Last Night A constructive criticism for Pop Conference participants
posted by April 20 at 6:00 AMon
There is a point I did not address in my essay about the Pop Conference this week, mostly due to space limitations. But the manner in which some questions were raised, and opinions were voiced, during the Q&A following Jonathan Letham’s thoughtful keynote address last night compels me to raise it here. Because it is something crucial that has always made me apprehensive about the Pop Conference. It is, bluntly, a bug up my ass:
Folks in academia and critical theory often employ a lexicon that many people are largely unfamiliar with. And if you are discussing pop music in an exclusively academic or critical forum, fine… use it willy-nilly. Higher education doesn’t come cheap. Get some bang for your buck.
But when speaking an event open to the general public – and now that attendance is free, this is hopefully truer than ever of the Pop Conference – this sort of language can alienate other people, discourage them from participating in discussions, and obscure relevant points. It is one thing to use a three-dollar word or complicated construction in a written paper – where the reader has the luxury of putting the book down, and reaching for the dictionary, or diagramming your sentence meticulously to distill the prose to its essence – or a classroom where students are expected to take notes*, and quite another to use these tools when addressing a listening audience in real time.
The exciting thing, to my mind, about the Pop Conference, is the way it opens up a very broad, visceral medium to all sorts of speculation and theorizing and daydreaming. It can be a valuable forum for disseminating big ideas. A chance to share knowledge that could resonate powerfully with someone who might otherwise be oblivious of your subject matter. To turn a complete stranger on to the best band/song/record ever. So why sabotage yourself by speaking in jargon that is only familiar to a small tribe?
* Or even a song lyric. Green Gartside of Scritti Politti has increased both my vocabulary and casual knowledge of philosophers on numerous occasions.