In a bar, two women embrace, stumble, and fall down laughing. A frowning bartender removes their drinks from the table. This attitude can be found in any bar. There is a feigned air of dismay or shock, as if the bartenders don’t know what they’re serving or why it would have such an effect. They don’t want to remember the reason for their customers’ drinking. The stumbling customer spoils the buzzed image of happiness that is ghostly attainable in the euphoria after the first drink. We sneer at failed attempts to escape from suffering. We want to pretend we’re not like the drunk customer. There is a refracted reflex against the secret knowledge that we find our humanity only in our animal activities, while the freedom of second nature remains out of reach.
Recently at a gallery, a lauded music critic was asked about operating in her newly acquired position at a media conglomerate. The questioner was specifically curious if she felt an increased difficulty in covering “more authentic bands,” given her new environment.
“Ha!,” the music critic laughed, “As if only bands are authentic. That leaves out so many other musicians. Male music critics are only interested in the production qualities of music. Sorry to the men in the room, but we don’t have any white males working in our office.” The room applauded.
The grounds of the music critic’s denunciation of authenticity also betray concurrent devotion to the concept at a different register: namely that certain people appear more authentic than others. The horizon of the music critic’s judgement, shared by most, has been narrowed to a pinpoint. The death of any viable Left reduces politics to psychological struggle and moral posturing, neither of which could overcome the crisis of society. That identity politics today is neoliberal can be seen in the way that the music critic’s department now toes the party line as it covers the presidential election campaigns.
The music critic’s victory in a small fraction of the conglomerate’s hiring demographics may have anemic merit, but her acceptance of the job is a liquidation of any “punk” laurels that might have adhered to her. The cruel truth for “punk,” however, is that the music critic never was an outsider to the all-consuming industry, whose schema accounts for even the hermetic hobbyist. She is a symptom of the streamlined integration demanded by mass society.