Things that don’t matter

I’m a big fan of Slate. I think its a great example of how a website can succeed with quality thoughtful journalism. I love their podcasts as well. Particularly the sports-themed “Hang Up and Listen” and the “Political Gabfest.” Slate is smart and well written. Sadly, it can also be insular and pretentious. Rarely, some of their content is downright cringeworthy.

Such was my feeling listening to this week’s “Culture Gabfest.” Which I both enjoy and find frustrating in nearly equal measure. There’s no question that the three principals (Steven Metcalf, Julia Turner and Dana Stevens) are brilliant and well heeled in their knowledge. Sometimes though, they venture in to a realm of pop culture that seems…uncomfortable.

In this week’s episode, the group discussed the new Beastie Boy’s album. As a cranky old white hip hop connoisseur I knew this would be trouble. It was.

I won’t go into too many details but I found it…less than thoughtful. In a fit of frustration I went to the Culture Gabfest’s facebook page and wrote:

“Listening to Steven talk about Hip Hop is like listening to Michelle Bachman discuss evolution”

I should’ve just stayed quiet.

I wasn’t the only one to think the segment was sub par, but I certainly was the only one to be called “gratuitously obnoxious” by Steven (a phrase which fits me far better than Steven could possibly know)

So I deleted the comment  and ignored his rambling, four paragraph response in which he suggests hip hop’s penchant for keepin’ it real as being the real source of my snide remark and then tried to gain some credibility by saying he preferred Afrika Bambaataa to any of the Def Jam artists. Then, he flipped the script and demanded that someone produce a thoughtful history of hip hop on par with a book about the Beatles that he loves.


There is no point arguing with a cultural critic. He has his opinion. His opinions are the tools he uses to pay his mortgage. There is no way you can question a critic. He (or she) cannot be wrong. He cannot be proven to be anything less than an expert in whatever field he is discussing. Its vital.

If you want to discuss World War Two with a Civil War historian, he will most certainly be knowledgable and interesting but it ain’t in his wheelhouse. At the same time, however, he’s unlikely to admit that he’s wrong or out of his depth in any way.  Because well.. damn it, he’s a historian.

I shouldn’t have been so glib but it doesn’t really matter. Its just a reminder that while the internet may encourage back talk and discussion, it rarely inspires us to consider our own misconceptions or misinformation. It only seems to harden them.


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