Indie Morality vs. Pop Values

Through reading this excellent article criticising Chantelle off Big Brother from Nietzsche’s point of view, I have not only worked out what AQA meant by writing “The notion of ‘superiority’” in the A-level syllabus and possibly saving my whole academic career (it might come up as a question and now I know!), but also realised that Nietzsche (unwittingly) pointed out one of the biggest problems with the modern music industry.

Just as Big Brother voters look for someone they can identify with, and smugly jumped at the chance to bring down those wild and wacky and over-privileged (with the exception of Pete Burns, whose supreme wacky-ness must have made up for his lack of wealth and popularity before entering the house) celebs who Chantelle was pitted against, music-buyers have recently clung on to the romantic notions of ‘organic’ and ‘authentic’ and parted with their cash accordingly. While novelty records and some ‘silly’ sing-along songs have succeeded in breaking through this prejudice, this is only when media opinion leaders such as Radio 1 have condoned it, perhaps in the hope that if the public can get all their silliness out in these one-off singles, they’ll them be able to move on to serious (except for the so bad it’s not funny lyrics) and original (yet I still can’t differentiate it from any others of the style) music like Razorlight and the Zutons.

Now, getting back to Nietzsche. The people who receive the harshest criticism in his book Beyond Good & Evil are what he calls ‘the herd’ – weak people who follow the rules and implicitly accept their low status. This of course is represented by those people who fall for every marketing trick in the book, and by that I don’t mean performances on Popworld or even blanket-coverage TV adverts, but this repressive influence that says we should not be tricked by those naughty pop stars who don’t write their own songs or play any instruments. After all, Razorlight spent years learning theirs and it may have not paid off in the slightest, but it would just be unfair to let a band who hadn’t gone through all that pointless toil have a hit single!

Contrast what’s popular now (Sandi Thom, the Kooks, Corinne Bailey Rae etc.) with the stars of the 80s, Pete Burns himself being an excellent example, and we see how celebration of people with something special and unique has been replaced with the celebration of ordinariness and simplicity (simple is certainly the word for Chantelle) which would have given Nietzsche enough annoyance to write a whole other book on the subject! The obvious reasoning behind this is to make the ordinary people feel like they could be that famous, which is sort of good in that it inspires them to ‘be more’, but as the K-punk website pointed out, is being a Big Brother contestant really what young people should be aspiring to? If that’s the height of achievement, that means all the truly great achievements are off-limits to the type of people who aspire to be like Chantelle and co.

There is also the point that celebrities being ‘normal’ people who the public can identify with makes the public feel like those people aren’t superior to them, which in fact kind of correlates with Nietzsche’s view that some people are naturally superior to others, but unlike Nietzsche the modern media don’t point this out, because it would of course be rather alienating to their audience to tell them other people are better than them (although they still do this with every pretty face they publish). The degrading of celebrities who are badly dressed or too thin/fat occurs in magazines etc. for the very same reason.

So it seems I have found another point to add to my “Nietzsche would be a pop fan” list. I shall end by quoting the conclusion of K-punk’s great article, which is just as fitting for this post:

“We once turned to popular culture because it produced fantasy objects; now, we are asked to ‘identify with’ the fantasising subject itself. It was entirely appropriate that, the week after Chantelle won Celebrity Big Brother, Smash Hits should have announced its imminent closure.

Smash Hits began just as the Glam continuum was winding down. What Smash Hits took from punk was its least Nietzschean affect, namely its ‘irreverence’. In the case of Smash Hits, this amounted to a compulsory trivialization coupled with a kind of good-humoured debunking of the pretensions of Stardom. Behind Smash Hits’ silly surrealism was good solid commonsense and a conflicted desire, to both have your idols and kill them. Heat was Smash Hits’ successor and what rendered it obsolete. No need to bother with the (Pop) pretext now you can consume celebrity directly, untroubled by Pop’s embarrassing Dreams. Chantelle is the logical conclusion of the process: the anti-Pop anti-Idol.”

Just as Christianity and its herd morality, according to Nietzsche, was anti-life, Chantelle and her fellow ‘(wo)men of the people’ are anti-pop. Depressing! But go and tell your friends the gospel of Alexander Bard, and you can do your part in changing it. If we’re all going to be equal, can we at least be equally great instead of equally rubbish?

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