It’s taken me awhile to get over my pop headache after attending the 8th Annual Pop Conference at the EMP. Dance Music Sex Romance: Pop and the Body Politic was meant to be provocative and stimulating for those inclined to think that discussing body politics in academic speak is stimulating.
I attended these sessions: Dance This Mess Around, Shock and Awe, Sexual Healing and Relocating Desire.
I went for three reasons:
Dance this Mess Around was a chance to rap lackadaisically about feminism, pop culture, and the subtle nuances of transformative action. The session was worth sneaking out of work for two hours to be with intelligent women theorizing about embodiment, sexism, and rock and roll. However, it became apparent that the average Jane off the street (someone like me) wasn’t supposed to actually be in attendance. Inside jokes, giggles, and academic speak were alienating. I walked away with more questions (Why does Brittany Spears matter so much?) than solutions which was no fault of the session. I fault the moderators taking for granted that not everyone has the daily opportunity to engage in such theoretical banter. It was illustrative to know that “selling out” isn’t cause for alarm but rather the messy dance of living in a fucked up society.
Shock and Awe sought to inform the audience of “redeeming pleasure outside transgression” and demonstrate how sexual identities act as branding tactics. It was during the first two presentations that I became convinced that I was a spy. It was a cold blooded realization that seeking intellectual activities outside of sanctioned “school” settings is deviant. Attending “academic” events shouldn’t invoke feelings of awkwardness but it was made clear that talking about something you’d never done and falsely assuming the role of expert was the goal for most the conference participants. It was a display of cock feathers and mundane circumstance. And then David Thomas spoke. David Thomas’ rant on being Keane (a hypothetical sexual identity constructed to sell junk) was brilliant. He bravely pointed out the lameness of the entire conference. He used the phrase, “reactionary confection,” to describe punk. He called out the absurdity of demanding equality when paralyzing discourses of defining/stereotyping continue to dominate how we speak and understand music. Thomas used The Raincoats to illustrate his point that good music is good music. He came with the purpose of agitating the crowd – a hostile crowd of critics and analyzers. During the Q&A, Thomas yelled out, “You’re destroying culture.” It was validation that letting others speak and define your existence is suspect at best and dangerous at worst.
Sexual Healing and Relocating Desire were painful continuations of the conference theme to lure with catchy titles and bore with talking-at-you-presentations. Sarah Douger’s presentation was interesting only because she played rare vinyl lesbian folk rock. The next presentation on Adult Contemporary (AC) music was valuable only for its questions that were raised around how adult contemporary music and women in the workplace has influenced this slice of the radio pie. The shift of AC to “workplace” music assumes the normalization of women in the workplace and the conscious effort of radio executives to harness that demographic into raising millions of advertising dollars. Using music to sell products certainly isn’t a new phenomenon and the apathy of such a phenomenon was chilling. The “Let’s (Not) Get It On – Or, Fucking to ‘Songs About Fucking‘ and Other Uncomfortable Developments in the Awkward Relationship Between What We’re Going to Have to Just Agree to Call Indie Rock and Sexuality in the 1990s” won the prize for longest title and saddest personal diatribe.
If not for David Thomas, the experience would have been an alienating waste of time. There were little to no valid critiques of classism, racism, and despite the titillating title, a real lack of discussion around gender/sexism. It really was reactionary confection in the most non-punk shell.