Soviet kitsch (not the Regina Spektor kind)

So this isn’t strictly music…but this line of thinking can certainly apply to musical analysis as well.  Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting examination of dictatorial kitsch (thanks to my partner Matt for bringing it to my attention).  Check out the picture behind Clinton and Kim Jong Il in the article–I’m sure this is not the first time you’ve seen or heard some form of dictatorial art and thought, “My G-d, this is TERRIBLE.”

What’s interesting to me about this take on Soviet kitsch is its implicit assertion that only art from totalitarian regimes (or from similar circumstances) is “ideological.”  It’s clearly more blatantly ideological than, say, Thomas Kinkade’s work.  But scratch the surface of any cultural product and you’ll find ideology or politics of some kind.  Let’s scratch Thomas Kinkade real quick for argument’s sake.

Take a look at some of his work and try to answer these questions: What lifestyle does he normatize by his portrayal of what is “all-American”?  In his blandness, what settings does he expect will be familiar and unfamiliar to his viewers?  How do you think Kinkade feels about cities?  What kind of people do you think live in his “regular all-American” cottages and on his Main Streets?  He’s not trying to push a creepy cult of personality in the same way as Kim or Saddam, but he’s pushing something, for sure.  (Note–I don’t mean that Kinkade is trying to control his audience in any way, for good or bad.  I’m just saying that artists are shaped by, and shape, their ideological milieux, and that it’s important to think about how and why this is happening.)

Within the musical realm, we always turn to Shostakovich as the classic example of audio art influenced (or constrained) by totalitarianism, and programmatic readings of his work are quite popular among armchair conductors and critics.  What ideological message might be implicit in, say, Philip Glass’s work?  In Beyoncé’s work?  In American Idol?

Quick hit: Bob Dylan’s Xmas album

Bob Dylan (who was born Jewish but went through a Jesus phase back in the day and is now apparently going through a Chabad phase among others) has decided to record a Christmas album.  I know there’s a long tradition of Jewish folks writing/performing Christmas tunes, but this is kind of beyond Irving Berlin.

These days, Jews, for the most part, don’t have to apologize for being Jews the way they did in Berlin’s day.  We don’t have to assimilate as musicians by writing Christmas songs, or recording them, for that matter.  So why is Dylan doing this?  My money is on shock value, novelty, pure aesthetic enjoyment, or hopes of making lots of money.  We’ll see.

Update on our favorite hot mess

I’m going to beef with Jezebel on this one:

[Lady Gaga's] right, though: her sexuality doesn’t distract from her music.  Her Rainbow Brite wig?  Maybe slightly.

Lady Gaga’s sexuality IS her music.  Her role model is Madonna, for heaven’s sake.  She has made a career largely on the basis of not wearing pants, wearing fetishy stuff, and bluffin’ with her muffin (the first definition on that list, btw).  The only reason it is not possible for her sexuality to distract from her music is that the two are mysteriously one and the same in much the same way that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one and the same.

Now I’m wondering what would be the third part of the Trinity of Lady Gaga…


The Pope has just signed with Geffen.  I’m definitely, um, camping out in front of my friendly local record store the night before it drops…

Blog at
The Esquire Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.