Language, of course, possesses an immeasurable value. Words allow us to do important things with ease, like ordering an ostentatious coffee or telling someone to fuck off, you fucking wanker. But words can also be entirely useless, unnecessary; or, when it comes to music, a kind of shield in which an otherwise empty song is rendered meaningful for detailing an emotion, even if it does so with all the depth of an Instagram caption. So, with a song like “Plastic Love” where linguistics are initially thrown out the window for non-Japanese speakers, the feeling – or moment, or situation – that inspired the music is pushed to the forefront, and the intended meaning left to breathe purely through tone and sound – to be alive.
This new thing is not a genre, exactly; call it a style, a sensibility, a veneer. It has to do with computers and digital sound and digital imagery. It has to do with representation and malleability, the idea that sound and image can be stretched and twisted and copied ad nauseam. It revels in digital gloss and grit, in bent tones, in smeared and frozen reverb tails. Extreme compression, schizoid pith: rap vocals broken down to monosyllables, a single “Huh” as metonym for everything that’s happened between the Sugarhill Gang and now. History reduced to a USB stick.
The structural similarity between much advertising and much modern art is not simply copying by the advertisers. It is the result of comparable responses to the contemporary human condition, and the only distinction that matters is between the clarification achieved by some art and the displacement normal in bad art and most advertising. The skilled magicians, the masters of the masses, must be seen as ultimately involved in the general weakness which they not only exploit but are exploited by. If the meanings and values generally operative in the society give no answers to, no means of negotiating, problems of death, loneliness, frustration, the need for identity and respect, then the magical system must come, mixing its charms and expedients with reality in easily available forms, and binding the weakness to the condition which has created it. Advertising is then no longer merely a way of selling goods, it is a true part of the culture of a confused society.
The arts of writing and the arts of creation and performance, over their whole range, are parts of the cultural process in all the different ways, the different sectors, that I have been seeking to describe. They contribute to the effective dominant culture and are a central articulation of it. They embody residual meanings and values, not all of which are incorporated, though many are. They express also and significantly some emergent practices and meanings, yet some of these may eventually be incorporated, as they reach people and begin to move them.