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Thursday, September 15

i wrote a dissertation about ilm and rockism

and here it is, it might be worth bearing in mind that i'm putting this up as i thought people would like to read it rather than to blow my own trumpet, its not a brilliant essay and it has plenty of faults (of which i'm sure i might be made aware)

but i thought it might be found interesting/controversial/enjoyable or some other adjective which isnt rubbish

(sorry if i've quoted you and you've since changed your opinion or taken it out of context i did it to make my point)

I Love Music ( is a message board dedicated to the discussion of Music, many of the users take music very seriously and talk about it in depth with passion and often have had experience of the academic world. Another aspect of the site, which makes the discussion held there particularly interesting, is the background of many contributors. Many of the contributors could be described as cultural commentators, whether they are academics, journalists or mainly bloggers, many have a background in cultural studies, and the theories of many influential academic writers are often mentioned (

These circumstances have led to many threads and discussions where existing notions and academic theories are supported, perpetuated or challenged. Through the word of mouth and viral spread of the site via links from blogs etc the forum has become, a global seminar of sorts, where those passionate, educated and experienced come together and debate areas which they deem significant.

One of the ideas that has risen to some prominence from these discussions is ‘rockism’
I hope to explore in this piece to what extent does the discussion of the concept ‘rockism’ relate to existing academic debate and discussion and whether existing writing in the academic environment can explain and understand ‘rockism’ and ILM’s general aggravation with it. To do this I hope to critically engage with existing theories, frameworks and discourses in relation to taste and distinction in the world of art. I hope also to reflect upon the medium of the Internet as the forum for the germination of this term and what possible impact and implications this being the source has upon our understanding of it.

What is ILM and who uses it?
I Love Music (ILM) is an online message board based around a simple question and answer format. The premise of the message board is users are able to pose questions that are then answered by other users, however these questions very rarely tend to be closed questions but rather open questions where the first poster makes a statement that they feel the board should discus

ILM itself is one of a number of associated forums which can be found at the web address these include I Love Everything (which is as popular as ILM) and other lesser used boards like ‘I Love Film’ ‘I Love comics’ ‘I Love Books’ ‘Ask a Drunk’ and several others. Whilst users might more often post to some forums than others the audience moves between the various boards the distinction seems to be more for organizational reasons than different audiences.
The users of ILM seem to share many similarities, which are interesting when analyzing and discussing the content of their posts. Whilst any attempts to generalize about the audience of a medium is inevitably reductive however the users of ILM themselves have made attempts through certain postings to ascertain a typical user of the website. ( some of the responses to the thread titled ‘The Average ILMer’ provide interesting insights into the groups persona.
okay, IF I didn't know better I'd say:
- hates indie rock/undie rap
- overrates some pop music
- thinks Outkast is mediocre
- alt country = no good
- Pitchfork: Worse than Rolling Stone
- Christgau = Shakespeare

but that's just a general stereotype that has no relation to reality, right guys?

right? =[
(Gear! February 24th, 2004.

Here the user early in the discussion highlights some of the stereotypical factors that make the group unique, it is particularly relevant to note that all of the descriptions this user illustrates are taste distinctions.
One of the prominent users Mathew Perpetua's who is responsible for the critically acclaimed Fluxblog, ( response to the thread though light hearted does draw attention to the sense of community which ILM and the other forums offer.
The average ILMer has a blog which links almost exclusively to other ILMer blogs.
(Matthew Perpetua February 24th, 2004.

This is also significant for it draws attention to the cultural commentators which the participants find themselves in, though a blog is not the most dominant form of media it is a form of journalism and for many of the bloggers journalism is a geniune or aspirational job or a serious hobby and the blog they maintain may or may not relate to that.
~ 24-35.
~ Has had sex with around five people.
~ Drinks, maybe smokes socially, inc. pot; no harder drugs.
~ Works in either computers or something tangentially related to the entertainment industry.
~ Out of shape.
~ In debt/still paying student loans.
~ Attended at least one Lollapalooza.
~ Has worn an ironic t-shirt at some point in his or her life, AND then later decried ironic t-shirts.
~ Grew up in a suburb of a major city.

But I might be projecting here, or something.

Ben Boyer February 24th, 2004 (

This user makes an attempt at a more concrete description of the average user, the posts following this then precede to either support or subvert this description however the whole process of self definition is quite interesting as it would seem that the group is self aware and quite self reflexive. The above post goes some way to shaping ‘average’ user.

As with any popular cultural form it is significant to appreciate those creating the media text and the audience’s position within society. Perhaps the most significant social characteristic of users of ILM is the prevalence of male users, this is perhaps not surprising given the andocentric space that is the Internet. ILM is not unique in being a male subjugated arena as many have already noted.

The most striking sex-based disparity in academic CMC is the extent to which men participate more than women – women consitute 36% on LINGUIST and 42% of MBU subscribers. However, they particpate at a level that is significantly than that corresponding to their numeric representation.
(Herring 1996 p.480)

The gender make up of ILM manifests itself in three specific generic (and masculine) forms of post, which are particularly useful when understanding the concept of rockism online. As with any community ILM has developed it’s own idiolect and conventions. The list post is a typical ILM post, whether it is countdown of the best albums of an artist or the best song for a year or ranking the years themselves in order of preference. Also another common style of thread is the ‘Taking Sides Thread’ which typically takes the form or ‘TS: X Vs. Y’( where X and Y are bands, films or other (related or not) entities are placed in competition with one another. Similarly a common style of thread is the ‘Classic or Dud Thread’ ( where a user asks the collective community whether ‘X: C or D’ where X is often an artist. It isn’t surprising that a community online has developed this short hand or conventions for their discussion however the implicit meanings and value judgments behind these conventions can be particularly revealing about those involved in the discussion, and in this case useful when understanding rockism and the communities feelings towards the concept. It seems the prominence of conflict and of distinctions of quality are very much part of the day to day conversation topics of ILM and form and integral element of the forums identity.

Don’t call me a rockist…
The term rockism and the internet message board ILM and those who use it are in forever linked, Kelefa Sanneh writing about ‘rockism’ for the New York Times on October 31st 2004 makes the connection between ILM and ‘rockism’

Much of the most energetic resistance to rockism can be found online, in blogs and on critic-infested sites like, where debates about rockism have become so common that the term itself is something of a running joke.
New York Times, Kelefa Sannah, October 31st 2004

Whilst the term is said to have originated from a interview with Pete Wylie ( though this was the germination of the term but it is far from the final definition of the word.
The forum posts on ILM and it associated blogs have been largely been responsible for a formation and clarification of the meaning of the word and whilst there has been (and continues to be) some debate amongst posters for a concrete definition, a study of various posts and topics seems to reveal a specific and analyzable consensus for the common usage and understanding of the word.

It is important to understand that unlike conventional and historical forms, the internet (and specifically message boards such as ILM) are very much a transitory and visceral experience seeming to share more with spoken language than written text. This intangible environment seems to have led to a democratization of knowledge

Cyberspace has become a new arena for participation in public life, however. Within its boundaries, users can act as media audiences cruising through usenet or the world wide web, yet users are also authors public rhetoricians statesmen and pundits.
(Fernback 1997 p.37)

Whether it not this is the case, it is important to understand that a concept such as rockism is constantly in flux, this does not, however, negate the term from being both useful and worthy of study.

The reason no one can agree upon which music is rockist is that the term doesn't apply to music but attitudes. And the attitudes aren't fixed creeds when it comes to the music itself (e.g. synthesizers are bad) but much more positional and relational e.g. "Between the [x] and [y], [x] is much better because..." Which is why you can have a rockism of hip hop, a rockism of dance music etc. - at this point I'd invoke my solar system model of rockism/indieness.
(Tim Finney October 4th, 2004.

Here the poster reaches the central crux of the definition of Rockism in that central to rockism is distinctions of taste, whilst some aesthetic factors can seem to correlate across these distinctions (e.g. many ‘rockists’ would think that synthesizers are bad and guitars are better however this would not mean that they would like all bands with guitars or dismiss all bands with synthesizers. As these bands, which may satisfy some ‘rockist’ conventions, and may flout many more)

Let's make the strawman nice and big and obvious so we can see him: when Roger Rockist (ILM DJ name or what?) loves music he says that it is "authentic", "spontaneous", "emotional", "warm", "direct", "confessional", "heartfelt" etc. Yet somehow Roger Rockist doesn't actually like lots of genres that would seem to hinge pretty strongly on these qualities (such as gospel music) because the records Roger likes the most tend to be made by white male foursomes with guitar, bass, drums, and singing, recorded in a manner that keeps the foregrounding or intrusion of technology to a minimum. None of which requirements have any logical relationship to the above described pleasure-giving adjectives. Correspondingly, when Roger Rockist doesn't like music he says that it is "artificial", "slick", "fake", "too self-conscious", "cold", "pretentious"etc. What is annoying about our strawman Roger Rockist's nasty old rockist views? 1) A sneaking sense that a particular site of identification (usually white, usually male) is being praised for its supposed articulation of a general, inclusive humanity. 2) The older rock gets, the harder the authenticity shtick is to swallow, precisely because its expressive tropes are so calcified that their citation in new rock records couldn't possibly be the spontaneous outburst of adolescent innocence. 3) hinging your appreciation of art on a claim about the sincerity of the people who make it is naive, or simply optional etc. etc.
can we get this straw man list to 100?
(Drew Daniel October 4th,2004.

This post was taken from one of the many threads on ILM to reference rockism this one under the title "Does rockism exist?" ( with many of these threads there is much discussion as to the definition of the word however Drew Daniel pertinently highlights one of the clearer and commonly held views of rockism. It also draws attention to the online community’s antagonism towards rockism as a discourse, the phrase is more often used as an insult and the majority of the community would not wish to describe themselves as a rockist.

One of the most interesting aspects to the concept of rockism is its quasi-academic nature, whilst the word has none of the credence of an accepted and printed academic term, much discussion, debate and thought which has gone into the term with individual threads debating its meaning reaching huge lengths. ( The term seems to imply a distinct hierarchy of taste whereby certain aspects and ‘qualities’ of rock are given positions of importance.

I think I had kind of a similar reaction as yours when I first found ILX -- I didn't know anyone my age who I respected who liked pop music, so reading such well-informed, interesting discussions of it was jarring -- but then I slowly realized that this was kind of awesome, and it encouraged me to pay more attention to pop myself and not just blindly dismiss it. At which point I stopped being concerned about demographics and what-does-it-say-about-me-if-I-like-such-and-such and just kinda opened my ears more. Which I don't mean to get self-righteous about. It's just kind of exciting to engage with new stuff, and pop music is especially good for that because everyone hears it and has an opinion about it.
(jaymc November 12th, 2004.

This post exemplifies the conflict which is at the center of the term of rockism, it exists on the board as a phantom binary to reinforce the taste of those participating in ILM and in the above post ‘jaymc’ highlights a discourse fundamentally important to community of ILM; that all music is important and didn’t ought to be dismissed on nonmusical terms. The concept of rockism (with its belief in authenticism, mastery etc) is in stark opposition to this discourse. A ‘rockist’ would not appreciate all music for not all music does fit the aesthetic filter of rockism. The aesthetic appreciation of rock as known on ILM as rockism is not purely musical in its distinction (which is perhaps a little paradoxical given the discourse of ‘all about the music’ which is part of ‘rockism’ rather than ‘about all music’)

Were Kant, Adorno and Bruadrillard Rockists?
The phenomenon of taste as it is understood today is relatively recent in formation Hans-Georg Gadamer in 'Truth and Method' (1965) suggests that in the eighteenth century taste was not seen as personal choice but in this time Philosophers such as Kant saw taste and quality not as an individual preference (which maybe influenced by external factors like Bourdieu believed) but that there were certain things that were beautiful and others that were vulgar.

For Kant there was a distinction between art for art's sake and art with a purpose. Those that are made for its own sake has become known as the 'Kantian Aesthetic’, which has the binary opposition of the 'Popular Aesthetic' as highlighted here by John Codd

The Kantian 'aesthetic' stands in diametric opposition to the popular 'aesthetic' it is upon the absolute primacy of form of function.
(Codd, 1990)

This understanding of taste is problematic for ‘rockism’, as with what appears to be happening on ILM neither the ‘rockist’ music or the ‘non-rockist’ music can ever achieve this Kantian Aesthetic as the music discussed and rock ultimately operates within the music industry the music is never created purely for arts sake, it created to sell the album on which it appears, or accompany the images on a film or all number of other reasons, however it would seem to some extent that rockism is an attempt to achieve this Kantian Aesthetic which is inevitable destined to fail due to the music position within the Music Industry.

Essential to much of the writing in cultural studies on popular music is the commoditization of the art, whilst it is open to some debate whether the nostalgia for a pre-phonographic period, when commercial influence weren’t prevalent in music, is justified; the industrialization of music as art and the conflict this presents is fundamental to any understanding of popular music, Marxist theorist acknowledge the huge influence political economy has had on music and art.
Whilst Adorno shared some of the viewpoints of Marx and was from the Frankfurt School he viewed popular culture in a slightly different way; he believed that the 'cultural industries' acted as a distraction for the masses intended to divert them from the inherent inequality present in society as described by Marx.

The film has succeeded in transforming subjects so indistinguishably into social functions, that those wholly encompassed, no longer aware of any conflict, enjoy their own dehumanization as something human, as the joy of warmth. The total interconnectedness of the culture industry, omitting nothing, is one with total social delusion.
P206 Theodor W. Adorno (1974), Minima Moralia. Reflections from damaged life

Whilst initially it would seem that Adorno would be critical of all ‘popular cultural music’ (by popular cultural music I mean both pop music, rock music and all non-art music) Adorno’s viewpoint does share some similarities with that of ILM’s ‘rockist’.

Adorno believed that there were two types of music, and the distinction between these two categories of music does seem to share some affinity to rockism and its belief legitimate and non-legitimate music.

Max Paddison (Paddison 1996) in his writing on the work of Adorno defined these two types of music as Category I and Category II, he describes the music of Category I as uncritical and unreflexive where the music ‘acts as a kind of ‘social cement’ wherein the individual sacrifices individuality to the totality’ Adorno is particularly hostile to this kind of music, he sees it as an opiate for the ruling class distracting and ultimately preventing the proletariat from rebelling against the structures in which they find themselves.

The second category is more confrontational than the first, which Paddison believes ‘opposes the situation as it is and strives
through negation, to retain a necessary tension between the subject and the object, individual and collectivity’

All though Adorno believed that it this second category couldn’t exist within the ‘cultural industries’ such as modern ‘popular cultural music’ if one was to transpose Adorno’s categories Category I would be seen as ‘non-rockist’ texts and Category II as ‘rockist’ texts. Rockism celebrates the confrontational, to the extent although musically quite distinct The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan are part of the ‘rockist’ canon. So ILM would seem to be celebrating the unreflexive and uncritical, Adorno’s first category of music.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of applying Adorno’s theory of mass culture to rockism is Adorno’s belief that all popular culture is essentially identical. To Adorno the distinctions between rock and pop are essential trivial as they are all part of the cultural industry.

Under Monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer interested in concealing the monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth is they are just a business made into an ideology to justify the rubbish they produce.
(Adorno and Horkheimer , 1944, p.120)

Whilst to some extent the ‘rockist’ spectre, as implied by the users of ILM, would agree with the sentiment of this piece, in reference to the pop or non-rock music as favored by many ILM users, it is an inconsistent position to hold. They themselves see non-rockist music as inferior but ultimately, in the eyes of a traditional Adorno view-point, it is one weak art form criticizing another. To this extent the online expression of taste present on ILM with its debate surrounding rockism and anti-rockism can be understood using the work of Adorno but not fully explained.

Though theoretically quite far away from some of the viewpoints of Adorno some of Baudrillard’s writing (Baudrillard 1981) can be transposed to offer some possible explanations for the phenomena of rockism, firstly is in terms of Nostalgia. Baudrillard's understandings of signs can be used to explain the phenomena of rockism; the nostalgia described by Baudrillard seems not that far removed from rockism.

The bygone object derives from the cultural baroque: It’s “aesthetic” value is always a derived value: in it the stigmata of industrial production and primacy function are eliminated. For all these reasons the taste for the bygone is characterized by the desire to transcend the dimension of economic success, to consecrate a social success or a privileged position in a redundant, culturalised symbolic sign. Bygone is, among other things, social success that seeks legitimacy, a hereditary, a “noble” sanction.
(Baudrillard 1981)

This quote offers two different levels at which rockism can be understood through the writing of Baudrillard. Firstly there is a definite sense of nostalgia to be seen in rockism, much rockism is motivated by the dissatisfaction with the modern and that it is not as ‘genuine’ as the music of the past. Secondly “the desire to transcend the dimension of economic success” Rockism believes that money should not be the motivation for making music, to the extent that ‘selling out’ is often leveled as a criticism, and to many rock bands it isn’t desirable to sell ‘lots’ of records which is in quite distinct disagreement with the capitalist agenda in which the producers of rock exist. So therefore music, which seeks to sell many records and be popular, is against the ‘rockist’ doctrine.
Baudrillard also offers other consequences of this discourse within ‘rockism’ related to the capitalist economic circumstances.

Thus the painted oeuvre becomes a cultural object by means of signature. It is no longer simply read but perceived in a different value
(Baudrillard 1981)

This assertion when applied to music can provide a quite revealing justification for rockism. If we replace Baudrillard’s ‘painted oeuvre’ with ‘popular cultural music’ he points out the greater ‘value’ of a piece with a clear and obvious author we see how rockism might be invoked. One of the primary beliefs of the ‘rockist’ is that music performed by the writer is superior to other circumstances this belief is little more than the desire for the ‘signature’ as described by Baudrillard.
Authorship and attitudes to it is one particular area of rockism filled with discourses all of which form an important part of the philosophy of ‘rockism’ and is perhaps an interesting area of enquiry in its own right. Baudrillard and others who have talked in terms of authorship offer some interesting insights into possible ways of understanding rockism, however I believe there are some more compelling schools of thought within the world of academia which offer a more complete and more accurate understanding of ‘rockism’

Is it Bourdieu’s Fault?
It would seem the concept of Rockism owes either conscious or unconscious debts to Bourdieu and his work on taste. Although the theories cannot be directly transferred onto rockism, the idea of cultural capital and competence does shed some light upon rockism and provides an interesting existing academic discourse that is relevant to the understanding of the concept.

Central to Bourdieu theories is that upbringing and education are fundamental to our tastes and that there is a scientific
correlation which can be made to justify why people have a preference for certain pieces of art, whether it be a painting, a piece of music or a sculpture. He sees this combination of upbringing and education and its consequential influence on taste as a marker of class. I.e. those educated to a higher standard and brought up around ‘high’ art are more likely to appreciate ‘high’ art and this is indicative of their position in the class system. He justifies this, as he believes to appreciate any piece of art one must have absorbed and understood the signs it encapsulates and possess the necessary experience to decipher the ‘message’ that is encoded in the piece.

Consumption is in this case, a stage in a process of communication, that is, an act of deciphering; decoding that presupposes practical or explicit mastery of the code.
(Bourdieu, 1984)

Bourdieu labels this ‘code’ as cultural competence. In the case of Rockism; the paradigm that a ‘rockist’ would seek to perpetuate could be seen to be related to cultural competence, for example to fully appreciate a ‘rockist’ text one would need to understand and appreciate authenticity as a positive non-musical aspect of the song. To have this understanding one would have the ‘cultural competence’ Bourdieu describes. However being aware of the discourse of authenticity (as anyone with this ‘cultural competence’ would have) doesn’t mean the listener would place huge importance on its presence, as a ‘rockist’ might. So one could be aware of the authenticity of an artist and this wouldn’t mean that one didn’t appreciate those who weren’t ‘authentic’.

Rockism and Bourdieu can also be seen to interact in another way. Bourdieu understood there be a spectrum between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ art forms and that certain forms seemed to have a position above some forms but below others, Bourdieu illustrates this with the example photography which could be seen as a more worthy form than pulp fiction but ultimately less artistically credible than sculpture. However photography hasn’t always been considered such an artistic form and seems to have been ‘consecrated’ in position as legitimate art.

Rock music could be subject to the process of ‘consecration’ to this semi-worthy, location and rockism should be seen as symptomatic of this increase in ‘cultural significance’. It is not until an aesthetic has reached a certain ‘consecrated’ position that the other can be criticized for its failure to meet that aesthetic.

It is not surprising that rock is finding it self in the position of becoming a ‘consecrated’ form. It has been the most successful genre of music from the mid to late 20th century; this success has also been during a period when music has had huge involvement in the lives of much of western society. The invention of the phonograph and other concrete recording technologies for music has dramatically altered both the way in which music is consumed and experienced.
Rock was the genre form most closely tied to the technological advancements seen in the late 20th century, which has led to music becoming a central part of the cultural zeitgeist. The connection between the musical and artistic form and the technological advancements is particularly interesting in its own right; however the process of consecration of rock may have been aided by technology it is not just one whereby an artistic form reaches a certain critical mass and then makes the slow journey up the hypothetical mountain towards ‘high’ art. Were this to be the case the whole the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture would be proved redundant; the consecration process is dictated by the reaction of cultural
intermediaries and gatekeepers.
Bourdieu himself talks about the role of education in the consecration of artistic forms

The ‘eye’ is a product of history reproduced in education. This is true for the mode of artistic perception now accepted as legitimate, that is, the aesthetic disposition, the capacity to consider in and for themselves, as form rather than function
(Bourdieu, 1984)

It is only when institutions such as those responsible for the education and those within academic circles begin to recognize the legitimacy of the cultural form does it become consecrated. The very discussion of rock in this dissertation shows to a certain extent that rock has become a consecrated form, it is only when a work is criticized and analyzed that it becomes worthy of such.

The rise of cultural studies and an appreciation for popular cultural forms has led to rock moving from a popular cultural form to a ‘high’ form it is perhaps also interesting that pop music (as favored by ‘anti-rockists’ users of ILM) could be seen to be going through a similar process as rock has in the past.

Scholars of cultural studies, partially motivated by writers such as Bourdieu’s discussion of popular culture and their own personal politics, have worked under the belief that cultural capital is inevitably linked with notions of class, have believed that low culture isn’t any less legitimate than high culture, and that it has only reached its position privilege due to the license of those who indulge in the forms. Therefore there is a movement represented by the Birmingham School of Cultural to acknowledge and appreciate popular culture and inevitably the popular form of rock, which has, ultimately, lead to its consecration.

The influence of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies is significant, Founded by Richard Hoggart (McGuigan 1992) in 1964, with Stuart Hall as deputy director, those writing from the centre, educated their or simply influenced by the centre marked a significant shift in the perception of popular culture and offered a very distinct appreciation of popular culture which would seem to provide some of the academic impetus responsible for the consecration of rock.
There are two ways in which the school’s influence seems to have relevance to rockism, the first is the importance of the common culture. Though not directly part of the Birmingham School, John Fiske can be seen as someone who has assimilated the work of the school and used it to form his own skew of the viewpoints emanating from the school.

In this book I have argued against the common belief that the capitalist cultural industries produce only an apparent variety of product whose variety is illusory for they all promote the same capitalist ideology
(Fiske 1987 p309 cited McGuigan 1992 p71)

Here Fiske takes issue with the understanding of the Cultural Industries as purveyed by Adorno (1994) he believes that there is genuine choice and ultimately merit within the popular culture created within a capitalist regime.
The rise of prevalence of Fiske and other Birmingham School writers (influenced or actual) has been suggested are responsible for the rise of media studies as a subject and discipline ( and with it the more academic and seriously popular culture has been taken.

Secondly implicit in the thought of the founding members of the centre is that there was both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ popular culture.

In terms of actual quality (and it is this rather that with ‘effects’ that we are principally concerned) the struggles between what is good and worthwhile and what is shoddy and debased is not a struggles against the modern forms but a conflict within these media
(Hall and Whannel 1964 p388 cited in McGuigan 1992 p52)

This statement highlights both aspects of the academic viewpoint epitomized by the Birmingham school which are pertinent to rockism, first, as we have already discussed, the importance of common popular culture, but secondly and almost Leavis like belief that there is a distinction to be made inside popular culture between what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’
In an interview with Richard Hoggart by David Ward he clarifies what Hoggart believes that a distinction which needs to be made between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ popular culture.

Ever the discriminator, the unashamed borrower of Matthew Arnold's touchstones, he has kind things to say about Eastenders while putting the boot into Neighbours
(David Ward

This belief that there is both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ within the popular seems to permeate and to some extent justify ‘rockism’ Rock is the ‘good’ and pop is bad. A kind of relativist point of view, which Hoggart touches upon where Ward quotes Hoggart in the same interview.

The other thing, which is more important, is that they tend to be relativist and won't make judgements. The get-out phrase, and it's not just cultural studies people who use it, is "It's good of its kind". They start by saying that the Beatles in their own way are as good as Beethoven.
(David Ward

Here Hoggart might be quite dismissive of the relativist position but ultimately the influence of the Centre he established has led to this position in which Rock has become a consecrated form and that distinctions are allowed to be made ‘within’ popular culture.

Rock has only become consecrated because of its discussion and appreciation as a form of popular culture, however; now some of the users of ILM do not (or no longer) see it as legitimate form of popular culture. The process of consecration has led to ILM users, who are antagonistic to rockism, seeing rock as little different to how these scholars would have seen opera or other classical forms.

Bourdieu in Distinction identified three strata taste the first is ‘legitimate taste’ which he described as ‘the most legitimate of not completely legitimate forms and/or less well know pieces of legitimate forms’ there seems to be some evidence of rock reaching this strata of legitimate taste. This is perhaps best illustrated by Howard Goodall’s ‘20th Century Greats' series broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004 ( which was dedicated to the great composers of the 20th Century, and amongst more conventional composers like Bernard Herrmann he dedicated a show to Lennon and McCartney, this program about influential composers seems a prime example of a the 'most legitimate' of a 'less legitimate form' of Bourdieu first strata. The second is what Bourdieu has labeled the 'middle brow' which are the 'minor works of the major arts and the major works of minor arts' and then 'popular taste’ which is music 'devalued by popularization' Whilst these descriptions were intended to be used in reference to 'classical' music they seem equally applicable to 'popular cultural music' and would seem to allow for the consecration of rock and as a consequence 'rockism' as discussed on ILM Bourdieu in distinction makes a statement which would seem to explain rockism
given the consecration of rock.

Cultural consecration does indeed confer on the objects, persons and situations it touches, a sort of ontological promotion to transubstantiation
Bourdieu 1984

Here Bourdieu seems to be implying that the consecration process gives the object a certain cachet and it could be suggested that rockism is a consequence of this cachet and the position of status is responsible for the dissatisfaction with the other than rockism seems to represent.
This consecration process isn’t as unusual as it might seem McGuigan (1992) points out that the status of a piece is not static and can respond to a variety of different forces pulling it upwards or conversely downward in the perceived pecking order of culture. History provides one clear example which McGuigan highlights Shakespeare, who at the time he produced his plays where considered to be popular culture (McGuigan 1992 p65) yet now has reached the point of consecration of ‘legitimate’ culture that it forms a central element of the compulsory national curriculum of the British education system ( If we see the education system as one of the most powerful agents of cultural legimization as Bourdieu would (1984) this is perhaps the ultimate examples of consecration at work, but is this actually any different to the process that the Beatles have gone through, above I have illustrated how the music of the Beatles is taken seriously in series such as Howard Goodall’s. Even Liverpool’s airport is named after a member of the Beatles ( bar the inclusion of the study of the lyrics of Strawberry Fields Forever on the GCSE English course The Beatles (and with them rock and its generic conventions which they had a large role in cementing)have been consecrated.

ILM and the ‘anti-rockists’
There is a side debate on ILM to those discussing rockism; some people have been keen to promote a dichotomy to rockism which has been labeled ‘popism’ ( The debate around ‘popism’ is not as developed as that of rockism and for the benefit of this essay I will not be using the term of ‘popism’, whilst there is a definite group of people on ILM who are keen to promote the aesthetic ideals of pop music over those of rock I feel this sentiment could better be defined as ‘anti-rockism’.

As for the term "Popist": I didn't invent the word, I'm just using it. Just as Rockist refers to an almost-but-not-quite definable ideology, "Popist" refers to another almost-but-not-quite definable ideology. I have thought about this for a while, and have come to the conclusion that both ideologies -- while not perfect -- have valid points and are both meritorious in mine eyes.
(Lord Custos Alpha, October 14th, 2002

I feel that is a more useful term to be used as ‘popism’ seeks to place the generic forms of pop and rock as diametric dualistic binary oppositions to one another. Whilst there are distinct differences between the aesthetic ideals of the two genres, (for example the importance of the album as opposed to the single) the general sentiment seems to against the weaknesses of rockism rather than for the positives of ‘popism’

Custos the problem is that you have fictitious notions of "rockism" and "popism" and even if "popism" did exist it wouldn't be the opposite of "rockism" which is simply "anti-rockism" cf. endless comparisons to the term "sexism".

And having constructed these two complete strawmen you now are attempting to hang everything on this miserably false dichotomy and prove how smart you are by showing how both positions are flawed. Well, duh, because you made them up that way. We're talking about music and culture here, okay, not mathematical theorems. You can't dissect everything to that level with this much reductionism, at least seriously.
(Sterling Clover, October 14th, 2002.

While there does seem to be some common ground between these two viewpoints I feel that the ‘anti-rockist’ is a more useful opposite position than the ‘popist’ as the ‘anti-rockist’ rejects the ‘rockist’ discourse whereas the ‘popist’(in its truest sense) merely chooses a different aesthetic framework in judgments of taste.
However the music as favoured by anti-rockism however will likely never reach the consecrated status of rock for a number of reasons
a) Pop isn’t a genre or aesthetic set of conventions (to the extent rock is) it is music defined by its success as apposed to its style
b) Anti-rockism sentiment detracts from the essence of pop itself; in Kantian terms pop is function over form (whether the function be for enjoyment, dancing, escapism etc) the ‘anti-rockist’ appreciates pop as a form rather than for its function which is in itself ultimately ‘rockist’, it is this the very criticism and debate on pop music is merely the dominant hegemonic order applying their own principles and guidelines to judge the other rather than the popular being accepted on its own terms by the dominant hegemonic order.

However this is not a deliberate ploy by the ‘anti-rockists’ of ILM; they do seem to hold the popular in genuinely high regard and appreciate it as more relevant and rewarding than ‘rock’ however they are unable to escape the position in which they find themselves, with the cultural capital to appreciate the popular as art they are unable to appreciate the popular as popular.

The artist Annie as perfect example of anti rockism she is particularly popular on ILM
There hasn't been a better record than Chewing Gum EVER. And I haven't even been able to hear the other ones yet. I am assuming this will be an/The Album of year, 2004 is SO GREAT.
(Alex in Doncaster, July 30th, 2004

This kind of praise isn’t limited to just a few users and seems to be common across the community, she seems to fit all the needs of the ‘anti-rockist’ performing music not hugely stylistically different from established pop acts: for example she has shared the producer with Rachel Stevens (Richard X) however unlike Rachel Stevens, Annie’s success has been relatively small (only reaching number 25 in the UK singles chart in September 2004) This provides the perfect ‘anti-rockist’ text, firstly it fits the aesthetic filter in not seeking to be ‘rockist’, the music has no relation to guitars, it seems a synthetic rather than acoustic performance, the lyrics to Chewing Gum for example have no literary pretensions, also the poor commercial success makes Annie twofold a perfect ‘anti-rockist’ text, firstly the ‘rockist’ cannot claim that the appreciation is some how ironic or an attempt to be subversive, that they only like pop music because they are familiar with it and it is inescapable and secondly (and probably less consciously significant) is the ‘anti-rockist’ has none of the stigma attached to Annie as a more commercially popular artist might.

The ‘anti-rockist’ sentiment of ILM as exemplified by Annie could also be described as Cultural Populism a term explored by Jim McGuigan. This attitude could be viewed to some extent as an online cultural manifestation of Populism that McGuigan describes as

The Mobilization of political majorities around a simple and probably disingenuous slogans perhaps appealing to the lowest common denominator
(McGuigan, 1992, p.1)

The important element to this definition is the ‘lowest common denominator’ McGuigan in his book describes what he sees as a growing desire to appeal and recognize the views of the masses. For him Populism is seen as a binary to Elitism which if it were transposed onto this case study Elitism would be synonymous with rockism. The work of the Birmingham School is an example of what McGuigan has labeled ‘Cultural Populism’

Cultural Populism is the intellectual assumption made by some students of popular culture that the symbolic experiences and practices of ordinary people are more important analytically and politically than culture with a capital C
(McGuigan, 1992, p.4)

This ‘Cultural Populism’ can be transposed quite comfortably onto some of the sentiment, which can describe as ‘anti-rockist’ feeling on ILM. It is believed that the ‘rockist’ places undue importance on certain elements of the music (and the no-musical aspects of the music, e.g. whether the person who is performing the music was the writer etc.) and while the anti-rockism asserts its identity by the rejection of these aesthetic judgments it is a reaction to the perceived naivety of the rockism rather than a belief that the aesthetic ideals of rockism are implicitly flawed. This reaction against the elitism is no different to ‘Cultural Populism’ in academia. McGuigan attributes this academic phenomenon to, some extent, the social makeup of those involved within Cultural Studies that has ‘appealed to those from disenfranchised groups e.g. working class, female, ethnic’

Yet it would seem that the typical ILM user does not seemingly fit this loose profile, however they seem to covertly or implicitly support the academics from this background responsible for the ‘Cultural Populism’
This phenomenon which could be described as ‘liberal guilt’ is perhaps a hidden motivation to some of the ‘anti-rockist’ mood found on ILM, despite essentially belonging to the hegemonically powerful, the users of ILM are aware of the inherent inequality that exists. Rockism is a manifestation of the hegemonically powerful and whilst this might have been a change in hegemony from recent history it remains the voice of the dominant; as rock has been consecrated it has essentially become the conservative norm. Rockism is perhaps aggravating to ILM as a ‘rockist’ would not believe themselves to be the conservative norm, much of the what rock sees is important is based on confrontation. Rock and its very mythology finds itself in difficulty once it becomes the dominant; anti-rockism itself could be viewed as some kind of consequence of the consecration of rock as to not appreciate rock is to be more confrontational and controversial than it is not like it. So this offers three explanations for anti-rockism firstly that it is a form of Cultural Populism where the ‘anti-rockists’ appoint cachet on the non-rock for its mass appeal, this is to some extent the case as to be a ‘rockist’ inevitably and unavoidably is to be narrow minded, if you are to criticize for paying to much attention to the small you are implicitly valuing the large, so to some extent anti-rockism is a nonacademic form of popular culturalism.

Secondly anti-rockism could be viewed as a kind of ‘rockism of the non-rock’ rockism to some extent depends of being the underdog. Now as rock is now a consecrated form it’s not controversial or rebellious to like the Beatles, (regardless of how conscious this desire may be) the ‘anti-rockist’ favours non-rock and subverts this form of music to fill the role of rock. This perhaps explains some of the over the top analysis of the non-rock and negates the difficulties of enjoying pop in the Kantian sense; in that by analysis that which is not intended to be analysed when one enjoys form over the function when the arts purpose was function above form.

However an understanding based purely in this explanation would ignore the third and possible quite likely conscious or unconscious motivation for anti-rockism that it is motivated by some kind of liberal guilt of some kind. Jack Wheeler the neo-conservative has spoken to criticize a kind of liberal guilt (for overt political means) In his online article “The Secret to the suicidal Liberal Mind” ( he touches on the concept of ‘auto-racism’ which he believes ‘has become a defining characteristic of the liberal mind.’ This word seems similar to that of Rockism in terms of that it is not clearly and concretely defined beyond this piece. ‘auto-racism’ is constructed with the prefix ‘auto’ which in this case means oneself in the same way as in autobiography, which Wheeler defines as ‘A racists hatred of one’s on race’ whilst his polemic against the liberals may be divisive he does highlight a way of potential understanding anti-rockism and liberal guilt. Wheeler sees this kind of ‘auto-racism’ as a white persons hate of the white person for the injustices in which the race has enacted, this kind of thinking can be transferred quite comfortably as a possible justification for anti-rockism and the preferntialism toward pop on ILM, where the educated hegemonically dominant dislike the music of the dominant.

ILM is a vibrant and active online community, the people involved are astute and passionate admirers of music, many are familiar of some of the debates surrounding popular culture though the phenomena itself would seem to notbe framed in an academic discourse. However the concepts of ‘rockism’ as described on ILM and ‘anti-rockism’ as performed on ILM can be understood through a variety of the existing academic discourses.

A ‘rockist’ would argue that rock music is ‘art for arts sake’ though it is problematic for any work operating within a capitalist economic system to truly achieve the Kantian aesthetic. Simarly ‘Rockism’ seems to have a relationship with the work of Adorno, and a ‘Rockist’ might agree with some of Adorno’s statements in regard of art however ultimately it would be unlikely Adorno would have agreed with the rockist as rock is just a distinction within Popular Culture. Also the work of Bruadrillard can offer a perspective on rockism, notions of authorship and nostalgia all play a part in the dominence of ‘rockism’ Whilst all these viewpoints offer some interesting ways of understanding the concept of rockism as manifested online in ILM it is the work of Bourdieu and his understanding of taste which offers perhaps the most compelling explaination for ‘rockism’.

As a consequence of Bourdieu the academic and ultimately the public sphere becomes more willing to understand taste as a consequence of upbringing and social environments. This allows for the progressive thinking of those who loosely could be described as the Birmingham School who have celebrated the importance and quality of popular culture, this in combination with other factors has led to rock being consecrated. To those of ILM who hold ultimately a similar popular culturalist viewpoint; rock can no longer be seen as popular culture, this in combination with other factors such as liberal guilt is perhaps responsible for the ‘anti-rockist’ sentiment found on ILM.

During my discussion of ‘rockism’ I found the whole process invoked an idea as raised by Foucault, that discussion and commentary on a subject presupposes that the subject of study contains some essential implicit meaning, ‘rockism’ can be understood and explained in a number of differing and compelling ways, the very real phenomena and the reaction too it as found ILM contains no central idea or justification for the doctrine existing however its does exist and this justifies the attempt to understand it.

Books and Journals

Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer 1944 The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception in Dialectic of Enlightenment

Baudrillard, Jean, 1981 For a critique of the political economy of the sign
St Louis : Telos P. 1981

Bourdieu, Pierre 1984 Distinction : a social critique of the judgement of taste
London : Routledge, 1984

Codd, John, 1990 ‘Making Distinctions: The Eye of the Beholder,’ in Harker, Mahar And Wilkes (eds) An Introduction to the work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Practice and Theory, London: Macmillan 1990

Fernback, Jan, 1997, ‘The Individual within the Collective: Virtual Ideologies and Realisation of Collective Principles’ in Steven Jones (ed.) Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication Sage, London 1997

Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1965 Truth and Method Continuum International Publishing Group; 2nd Rvsd edition, New York, January 1, 1989

Herring, Susan, 1996 ‘Gender and Democracy in computer Mediated Communication’ in Rob Kling (ed.) Computerisation and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices London 1996

McGuigan, Jim 1992 Cultural Populism London : Routledge, 1992

Paddison, Max, 1996 Adorno, modernism and mass culture : essays on critical theory and music London : Kahn & Averill,

Sannah, Kelefa, ‘The Rap Against Rockism’ in New York Times, , October 31st 2004

Anon, Curriculum Online English Home

Anon, Liverpool John Lennon Airport Home http://www.liverpool 10/05/05

Goodall, Howard 20th Century Greats 10/05/05

Ward, David A Nice Line In Cheap Hats – Birmingham Magazine 10/05/05

Wheeler, Jack The Secret to the suicidal Liberal Mind 10/05/05

ILM Messages

Main Site –
Bourdieu Search results -
Typical User Thread-
Taking Sides Thread
Classic or Dud Thread
Root of Rockism
Discusion of Rockism
Getting Used to Anti-rockism
Annie the Anti-rockist text -


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