And whether something is perceived as quality hits on the head what I think because since the majority of tastemakers, gatekeepers, mavens are not black (or women), and often come from different socio-economic and educational backgrounds and experiences, maybe sometimes African-American musicians (or women) might not be as fully understood, valued, or appreciated as someone coming from the same background."
When you think about the inroads that rap and hip-hop and other 'urban' music has had on the Top 40, why isn't music from non-DORF artists not shown the same acclaim and accord as their indie-rock brethren?
In a more recent post (September 2009) where I'm talking about jazz music's 'too cool for school' perception, it could equally be attached to non-DORF artists of color.
"While today much of urban or black and Latino culture and music is fairly mainstream, the power or control in what people see, hear, and for the most part do, is not in the hands of minorities. A small group of tastemakers and insiders lets us know what is cool by what is covered, advertised, or showed [in the mainstream]. How many minorities are part of this group? Not many. Why?"
This a problem in many parts of the mainstream society. While the typical NPR listener might love an indy movie such as The Education, my guess is that many (certainly not all) would shy away from something like Precious, which while certainly worthy of critical attention, might be perceived as being 'too black' or 'too urban' by many. And hence not seen with the same quality as something with more Anglo sensibilities. Or while I might not personally like many of Tyler Perry's movies, the lack of coverage about and the respect toward his quite financially successful production studio operating outside the standard Hollywood machine, seems quite strange for a culture that loves a good "Horatio Alger" myth. Or more importantly, how a majority African-American or Latino school (or neighborhood) might be looked at with inferiority or condensation by some, no matter how successful and/or affluent they may be. Or the thought of how during last year's election, some said Obama couldn't show anger at all of the false accusations from the GOP because he would be perceived as the "angry black man" and this would have (supposedly) scared or killed off many of the white, liberal voters. I mean, c'mon, if I'm angry at unjust or unfair criticisms, I should be able to show it, just like anyone else, without feeling like I'll be dismissed as a classic stereotype. All of these are examples of how a certain bias might be ingrained in what we see as quality or valuable or relevant.
Hey, I'm a regular NPR listener and have been a member too (WNYC!!!) and frankly, it doesn't matter to me too much what music NPR programs and which musicians are profiled (as long as it is good), as the Slate article states, "in matters of musical taste, everyone has a God-given right to provincialism and conservatism, even those NPR listeners who consider themselves cosmopolitan and liberal." (Maybe the DORF aesthetic is like what Chris Rock said in his new film, Good Hair, about how "relaxing black hair relaxes white people": maybe DORF programming relaxes NPR listeners?). But it DOES matter to me whether a minority artist or musician, who might be foreign to the tastemaker's cultural background (or to their usual social and professional circles), is perceived as less worthy of acclaim, not because of their music's worth, but just because they aren't understood as well.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 3:04 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.