Further Notes on Popular Modernism

My lat two posts are concerned with Mark ‘k-punk’ Fisher’s idea of Popular Modernism. In it I was mostly concerned about the content of past and current music. But Popular Modernism is a concept that is far broader than certain styles and contents. One important aspect is the distribution of culture. In many works Fisher refers to early British broadcasting. British broadcasting was able – even with only a few channels – to deliver very different aspects of culture. He often remembered the Tarkowskij nights at the BBC. Tarkowskij – an experimental soviet filmmaker – made movies so strange the contemporary BBC would directly refuse to broadcast. He thought a lot about possibilities to reach a broader public with experimental art.

If we look at the distribution of music, films and series, we can see how many people use the same platforms (Spotify, Netflix, PrimeVideo, Disney+, etc). Not all – but most of the stuff is very similar and not very experimental. The algorithms recommend you only stuff like the stuff you are already into. Thereby preventing you from broadening your experience and knowledge. How most of this is implemented in our society is crucial too. Many people watch Netflix to shut down, to don’t think anymore, to relax. This is certainly tied to work that is more and more psychically exhausting than physically exhausting (and people with physically exhausting work have too often 8 hours or more to work and can’t get their brain to work when they come home). A similar case can be made about music. Fisher’s remarks about the iPod (or OedIpod how he sometimes calls it) are still relevant. Music today is often experienced in solitude, it shuts us off in the train to work or when we go shopping. Everyday music experience is rarely a pleasure in the music itself, but a protective shield against other people. This amplifies the condition of music as a lonely and not a collective experience. As Fisher writes:

Pop is experienced not as something which could have impacts upon public space, but as a retreat into private OedIpod consumer bliss, a walling up against the social.

To summarize: Our current condition prevents a real broadening of cultural experience in content as well as in collectivity.

As great as emerging artists like Desire Marea or SOPHIE are – we need also an infrastructure to promote them, to make them accessible. We also need a change of the regime of thought, because the conditions of many people don’t allow them to explore this (because they have no time or are in states of mind that block it off). To have a real return of popular modernism we not only need different content, but also different conditions for media and its reception too.


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