For those with an interest in big ideas, these trading cards from Theory.org should fire up your neurotransmitters.
Between 2000-2001, a set of twelve trading cards was released monthly via David Gauntlett’s website Theory.org. This original set of cards featured theorists (and their concepts) from the world of social and cultural theory, gender and identity, and media studies. The first out of the pack was British social theorist Anthony Giddens who devised the theory of structuration and wrote the book on The Third Way. This was followed by theorist Judith Butler whose book Gender Trouble argued that “biological” sexes were just as much as a social construct as gender. Then came the great controversial French thinker Michel Foucault with his ideas about sexuality, gender and power structures. The deck included some interesting choices like artists Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George and concepts like Postmodernity and Psychoanalysis.
This official set of twelve trading cards was thought by some to lack a few key players and its release inspired various academics, students and alike to produce their own cards. These additions included Karl Marx, Carl Jung, Simone de Beauvoir, Edward Said, Germaine Greer, Walter Benjamin and Marcel Duchamp.
Described as “Creative knowledge you can put your pocket™” these cards can be used to play a game of trumps—in which players can match strengths, weaknesses and special skills. For example, Foucault’s special skill of happily rejecting old models and creating new ones, might not quite beat Duchamp’s ability to confuse the hell out of everyone.
The full set is below—but if you want to own a set of these super brainy trading cards (and who wouldn’t?) then deal yourself in by clicking here.
From the Daily Mirror newspaper, 1978 (uploaded by Cornershop15)
This 1978 essay on the cultural meaning of disco by the respected British musicologist Simon Frith (author of Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music and Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll) was recently unearthed and re-published by the ever excellent DJHistory.com.
It goes some way towards highlighting the difference in appreciation of the genre on both sides of the Atlantic—it always seemed to me that disco never had the cultural impact in the UK that it had in the States, possibly because of the distinct ethnic and social heritage of the music—while Britain had to wait another ten years to experience its own genuine dance revolution.
What is common on both sides of the Atlantic, and of interest to anyone who likes disco music or lived through these years, was the sneering derision the genre faced from rock listeners and their corresponding press. It took another 20 to 30 years to rehabilitate disco’s reputation, and it’s interesting to read these very criticisms usually levelled by the music media coming from a self-professed disco fan:
In public I’m into punk like everybody else (saviour of rock ‘n’ roll’s soul and all that) but privately I’m a junk rock junkie and the junkiest music of all is disco. Everybody hates it. Hippies hate it, progressives hate it, punks hate it, teds hate it, NME hates it, even Derek Jewell hates it.
Disco is music for the disillusioned. It isn’t art: no auteurs in disco, just calculated dessicating machines. It isn’t folk: no disco subcultures, no disco kids seething with symbolic expression It isn’t even much fun: no jokes, no irony, only a hard rhythmed purposefulness. Disco is the sound of consumption. It exists only in its dancing function: when the music stops all that’s left is a pool of sweat on the floor. And disco’s power is the power of consumption. The critics are right: disco is dehumanising – all those twitching limbs, glazed-eyed, mindless. The disco aesthetic excludes feeling, it offers a glimpse of a harsh sci-fi future. ‘What’s your name, what’s your number?’ sings Andrea True in my current favourite single, and it’s not his telephone number she wants, but his position in the disco order of things. The problem of pogoing, I’ve found, is not that it’s too energetic for anyone over 30 years and 11 stone, but that it requires too much thought.
Popular music has always been dance music; disco is nothing but dance music. It has no rock’n’roll connotations; off the dance floor it is utterly meaningless, lyrically, musically and aesthetically. Every disco sound is subordinate to its physical function; disco progress is technological progress. The end doesn’t change but the means to that end, the ultimate beat, are refined and improved – hence drum machines, synthesisers, 12” pressings. And disco is dance music in the abstract, content determined by form. Popular dance music of the past, in the 1930s say, was a form determined by its content. The content was developed by dance hall instructors and sheet music salesmen and band leaders whose rules of partnership, decorum, uplift and grace, can still be followed in ‘Come Dancing’: the music is strictly subordinate to the conventions of flounce and simper. In contrast, when Boney M, German manufactured black American androgynes, sing for our dancing pleasure, ‘Belfast’, it means nothing at all. Any two syllables arranged and sounding just so would do and how we dance to them is, of course, entirely our own affair. There are no rules in disco, it’s just that individual expression means nothing when there’s nothing individual to express. I trace disco back to the twist, the first dance gimmick to be taken seriously and the first dance step to be without any redeeming social feature. I blame disco on Motown, the first company to realise that if the beat is right, soul power can be expressed without either the passion or emotion that made it soul power in the first place.
You can read the rest of the essay here. In the meantime, here’s something by Andrea True Connection. It’s not “What’s Your Name What’s Your Number?” as mentioned in the essay itself, as I’ve never been a big fan of that track. Instead it’s an earlier gem by the band that predates the awfully similar sounding “Is It Love You’re After” by Rose Royce by a good three years:
While England tries to come to terms with the rioting of the last seven days, politicians and pundits, of both the right and left persuasion, are still using the looting as a means of point-scoring against their traditional enemies on the other side of the fence. ‘Twas ever thus, etc. But at what point are both sides going to be honest, put their hands up and admit that they have both made mistakes?
Call names all you want, pick holes in opposing ideologies all you want, but it’s fair to say that the pontifications of the left and the knee-jerk reactions of the right are neither going to satisfactorily explain what has been happening, or prevent it from happening again. More useful, I think, is to look beyond the cyclical, circular arguments of politics. This piece from the blog potlatch has a fair stab at detaching the riots from dead end political dialogs, and has valid criticisms of both the left and the right:
The dilemma for the Left, and for sociologists, is the following: whether or not to trust people’s own understanding of what they’re doing. And if a young looter says nothing about politics or inequality, and displays no class consciousness, to what extent can a culturally sensitive democratic socialist disagree with them? For sure, the Old Left would have no problem re-framing the behaviour of an egomaniac teenager burning down his neighbour’s shop in terms of class. That’s what crude Marxist ‘critical realism’ meant. But the New Left, along with the ‘cultural turn’ in sociology, was meant to be slightly more capable of listening.
Strangely, other than the repeated mantra that there is “no excuse” for looting, I’ve been surprised by how guarded the political classes have been on this occasion. I assumed that moralistic rhetoric would be raining down by now, focused on absent fathers, bringing back the birch, national service and banning computer games. But no. Could it be that the absence of politics, of sociological rationale, and of socialist ambition in these events means that they are, from a Rightwing perspective, comparatively safe?
Right now it feels like the same old arguments are getting trotted out again and again, people are not willing to budge from their positions and open up to new ideas, and no real, genuine progress is being made to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Either it’s time for a new kind of politics, or it’s time to accept that politics is not going to solve the problems we face - surely I can’t be the only to feel that the ENTIRE political system, both left AND right, have failed us?