GW Expat: Dance music and cultural imperialism

Junior Jeffrey Parker, a history major from Winston-Salem, N.C., is spending the spring semester in Oxford, England, after also spending the fall term there. Twice a month, he will share his experiences and observations from England as one of GW’s many expats. God save the Queen.

I need a fix. Getting off the bus, I scan the area, seeking out the source that’s going to give me my first high in months – my temporary salvation. I walk, then run the few blocks to the building, and practically fall through the doors in desperation. Indie goddess Jenny Lewis’ voice washes over me, and all is right with the world.

Rock critic Lester Bangs called them flashbulb moments. Inexpressibly brief, these tiny instances in and out of time offer a chance to see, to feel what makes music beautiful and true. Unfortunately, the lights have been mostly out in England, and it’s because of faulty American flashbulbs that never did and never will work.

I came to England expecting something different. This, after all, is that magical land where the best of American artists, from Jimi Hendrix to the Strokes, came to break out when the American musical landscape was too constricting to accept them. Lady Liberty takes in the huddled masses, you see, but has a propensity to kick them out when they manage to write a good rock song, and England has historically been the beneficiary when Americans just “didn’t get it.”

Unfortunately (for England, for the state of music, but, most pertinently, for me), this country is now the victim. England doesn’t receive what Americans spurn, but rather a super-concentrated cocktail of what we love. Not coincidentally, this particular cordial is saccharine, devoid of nutritional value, and it tastes terrible. It’s like

Of course, there is the possibility that I just don’t get it. At a lot of clubs here, there is an odd predilection for “cheese,” or music that everyone kind of knows is terrible. Think of it as guilty-pleasure music, minus the pleasure part. For whatever reason, everyone here goes wild if the DJ puts on, say, the “Grease” soundtrack in its entirety. Now, you might say to me, “Jeffrey, it’s midnight, they’re all really, really drunk.” And this is true. But, I’m worried that there’s something else going on that I’m just not savvy enough to ascertain.

Now, bear with me. Perhaps it’s just a postmodernist attempt to undermine the dominant perceptions about aesthetic objectivity. You know, through listening to Garth Brooks.

A friend of mine says his ultimate goal is to attain a state of “Zen irony,” meaning that when someone asks him if he’s kidding about something, he can honestly say, “You know what, I don’t even know anymore.” Maybe the Brits have just reached “Zen irony.” Maybe there’s a meta-level that I’m just not getting. Oh God, maybe I’ve wasted all this time cultivating taste when all I needed to do was tear down the oppressive hegemonic critical superstructure by denying truth and rocking out to Train.

I can’t bring myself to believe that, though, mainly because (thankfully) most people aren’t contemplating Foucault’s postmodernism when they buy their records. I’m more inclined to think that it’s America’s ultimate revenge for colonialism. Perhaps our cultural imperialism is payback for their actual imperialism. They sent troops, we sent Jason Mraz. They opened fire on civilians at the Boston Massacre … well, I’m sure O.A.R. will be hitting British shores any day now.

Dutch scholar Rob Kroes describes Americanization as the “variety of processes through which America exerts its dismal influence on European cultures,” and one can’t help but begrudgingly acknowledge the point. The United States is the dominant force in world affairs, beyond just politics, and everybody is paying for it in eardrums damaged from aural bile.

I suppose the crap rises to the top in all cultures, and as a result, is what the rest of the world gets. Good God, I’m beginning to see a(nother) downside to American hegemony.

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