I am not a blogger. That sounds defensive, but what I really mean is that I don't have the mind for it, the same way I don't have the mind to be a beat reporter: I don't see a story wherever I go; I don't see something every day that makes me want to write five to six hundred words about it. Now that sounds condescending, but I don't mean it that way. There are people who have proven to be outstanding bloggers—people whom the form suits almost perfectly, which suggests, to me at least, that blogs really are a new kind of literature, even if its conventions haven't been fully defined. It is thrilling to be alive at its creation, to see humans find another way of expressing themselves, and I'm a little envious that I don't have the mind for it. But there are certain aspects of blogs that I don't like. Yes, there's all the yelling, but hey, that's part of the fun. I'm actually more annoyed at the sort of blog post espousing a shaky yet strongly held opinion that seems designed solely to piss people off in order to get them talking, because for a website looking at its hit count, I guess there's no such thing as bad publicity. There are lots of egregious examples out there, but I'm more interested in talking about the phenomenon in its moderate form. My example: Jody Rosen's October 12 post on Slate's Brow Beat about NPR's supposed DORF matrix, i.e., its assumed taste in black music. (Yes, I'm aware that I'm about a week late to this party. See above re: not having the head for blogging. I'm also aware that I'm totally falling for it by talking about it. I'm trying here, folks.)
For those of you who don't want to read the original post, Rosen argues that NPR, and All Songs Considered in particular, "maintains a strict preference for black music that few actual living African-Americans listen to." Instead, it seems to like its black musicians dead, old, retro, or foreign. Hence, the cute acronym. Rosen uses the DORF matrix to mock NPR listeners for being too white, but also throws in a little political angle. "Who are the progressives again—the public radio crowd or the Top 40 great unwashed?" he asks.
Here's what I don't like about Rosen's post. First, as a surface-level comment, he's basically pointing out the obvious. Why comment on it at all, except to piss off NPR listeners who consider themselves to be progressive? (Full disclosure: My musical taste could easily be described as DORF, except that it would apply equally to musicians across racial and ethnic lines. I suppose this makes me ultra-conservative. Or whatever.)
Second, given how obvious Rosen's premise is, it's a surprisingly shaky one. Rosen himself points out a few exceptions to NPR's taste in his own post—Mos Def, Danger Mouse—that he writes off as the exceptions that prove the rule. Has that argument ever really worked? But the shakiness runs way deeper than that, especially given the political angle Rosen throws in.
Assuming something about someone's politics based on their music taste is a dangerous game. In suggesting that Top 40 listeners are perhaps more progressive than NPR listeners, does Rosen really mean to suggest that being a big Lil' Wayne fan indicates that you're liberal? I'll just let that question lie. More oddly, Rosen essentially argues that NPR's taste in black music simply reflects its white, college-educated listeners' taste in music. (Again, full disclosure: I donate money to NPR, and am both white and college-educated. Too much, really.) But there's another explanation for it that has not that much to do with politics, and as much to do with creating taste as reflecting it: As one of the only nonprofit forces on the radio dial, NPR has the opportunity to play music that isn't popular, and it takes that opportunity to play artists that otherwise don't get radio play—like many college radio stations do, or other forms of radio, like Bridgeport's own WPKN. Would Rosen—who, as a music critic, I assume is a big fan of lots of different kinds of music—prefer that NPR cover the same small set of artists that commercial radio covers? I'm guessing not. But then what is the point of the post? Aside from making fun of NPR? (I know, I know: generating hits for the website. But isn't there another way?)
In truth, I have no idea how NPR determines which black musicians it decides to pay attention to. But here's my point: it doesn't seem like Rosen does, either. Now, I know that blogging and journalism are two different things, but Rosen could have added a bit of substance to his post—the kind of substance that, say, a twenty-minute conversation with someone at All Songs Considered would have provided—and still made his point that contemporary African-American musicians are woefully underrepresented in NPR's music programming. Perhaps Rosen did have this conversation. If he did, though, it doesn't show. Which means that the argument never gets past whether NPR's taste in black music is lame or not. Which is, in a nutshell, one of the things I don't like about blogs. Even when I've been guilty of it myself.