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Meaning | Why Spotify should keep streaming Kanye West’s music

Meaning |  Why Spotify should keep streaming Kanye West’s music

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Kanye West is both bipolar and anti-Semitic. His actions and words in recent weeks speak for themselves. West removing himself or his business is completely understandable, given the ugliness of his words. But there is one important exception.

Spotify and other streaming services are important cultural reservoirs in a post-physical media age. Their content libraries should not be held hostage to the whims of people who cannot separate artistic achievement from an artist’s folly. It may be inconvenient for these services. But the audio streamers have to stand their ground.

It’s okay if people don’t want to listen to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” anymore; it is vaguely totalitarian to require it no could listen to it longer.

The debate about leaving the west is the inevitable result of a collision between two important ideas in modern pop culture consumption.

First, there is “poptimism”. That concept began as an argument that pop music deserved serious criticism and analysis as much as forms like rock or jazz; the same idea now underpins attempts to take Marvel films as seriously as those by Jean-Luc Godard or Martin Scorsese. Then there is “ethical consumerism.” The term once meant things like visiting farmers markets. It has expanded to include the requirement that those who buy art ensure that the artist’s ideals are consistent with their own. Putting even $0.004 in the pocket of someone like West is a sin.

In his recent book, “Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change,” W. David Marx traces how cultural taste has evolved in recent years. Long gone are the experts whose esoteric tastes helped shape what was seen as “good” and “worthy of attention.” Modern consumers are now omnivores, sampling styles from cultures around the world, dipping in and out of genres under the assumption that all styles have something to offer.

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“If the old taste was a silent tool of elite power,” writes Marx, “omnivorous taste can be a loud cry of rebellion.” From Taylor Swift to Lil Nas X to the rise of trap music, everything is on the table for appreciation.

And yet the craving for status accolades persists. But if it’s okay to declare art good or bad on merit, consumers and critics need another way to decide what’s in and what’s out. Enter the new standards.

“Disgust can be noble,” writes Marx, “when it is used against the power structure, unrepentant snobs and unreformed bigots.”

The new rules are relatively simple. Artists must espouse progressive ideals. Gatekeepers should elevate minority artists. Consumers must buy liberal products from liberal artists, although “liberal” is usually reduced to mean “conventionally diverse” or “supportive of Democratic politicians.” Cultural appropriation is verboten. And critics should disown those who offend modern sensibilities.

“Hypermodern liberalism and cosmopolitanism thus lead to omnivorism and poptism – and even a détente with capitalism, as long as the spoils flow to the right people,” writes Marx. It’s a bit wordy; Marx sums it up like this with a rather blunt bit of philistinism: “Art should avoid being for of art guilt when social justice is at stake.” (The emphasis is in the original.)

The rejection of art for art’s sake is a kind of horseshoe idea, one that brings together the far left—autocrats from Joseph Stalin to Mao Zedong have rejected art as anything but a tool to indoctrinate the masses—and the consumerist right, which believes art is just that valuable as the dollar it produces.

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So what happens to art made by people deemed unworthy in our own system? The answer might best be called the omnivore’s knot, after the Gordian knot that puzzled Alexander the Great.

Both he and contemporary scoundrels seem to have arrived at the same solution: cut troublesome entities out of existence. For Alexander, that meant cutting through the knot literally rather than trying to undo it. Today’s censors claim that work by artists spewing anti-Semitic slurs or foolish covid-19 policies should disappear.

It is not enough for individuals to deprive themselves of these products as a moral standpoint; all others must also be deprived. It is the only way to ensure that no one anywhere can put a fraction of a penny in an offender’s pocket.

Spotify has rejected calls to pull West’s music – but they’ve only done so by saying it’s not really up to them, but his label. The power of the labels also played a role in ensuring that artists were unable to remove their work when the streaming service courted controversy by paying Joe Rogan big bucks for an exclusive deal.

Should West’s music suddenly become unavailable, it will serve as yet another reminder that if you can’t hold a cultural object, you don’t really own it. But hopefully it will make one or two omnivores stop and think about what we lose when art simply becomes another front in the socio-political deathmatch so many seem to be itching for.

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