Art Irritates Life


Part of me is loath to write to this article, which is precisely why I should, I suppose.

This article is about Rebecca Black, Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen.  One of these things, just doesn’t belong here, as Bob from Sesame Street might have sung once.

Let me deal with Rebecca Black first.  So, a 13 yr-old California high school student has aspirations to become a pop star.  Nothing unusual about that.  So, she somehow comes to the attention of a record label, ARK, and they get her to record a rather innocuous song about being a high school student who’s looking forward to the week-end.  Still, nothing that unusual about that.  They prop her up in a studio with a computerized backing track, auto-tune her voice within an inch of its life, record some semblance of a music video that would have seemed out of date in 1980 and … oh dear… you see that?

I’m already on her case and I’m afraid that’s precisely why I started writing this piece in the first place.  I really didn’t want to add to the pile on of invective she’s been dealing with as she’s racked up 92 million views of what is supposedly an awful video for a critically panned song.  Is she the only person who’s ever recorded what is considered to be commonly accepted as an awful song?  For a start, I would point you in the direction of the 1982 composition of Messrs Elton John and Bernie Taupin entitled “I Am Your Robot” which almost single handedly undermines 42 years of otherwise prestigious tunesmithing.

The short answer is “No,” she’s not the only person to record a bad song.  And even by using the word “bad” it’s only in the context of what I and ,it seems, countless others believe to be music of poor quality.

And that brings me to Justin Bieber and his ubiquitous “Baby” single from January 2010.  The song generally makes me sad and my heart sinks a little every time is passes in front of my ears or eyes. And you know, so it should.  I’m a 42 year old embittered male with the musical talent of an Autotune machine BEFORE someone sings into it.  Given that the music created by Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black isn’t aimed at me, why anyone would care what I thought of these songs is truly a question of staggering unimportance.

Let’s be clear – to use a politician’s over-used verbal crutch – Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black are children’s entertainers.  If you’re older than 18, having a stake in what performers like these offer is approaching what would advisedly be deemed shallow.  I suppose adults over the age of 18 can, theoretically, enjoy this music but I also have known grown men in their 40′s who only date women in their 20′s because they’ve never accepted the cruel realities of their own adulthood doing everything possible to move these men along, illustrating as clearly as a Van Gogh colour palate that various aspects of the dreams they had when they were 18 yr-olds are moving rapidly out of reach and no matter how many 20 yr-olds they date, those dreams will never become any more attainable BUT THAT is a conversation that leads me to Charlie Sheen.

Charlie Sheen is the poster child for arrested development.  And as he is an adult, roughly my own age, I can lean into this with full throttle.  I don’t know where Charlie Sheen begins and where his character on “Two And a Half Men” begins. (And to be honest, I don’t even know what his character’s name is on that show, and I couldn’t even be bothered to Google such a fact)  Yet, a handful of North Americans are being treated, if that is indeed the word, although exposed seems inadequate and indulgent is too conspiratorial, to a “violent torpedo of truth tour.”  Last I checked, unless you’re the Canadian Navy, torpedoes are by the nature of the work they are designed to do violent in result, so it’s dead ringer that someone in Charlie Sheen’s life isn’t there to offer a word or two on the matter of hyperbole.  But you gotta admit, a “Torpedo of Truth Tour” on it’s own sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  What value does the word “violent” add?  Little is my answer.

Now, I’m not imbued with Tiger Blood and by some counts, I may not be Winning very much. However, I’m not dead yet, and no less an authority than Kenny Rogers said, “there’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”  I wouldn’t pretend to know what occupies Charlie Sheen’s mind, no more than I would proffer an accurate trajectory of Justin Bieber’s career, nor could I fathom what seems to be a cloistered life that has lead Rebecca Black at 13 to conclude that the song “Friday” was a worthy first statement to the world.  Maybe it is.  YouTube wasn’t around when I was 13, so my embarrassments at that age are either forgotten or buried in a box at my parents house.

These three people are examples of what’s happening at large in society.  Especially, Justin and Rebecca.  Once upon a time, they would have been teens with some degree of talent in the local schools and more than likely, we’d never hear of them.  But young people today are people who make media, not just consume it.  Larry Lessig elaborates on this idea in a remarkable TEDTalk so I need not go on here.  In Charlie Sheen’s case, he’s attempting to move from being an actor who enters the creative process mid-stream between the writer and the director/editor who chooses what makes the final cut.  He’s attempting to speak directly to the public minus the intermediary of media or an outside creative force.  Early reviews suggest that his self-indulgent construct isn’t connecting him with audiences.  However, seeing as he’s already stated that he’s outside the realm of human experience, expecting to seem relatable to his fellow Earth travellers is probably more than he should have hoped for.

I’m under no illusion that Charlie Sheen will read this.  Nor Rebecca Black or Justin Bieber.  They all have other things to do.  But for those of us with things to do on our own, we might think about the concept of criticism.  We all judge in one form or another, whether it’s celebrity swings between charity and excess, personal tastes, or the people we know and meet each day.  Judgement is not only a human response, it is indeed innate to survival.  One person’s inspiration can be another’s cautionary tale.

In fact, I may have misled you earlier.  This article is about us.  We live in a media culture that allows the internal to become external.  This very blog is proof of that.  Even just 10 years ago, this blog wouldn’t exist.  Hell, even Rebecca Black barely existed 10 years ago.

But like this blog, art is personal.  Dennis Miller once said that “90% of art is shit, and 5% of it is shit with an asterisk.  But oh, that last 5%!”

It’s a Media World now, and we just live in it.

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