Earlier this week, I read Alastair Pennycook's article “Language, Localization, and the Real: Hip-hop and the Global Spread of Authenticity” from the JLIE. It's quite exciting to see that the direction I want to go in my profession -- to study the confluence of language, music, and social practices involving them both -- is starting to gain traction in academic circles.
The article itself was really interesting, and I'll have more on it later, but I also wanted to note that there's a debate about "realness" and/or "authenticity" as it relates to race and class happening now in the world of music criticism.
The hullabaloo in Rock-Crit land (aka “Cultural Studies Jr.”) strikes me as a bit more territorial and opinionated (what is real for real? And why don't indie rockers sound more Black?) compared to the current understanding of “realness” that seems to be put forth by Pennycook and others. While Carl Wilson and Sasha Frere-Jones write about the problems of indie rock, they don't seem to be that interested in how people “use” indie rock. It's almost as if – and I'm just kind of thinking out loud here – it's now possible to be a prescriptive cult-studies practitioner, the way you can be a prescriptive grammarian. Isn't the nut of Frere-Jones' argument something like “indie rock should be more conscious of race?” This is fine, I guess, but I'm more interested in figuring out the way people use music, the way people shape music and music shapes people, than in diagnosing any particular problems with it. Perhaps I should be more concerned with justice and all that. The politics of critical applied linguistics remain a bit beyond my ken at this point, but I find the direction of Pennycook's research exciting, to say the least.
Final half-formed thought
Hybridity is a big buzzword these days – along with localization – and these words seem to me to offer a compelling understanding of the way our world works, linguistically and otherwise, these days: we take what we've got, even if what we've “got” is the product of an evil-sounding and suspicious thing like cultural imperialism, and shape it to our own ends, yielding particular – but thick and deep – meanings in local contexts.