Record Store Day: Myth & Enlightenment
Today is “Record Store Day,” a day dedicated to the celebration of authenticity: the “realness” and warmness of vinyl records (which were often recorded w/digital equipment–remember DAT?), the “authentic” face-to-face sociality of the record store itself (somehow the IRL experience of record-store-clerk-condescension is preferable to online trolling?), etc. Interestingly, this celebration of authenticity, the attempt to resist alienation and forge real, human connections with real, human musicians (or at least real, material objects) takes, as its very premise, the fetishization of the record as commodity. This is Record STORE Day, remember. So Record Store Day encourages us to use one of Marx’s primary examples of alienation, commodity fetishism, as the very means to overcome (digital) alienation.
What’s interesting here is that Record Store Day’s use of alienated social relations to supposedly overcome alienated social relations exemplifies, quite nicely IMHO, what Adorno & Horkheimer posit as the relationship between “enlightenment” (i.e., Modern rationality/scientificity) and “myth” (pre-Modern “magical” thinking). Though we are encouraged to treat myth and enlightenment as opposites, A&H argue that they are actually two expressions of the same underlying phenomenon–i.e., they are the dialectically related as thesis and antithesis. For example, they argue:
Myth, here, is contained within and springs from Enlightenment–it is enlightenment skepticism turned back upon itself. Similarly:
Here they say that Reason itself involves mythification and falsification (echoing Nietzsche, anticipating discourses on “epsitemologies of ignorance”). The claim for absolute “reason” is itself an ideology/myth, so watch out for people who claim they’re absolutely rational and unbiased, because in this claim lies domination. Domination masks itself as enlightenment/liberation.
With this idea that domination masks itself as liberation, I’d like to return to Record Store Day. This celebration of authenticity via fetishized commodity presents itself as resistance and opposition to digital/info capital: Screw the big corporations, support your local record store. Screw the major labels and their Bieber-ification of music, support your local artists. Etc. But, what we are told is oppositional and resistant actually plays into and supports hegemony. How does Record Store Day actually bolster white heteropatriarchial capital? Here are a few ways, expressed in the form of questions (b/c I’m a philosopher and I like questions):
- What is the role of whiteness here? “Authentic” and “underground” hip hop, to say nothing of major-label artists, have long used a mixtape economy, distributing new work in networks that don’t rely on the record store. So, “Record Store Day” really means “white music/musicians day”…?
- Wait, I thought the “new” Web 1.0 (P2P) and Web 2.0 (social networking) modes of distribution were actually better for musicians than the traditional record contract? Record contracts are notoriously exploitative. The self-production and self-distribution made possible by postmillennial advances in consumer tech let musicians avoid recording studios, distribution practices, and many of the main reasons to sign to a label in the first place. So, does RSD encourage us to celebrate a form that is actually more exploitative of the musicians we supposedly admire and want to support?
- What is the role of masculinity here? Record stores are bastions of a certain brand of machismo. I can’t remember the exact article (I think it’s a chapter in Shelia Whitley’s “Sexing the Groove”), but feminist scholars of pop music have identified various practices often exhibited by record store clerks and consumers (e.g., the I know more obscure facts/bands/etc. than you) as part of masculine identity construction. TO what extent is RSD about performing masculinity (or subcultural masculinity), demonstrating one’s opposition to a feminized mainstream music scene (or rather, feminized music consumption practices)?
- I’m sure there are more things than can think of right now. Thoughts? Suggestions?