May 29, 2012

"Say 'Shhh'"

This weekend the Strib posted a commentary about how the Twin Cities may value its music scene a bit too much, penned by, take your irony as you'd like, a writer for A Prairie Home Companion, Laura Buchholz. Buchholz argues that institutions like MPR and its little bro, The Current, rep the scene a little too hard and a little too blindly. She writes that there isn't enough legitimate criticism of the music scene and that far too often, things that should be called out are given a pass because they're "local" (She cites terrible band names like "Trampled by Turtles" as an example of things that are blindly accepted; I'm not sure it's a strong argument, but I'm sure that it is indeed a terrible band name, though I've never heard their music).
To be sure, Buchholz is decidedly tongue in cheek about the whole thing, something lost on the commenters (though some, more on it later, do get her point), writ large by her discussion of Mark Wheat's "champagne" accent and the pithy reminder that we still have an AWESOME local beer brewing scene. Buchholz doesn't really get down to a remedy for the "problem" as she sees it, or exactly why it's a problem in the first place. However, as mentioned, some of her commenters understand her argument and why it must be made. One guy named mrkennedy gets it and explains:
I've been waiting for the day that Minnesota stops being so, well, Minnesota. We've got good music, we've also got some pretty lame music and the state isn't going to crumble like a deck of cards if the weak are separated from the strong. Ever since I moved here I've been amazed at the fear so many critics have of being too critical of anything local. Hence, nothing gets better, nothing gets all that worse, it just drifts along. Everything gets a standing ovation, everything is "nice", and MPR can't go fifteen seconds without patting itself on the back and/or saying the word "MInnesota" on the air as if people will forget where they are.
If you've been around skateboarding long enough, you know that skateboarders don't take criticism well, be it on a personal or impersonal level. There are countless comment threads out there that will back me up on this. For the most part, anything that is put out by anyone is deemed worthy of some sort of praise. I understand that feeling to an extent, because the effort of making something and putting it out there should always be valued over the position of someone who simply wants to consume and critique. The same goes for those that put together events, shows, etc. There should be a baseline value placed on trying.
Maybe you've seen this, maybe I even posted this: An obituary for facts. How does that apply here? I'm claiming we've got to place some inherent value on "work" (hey Locke) in skateboarding (or by extension, local music), but I'd also argue that said work is still categorically good or bad, with some wiggle-room left for intellectually honest debate. The facts about work must be taken into account at some point, or, like the comment quoted above says, "nothing gets better, nothing gets all that worse, it just drifts along."
I've been loathe to mention it here on the main page, but about a month back, a commenter made a passionate if not coherent argument that the Familia HQ could have been more "creative." While I invite you to take a look at what the anonymous guy had to say, I'm not sure you'll be able to squeeze much more out of his 1,000 or so words than what my dismissive summary has to offer (the most specific idea he had was to bite elements from Cream City). If it's not already abundantly clear, I disagree with the guy (and for transparency, yes, I do work for Familia, though I'm by no means on the clock or compelled to put this out there by anyone bit me). My point is that they guy had it demonstrably wrong on a factual basis.
However, I do have to give him a modicum of credit for coming out with what is, to be sure, an unpopular opinion (gone about the wrong way, anonymously on the Internet, for legitimacy's sake). His rants are the type of thing that keep people from drifting along; he does rail against accepting the status quo, though it's misguided when he rails against a sight-unskated.
Perhaps this treatment of anonymous is becoming a bit heavy-handed. Let me be clear: Sober, intellectually honest criticism is a good and constructive thing, again, a defense against drifting that touchy-ass skateboarders need just as much as "Trampled by Turtles."
Do we love this skate scene too much? Do we give it a pass when it doesn't deserve one, rewarding mediocrity the same way we reward truly great aspects? Do we need a Buchholz-like column to figure this out (if this is or isn't one already, I'm not sure)? I think of video names when it comes to this question as a way of parsing out attitudes. Names like Midoploly and Midwest Marauders tend to evoke a mid-centric type of feeling while Anonymous and Flow Trash are self-deprecating (or a self-congratulating evocation of so-called "Midwestern humility," who knows?). The names seem to indicate we at once want to celebrate the greatness and the shittiness of the scene and our cities all at once, which might very well be the truth of the whole matter. It's the cousin of an East Coaster's pride in where he's from, vaunting rough spots and crummy weather above the cushiness of the West, though never stooping to the Midwesterner's nagging thought that even though he praises the suckiness of where he chooses to live, where he chooses to live might actually suck.
I won't go that far, however, on the scene's merits of three* indoor parks, numerous private bowls and ramps, shops both in-and-out-city that actively promote the health of this place and a bunch of skateboarders that have genuine and well-founded pride in what they do and where they do it. This is not meant to read like some "Atmosphere" song, though, because there's plenty of decent that could be better and more than enough disillusionment to go around. What counter-arguments would Buchholz have found if she'd just said something like that?

*I originally forgot Summit Skatepark.


Anonymous said...

I moved to California to enjoy a change of pace and try it out for myself. The move was motivated by the reasoning that Cali is mainly where a lot of my work is done for real. Not a watered down version that existed in MPLS. After spending 4 years out here and returning several times to MPLS I found myself feeling that yes, Minnesotans give themselves a little too much credit for everything. Kinda has a bubble effect. That being said, it is a great place with great people and I would live there again someday. It depends on what you want. If you want to be where the legitimate/current action is going down, then GO THERE. You don't kill a bear by looking at it through a telescope, you get a serious weapon and a box of oreos and chase the fucker down. If you wanna say "just as good as anything out west" then stay where you are. I do give MPLS/St Paul more cred than the majority of non-famous cities though. The longer I stay away I realize how 50% of the people I meet don't even know the difference between Indianapolis and Minneapolis. That give's one a pretty good idea wether the rest of the country notices Minnesota's contributions. I leave the whole "MN pride" thing out of conversations now. You can count the number of famous bands from MN on the hand of an amputee. Producing two famous bands a decade does not constitute an amazing music scene. Just cause we thought Atmosphere was cool doesn't mean we're turning into the next NYC or LA or Austin, TX. It would have happened already. Amazingly, the hippies that love Trampled by Turtles never seem to notice the terrible name. No matter where you go. This isn't meant as hating, just what I've noticed.

aplusen said...

well put on both ends.

Benjamin Ragsdale said...

the most vibrant aspect of any scene is that people who constantly seek to expand its boundaries or question its peculiarities.

that strib piece is great not because it contains any profound truth-it certainly doesn't--but because it teases those who take the scene so seriously. and the author, a writer for a prairie home companion (itself the most tiresome staple of the minnesota scene) is far from being an outside observer.

skateboarding scenes, and skateboarders, need skeptics, even if they're anonymous and even if they just 'hate'.

any scene that is made up of men who believe it is their right to destroy private property and film themselves getting in fights with security guards is absolutely worthy of derision.

and go skateboarding day is far and away the dumbest idea in the world

Mighty Roll said...

Great post Mike (plus Rags and anonymous commenter). What I might add is: Where MN sits in your heart is an individual choice. Some are here by choice while others are stuck here so what MN should "sctually" be like varies from person to person..thats all it is a casserole of opinions and viewpoints, some at times being more dominant then others. Form your own opinions on what is "actually" going on and get yer travel on too cuz when I say people are stuck here I mean pull me outta the ditch type-a-stuck ya diggg???

Wylie Tueting said...

Such great posts; I stand in awe, perhaps even vindicated for past posts I have made on this site, which I have since felt anxious about several times. And on another note - The Current had it coming. Almost half-consciously have I stopped listening to that station for its wishy-washy praise of local bands. I have indeed heard Mark Weate, however, slice into some national bands, but those are, of course, national bands, not local ones.