Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why are Classics the only things allowed to be considered “classic”?

So this is actually a legitimate blog post for once. It doesn’t pertain to me shilling a product, attempting to enlighten the masses on something I think they would enjoy, or a regurgitation of any kind of list.

I, like many other people, have become enthralled with this little Facebook application called LivingSocial, where users make top five lists out of any imaginable category. My guess is that similarities between users foster conversation based on common interests.

However, I noticed a particular “Top Five” yesterday that stopped me in my tracks; it jarred something in the back of my memory that unfortunately started a bit of a firestorm of anger and mild verbal hostility.

The list in question was a “Top Five Favorite Guitarists”. Sounds like a fair enough topic, right? I mean, there are literally millions of guitar players out there from whom to choose to make one’s own personal favorites. My friend (I hope) listed the following guitar players: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, King Bennie Nawahj, and John Mayer.

Now technically, I shouldn’t argue, because it was his list, not mine, and represented his personal taste; no one else’s. However, the simple posting of three of those names thrust a philosophical thorn into my side. I didn’t dispute his posting of John Mayer, because he admitted to seeing him live and being blown away. Fair enough, personal connections do that all the time. I didn’t even question King Bennie, largely because I had no idea who he was.

No, my beef was with the first three. I would bet that easily 70% of the people who made a list of Top Five Favorite Guitarists would have those three names in there, with possible additions/substitutes of Carlos Santana, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, BB King, Keith Richards, George Harrison, John Lennon, and maybe even Curt Cobain. Why do I believe this? Because I have very strong feeling that society conditions us to like or dislike certain things, regardless of merit.

I had this argument with a couple English professors at Penn State, who kept making us regurgitate the same century + old "classics" to prove various literary points. We HAVE to read Thoreau, we HAVE to read Aristotle, we HAVE to read Melville, we HAVE to read Beecher Stowe. They felt that we would get a better appreciation if we didn't deviate from the prescribed literature, even though it was they (and the prof's before them, and the prof's before them) who keep representing it, and only allowing that little niche of literature to be allowed into the "classic" canon.

Thousands of books have been released every week, since those ages old scripts were first manufactured, yet they are not even considered to a) prove the exact same literary points, or b) retain or inspire the students to enjoy what they're exposed to.

Music is the exact same way. Only a handful of musicians are ever allowed to be revered in a Top Ten by any major medium, be it radio, print, or television. The artists are always the same, just in a different order. Why do you think that people who do not like metal cannot name more than ten metal bands off the top of their heads? Hell, I hate country music, but I can easily rattle off twenty country musicians without batting an eye. It all boils down to exposure.

So to reiterate, my issue was not with my friend, but the simple notion that those same people are being revered over and over again, with no one else being allowed into that exclusive canon. Just because an artist does not receive the same amount of press, any major awards, platinum sales status, or a major radio/video push does not mean they are equally (if not more so) talented than any of those Top Ten-hoarding musicians. Does lack of exposure really skew our vision and opinions that much? If so, then we really are little more than a fascist nation in disguise.

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