npr and the whole idea of being an intellectual
I love public broadcasting, though sometimes NPR moves me to smash the kitchen radio into tiny plastic shards. It isn't the politics -- Sean Hannity or Janeane Garofalo don't even register on my smash-o-meter -- but the relentless elitism and pretentiousness of the public airwaves. Whenever they go slumming into low art or mass culture, NPR always harrumphs and winks and nudges. They can praise the pie in a place like Bismarck, North Dakota, but will do so in a condescending timbre that distances both broadcaster and audience from the locals who produce and consume it. As academics, of course, we need NPR, which celebrates the whole idea of being an intellectual. Witness this exchange between the (clearly very talented) Terry Gross and the (also very talented, and an icon to boot) Iggy Pop:
Terry Gross: "So, So, So, So, you were really just like interested in umm, I mean, its what the avant-gardists would call like musique concrete, you know, just like the found sounds, ummm…"
Iggy Pop: "I was interested in all that, yeah." Terry Gross: "So I mean did you know that part of what you were doing was actually very avant–garde?"
Iggy Pop: "Yeah-"
Terry Gross: "And that there was a long kind of like classical avant-garde, you know, intellectual tradition of the kind of thing that you were translating into punk?"
Iggy Pop: "Being a young American I didn’t know the long version, I knew the short version. So I was aware of Harry Partch. I was aware of John Cage… a little Buddha, a little Satan, a little… Who’s around, you know? A little Balinese gamelan, a little medicine song, also a little [sings] nah-nah-nah-nah-nah by Cannibal and the Headhunters. So, you know, I was aware."
Is it just me, or was Ms. Gross actually grilling Iggy Pop on his credentials to be Iggy Pop? "You know, Mr. Pop, your little squawks and gyrations may bear some remote connection to actual art!" To be sure, his ability to drop names like Partch and Cage was an important validating credential for listeners (and, of course, sold a few more anthology CDs to the aged balsamic vinegar and Times Book Review set). More personally, I went to sleep with the horrifying realization that I probably sound exactly like that when talking to normal smart people who didn't bother with advanced degrees. I got a couple hours sleep, but was awakened from a nightmare in which I was Chris Gross-Uggen (now there's a mellifluous hyphenated surname), conducting an interview at the old Stillwater prison.
Gross-Uggen: "So, So, So, So, you were really just like interested in, ummm, I mean its what the structural Marxists would call like crimes of accommodation and resistance, you know, just like the individualistic reaction to false consciousness… ummm…"
Bob the Prisoner: "I was interested in all that, yeah."
Gross-Uggen: "So, I mean, did you know that part of what you were doing was actually very avant–garde?"
Gross-Uggen: "And that there was a long, kind of like, classical avant-garde, you know, intellectual tradition of the kind of thing that you were translating into first-degree aggravated robbery?"
Spooky, huh? Another fine reason to keep those transcripts under lock and key.