As you drive to work, you likely listen to your radio, and hear songs written by well-known singer songwriters. When you arrive, maybe you check social media and learn the newest trending stories. When you go home, you watch the latest reality TV, punctuated by trailers for the next Hollywood blockbuster. This is real life; I didn’t write this article to try and convince you that we’re all living in the matrix.
Yet whilst there is an outcry that fake news – which is full of lies about whoever is paying for it, in order to increase the popularity of their opinions – is unduly influencing our opinions, it’s nothing new. Our lives have been ruled by fake, sterilely polished and unachievably aspirational media for as long as I can remember.
Remember those reality TV shows you watch? Young, beautiful people, often wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, living lives where nothing matters except the next night out or the next date? That shouldn’t be interesting, but it is, because we believe it’s possible for us to live like that: care free, hedonistic , a new definition of ‘idyllic’. It absolutely isn’t possible for us to live like that, though, and that we are glued to our TV screens watching other people live it stops us from being truly angry about our inability to do so. Rich, beautiful people are given status well beyond what they earn because we consume the media which justifies their doing so. We’re looking at them and saying ‘that’s okay’.
How about the current big thing, singing songs on the radio about heartbreak. Strumming their guitar or caressing their piano as they sing tales which touch our hearts. It sounds so authentic, until you realise these were written by six people searching for rhyming words in some mansion, tested on focus groups for buzz words and potential, before being polished so perfectly in a recording studio where even my voice could be made to sound angelic. They are then thrust into eye-wateringly expensive marketing campaigns, so they show up all over your newsfeeds (just like that fake news we’re all so angry about), and pushed to every major radio station so you hear it enough times that you like it (that is, unless it was written to be immediately catchy, and thus need less marketing spend on it).
And those movies you watch – most of the money doesn’t go on scripts, or casting, but on buying the most famous faces to star in it, and the most expensive explosions and/or marketing so as to ensure it sells tickets.
This isn’t a conspiracy, but rather how media works in a world where markets rule. Authenticity and genuine talent is obscured by companies who know how to trick you into seeing talent and authenticity, using whatever resources that are currently to hand. This is how the world looks when independent media is dying out, and when handfuls of big companies own the means to create media, as well as the means to market it.
The philosophy of aesthetics asks that we question ‘what truly is art?’ Does authenticity and talent really matter, or are we mostly interested in the pure pleasure of the end product, and so happy to live with the deception? That’s not for me to answer. It’s a subjective thing that we each must ask ourselves. However shouldn’t we be given the choice to ask it of ourselves? Shouldn’t some media source, somewhere, be giving us the resources to see what authentic and talented musicians and film-makers actually sound and look like? We haven’t opted in to this system, as far as I can tell, and that’s important; you wouldn’t accept if you were forced to watch the Evangelist Christian TV channel all day, so why do you accept that you’re given such a limited, market-led scope of media?
Our ‘fake lives’ are an entirely acceptable way for us to choose to live. But we have to be given the choice in order for it to be right.
Whilst I am far from being free of unauthentic media, I have learned a great deal about the range of talent that exists outside of what big companies want you to buy from them. In particular, a wonderful record company called One Week Records, where the musician Joey Cape scours the US for singer-songwriters to live in his house for seven days, in which they write, perform, record and produce ten-song albums. It’s a beautiful idea; a solution for people who do long for authentic, genuine music.
My Christmas and end of year present to you is a song recorded during a One Week Records session. It is by a brilliant singer song-writer called Chris Cresswell.
When I hear the songwriters on the radio, it feels so forced: these perfect verses, matched seamlessly to a polished guitar playing underneath it, that seem to be written purely to make you feel sad/nostalgic, etc. There’s no building story or emotion, just catchy and…well, empty music. Which is why I love listening to this album. This song, ‘stitches’, builds from the beginning, and just erupts alongside the guitar toward the end. So much passion, energy and emotion. It doesn’t feel like you’re being sold an idea, it sounds like you’re listening to someone who has written something deeply meaningful and passionate. That, to me, is art; not written to make you want to buy it, or to hook you from the opening sentence. This is real music and I love it. I guess I took the red pill, and whilst I’m far from enlightened, I feel better for it. Enjoy a taste of freedom.