When they’re not prosecuting their devoted customers through the RIAA, big labels like EMI are trying to pretend they’re everybody’s friend. Such was the discovery of thenulldevice, when he found a sampler in Rough Trade Records which helpfully defined the meaning of the word “independent” without a trace of irony. I feel his pain, as I was given the same sampler by our local, charming, struggling, musically knowledgeable record shop.
A demonstration on EMI’s part of enormous brass balls, he suggests. But far greater nerve was demonstrated by whoever threw together this lump of inspirationless packaging. He or she it was who resorted to that tired old hack’s route into an unmarketable story: summoning a “dictionary definition” (real or otherwise) and maybe doing it in some clever typeface to make it look like it came from an actual dictionary. I’m surprised they didn’t go all arty and include the IPA pronunciation with it.
It’s the combination of pretensions that drives me into such a froth over the definition qua spanner in a stylistic toolkit. There’s the pretension to an edgy, metatextual aspect to your work, as if the creator is some hammer-wielding iconoclast making free and easy with stuffy acadème, and to hell with you dons in your ivory towers! But this is somehow paradoxically intertwined with the pretence of that very reliability: “here is a definition, like you’d find in a dictionary; believe it with your entire mind, you consumer scum.”
(For me there’s also a third, finer strand plaited into this grim and tawdry thread. Seeing this particular conceit engenders in me a sinking feeling. It reminds me the arguments I’ve found on the internets where someone makes a grab for some supposedly authoritative source, then declaring what they’ve found with a particularly smug, Gordian-solving flourish. As though precise lexical definitions are somehow unequivocal; as though they have any solid argument-busting potential outside of discussions of the Foucauldian nature of delineation-as-subjugation; as though that would even occur to the person mentioning them.)
Round of regulatory-length applause of approved volume to the idea-free marketroid in cubicle 274 aside, I’d like to think that the person who threw together this empty promotional material at least had sufficient remaining pride to feel drained once it all went to press, rather than thinking they were some sort of Johnsonian genius treading where none had previously trod. Probably they just went home for dinner and bed, and I can’t tell you whether I find that option more or less depressing.