Monday, May 20, 2013

Undoing stupid damage

In a blog post several months ago, I referred to Andrew W.K. as a troll. Even then, though, I wasn't perfectly comfortable with the term. After all, what is a troll, exactly? If it's someone who upends the system, disrupting lives and careers in the process... well, isn't that just what every pioneer throughout history has ever done?

But I think I've settled the issue now, and it's all because I was reminded recently of something that happened many moons ago, back when I was a dishwasher at a dorm cafeteria. I worked there for six years of my early adulthood, and that dishroom still serves as the backdrop for about one in every ten dreams I have to this day. In fact, it was probably such a dream that triggered this recent memory.

Anyway, what happened was, someone had smeared shit all over the walls of a toilet stall in the men's restroom, and it fell upon me to clean it up. Naturally I was annoyed, but why? It wasn't much more disgusting than some of my usual daily tasks, like cleaning out tampon receptacles in the women's restroom. What bothered me, I think, is that while I didn't enjoy scrubbing it up, it couldn't have been all that fun for the guy who did it either. Shitting into a paper towel and then smearing it on the walls, while trying not to get any on your hands, probably doesn't top many people's bucket lists. In other words, neither one of us gained, and both of us lost--though clearly my loss was much, much greater, and of course that was the whole point.

Now, this shit-smearer was probably a dorm resident, which means he probably ate at the cafeteria twice a day. So here's a thought. What would have happened if, several weeks later, he had to do his business right after a meal? Only to be greeted with the stench of his own putrefying shit, which no one had bothered to clean in the meantime, as soon as he walked into the restroom? I'm sure he wouldn't have been very happy. I'm sure he would prefer to live in a world where walls smeared with shit get cleaned as soon as someone complains about it. Yet a graffiti artist would love nothing more than to have her work left undisturbed.

And this, I think, is the difference between trolls and all the other troublemakers and system-disrupting pioneers out there: A troll doesn't really believe in the stupid damage he causes, and actually wants those undoing his stupid damage to prevail. Because without the assurance that it will be undone, what he does lacks any real meaning on its own.

So while Andrew W.K. might not be a troll himself, his enablers amongst the influential set certainly are. After all, since the dawn of humanity, every functional system has operated according to a basic principle: you enable what you want there to be more of, and you ignore what you want there to be less of. It's like a WWI fighter plane that has to fly where it wants to shoot. You don't get to enable what you want there to be less of, and still think that things can go your way indefinitely. Do all these critics and bloggers, whose careers hinge upon giving the public a steady stream of interesting and innovative music, really want there to be more Andrew W.K.s out there? Or if the next Andrew W.K.s are already here, are they really ready to humour a good portion of them with the same admiration and respect? It's highly doubtful.

In other words, their eagerness to enable Andrew W.K.'s career rests on an underlying faith that someone else, some sourpuss out there, is willing to schlep through the ordeal of protesting--and ultimately prevailing--against them. And of course the sourpusses will prevail, since their protests will be based on reason. But it definitely will be a schlep. Which is weird, isn't it? Because while every system-disrupting pioneer in music history has inspired legions of future artists to follow in their wake, none of us wants to see that happen with Andrew W.K. So you'd think at least a tiny sliver of glory awaits those working hard to ensure that something no one wants to see happen... doesn't happen.

And yet, there's zero glory that comes with undoing stupid damage. It's just extra work you have to do before any real stuff can get done. You don't really even get credit for it, either. After all, the very nature of stupid is that everyone agrees it shouldn't be so, which means there's nothing particularly courageous or visionary about undoing it. It's just a schlep, in every sense of the word.

And so the shit-smearing trolls win every time. At the very least, they'll always be a few steps ahead. Not because we don't value the shit-scrubbing sourpusses at all, but because we don't value them enough to compensate for the fact that it's much, much easier to smear shit than to scrub it. And yet, no one actually wants to see shit-smeared walls just left as they are. Which makes all of this pretty crazy, right?

Wait, it gets even weirder. As I'd mentioned in my other post, though Pitchfork initially gave Andrew W.K.'s I Get Wet a dismal 0.6 in 2002, they offered a mea culpa by giving its 2012 reissue a glowing 8.6. Admittedly, they wouldn't have done so had this past decade been a watershed of musical innovation. But in the absence of true pioneers upending the system and disrupting lives and careers, Andrew W.K. does begin to resemble the closest thing we have to a Jelly Roll Morton, Bo Diddley or DJ Kool Herc these days. He won't be spearheading a new movement, and of course we don't actually want him to. But hey, why can't our generation embrace the troublemakers of our own time, indulging in the same proud subversion that past generations contemporary with the pioneers of jazz, rock, and hip hop were allowed to feel?

Well, here's a crazy thought. What if the next Bo Diddleys and DJ Kool Hercs are already amongst us, but they're just too busy undoing our stupid damage at the moment to be spearheading a new movement anytime soon?

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