Saturday, May 15, 2010

On the Notion of Support

Tribal Politics

For a system of musical styles, an interrelated combination and array of musical movements, it is interesting how often these phrases regarding "support" arise in the traditional discourse. They occur often enough that one who has more than even than the most rudimentary curiosity (indeed, a sludgy, sloth-like, swamp curiosity that, hopefully, can raise its head from the mire and look around itself - prepare for evolution!) must indeed reflect upon (or pretend to, for the benefit of one's illusory ego and the mock appreciation of one's friends/enemies) the various appearances of this motif and its meaning - if it has any - within the greater transfers of vague postures and vain arrogations/aggrandizements usually apportioned to be the common conversation of metal's disciples. Notice that this phrase and idea (if it is even that, and not just an empty sack, a black hole, lacunae in various forms of conversation, sound and fury, etc.) also appears in the punk world, and it may have actually originated there. It is certainly an "underground" idea in that it appeals to a popular (democratic, mass movement, minorities masquerading as majorities with power) ideal of aesthetic or musical/creative control through the willful (is it so?) apportionment of extra-economic maintenance. "Support" in its various forms, of course, always seems to be reducible to the economic, even as it pretends to appear in a (solely) social context or as an index of emotional or philosophical underpinning or joint structuring. Its appeal is the approbation of the group - that most democratic of all indexes of "excellence" - or the maintenance of singular pursuits through the well-wishes of those left behind, the "support" of those who fail to arrive at similar aesthetic conclusions and who yet remain in the rear, supposedly admiring. One must not forget that their admiration is appended to the unspoken assumption that the "supported" flight of fancy of the isolated/independent artist will eventually be deconstructed and assimilated into the majority. The consensus supports only what is useful - either for its own pleasure, or in the creation of a self-willed image of itself, a display of pretense which metamorphoses its identity and allows it to become what it desires to be, if only in dreams. As in anything else, the motivation of the mass is utility, although that efficacy and/or base (in all senses of the word) usefulness may appear only in the transcendent realm of illusions.

What does "support" mean, then, external to the directly economic? At its most basic one can consider that the notion is of course a focus of genre identity, with the list of musicians or collectives one "supports" being proffered as a badge of identification, a label, a category in which to place one's self, a symbol of group affiliation. By "supporting" bands x or musicians y not z, the external, the "other", the exiled, one claims membership in a group that - more often than not - pretends to exclusivity. Group A only supports x, Group B only supports y, and never the twain shall meet. By "supporting" one pleasure over another, one "taste" or aesthetic variant, one allies oneself with a group that is desirable to be a part of. This group, A or B or whatever, may claim qualities in its members which one finds advantageous, enviable, productive, or effective (never forget utility!), and one of the easiest ways to then claim membership in this group (and so assume, as a badge, a signifier of identity - problematic in itself) is to bring one's aesthetic tastes and/or priorities in league with the group's states preferences. By conforming with the group's assumed tastes one assumes, in turn, the group's illusory characteristics. This is "support" as tribal identification. Most of the normal social interactions of tribal groups then apply, then...those of social cohesion, internal and external dynamics, the function of rebellion and/or exile, the identities of prophets, leaders, mass movements, pariahs, sacrifices, scapegoats, etc.

The directly economic: "support" means, literally, to give money to a group of musicians. To buy their merchandise, to purchase their records, and - by extension - this meaning also lends itself to the activities appended to these economic choices, although this second category is in itself completely different and separate: "support" meaning listening to an album, giving it one's time, not ignoring it or rejecting it offhand, and then (the most important): allowing one's stated opinion to conform, always, to an approbation or agreement with the music of these artists, the aesthetics of their pursuits and productions, and never to appear at cross purposes with the artists' place in the "scene hierarchy". To "support", then, is just to hold oneself back from uttering anything negative concerning another artist, to refrain from casting doubt, suspicion, or blame on their productions. "Support" in this instance appears in the positive action of aesthetic corroboration and alliance and also in the act of refraining from the negative: that is, the notion of "support" takes upon itself the meaning of the positive and the domain of the neutral next to it. The only way to breach support is to utter the negative. Merely by keeping one's mouth shut or pen silent one gives "support" to the actions of others.

As a badge of identity, scene hierarchy, place, posture, position, ranking, etc. then the list of others "supported" must be rigorously maintained and adjusted according to prevailing trends within the subculture. New bands come into favor, other leave. Bands are (sometimes spontaneously, it seems) decided to be indicators of growth, secret kernels of hidden talent, potentially strong signifiers, in themselves, of popular acclaim and scene identification...others are cast into infamy and exiled. Only by maintaining with a religious scrupulousness one's list (always brandished and worn on one's sleeve, as it determines one's place in the hierarchy of aesthetic taste and political affiliations within the subculture) can one hope to remain in a position of illusory "power" within a group and so keep the respect of one's peers (which supposedly tacitly approves and validates one's opinion before one even utters it, a form of power doubtlessly admired by those who crave admiration free from the taints of realistic expectations or justified criteria of objective opinions) and one's own access to good opinion open - especially if one is also in a band of one's own. In this last case appears that most insidious form of "support": the mutual admiration society, the notion that one must maintain a certain standing place in the subculture by patting backs and beaming smiles all around...only to ward off the incipient blows of one's peers, whom one secretly envies and despises.

It is interesting then, this notion of "support" as it extrapolated from the economic realm and given so many social or scene-political which I mainly should say: "interesting" or intriguing in that the economic relations can assume so many social correlations, and one word or phrase can mean so many different things and have so many variations in consequences. Yet one can't help but notice: if ejected from the realm of the scene/subculture hierarchy, where it appears in ridiculously biased and self-aggrandizing or hypocritical configurations, and taken back to the purely economic as merely a statement of intent or say what one intends to purchase or what one has purchased, outside of momentary considerations of errors in judgment, this purity of economic choice, this statement of intent and/or action, how problematic is this economic function at its root. In the act of purchasing itself how many different signifiers are there of one's aesthetic choices, and thus of one's identity, one's personality, one's "worth" in the eyes of that all-too-critical subculture echelon of judgment that turns an invasive eye on everything but its own methods? Forget the associated meanings of "support" clustering around the social behavior of group dynamics, how many levels of criticism and judgment exist at this basic level of economic choice, and teem through the confusion in the popular understanding between consumer choices, aesthetic taste, identity, personality, personal history, and social standing?