Henri Cartier-Who?

The deleteme pool is a flickr pool dedicated to criticising pictures through "saveme" and "deleteme" tags. After a certain number of deletemes, the picture gets deleted from the pool. Everyone thought they were doing wonderfully, until someone uploaded one of Henri Cartier-Bresson's most famous pictures and it got voted out of the pool. Some of the comments are completely priceless.

I think this, where criticism devolves into a game of chasing-the-lowest-common-denominator, is actually a parallell to what I've been thinking about lately about the iPod. I keep my iPod on shuffle alot, and the 25 most popular songs are good, I mean they're all great songs, but they aren't what I would describe as the biggest works of art on my iPod. In fact, they are almost, with the exception of a single Morphine track and a moody Kate Bush song, universally peppy, up-beat pop music/electronica tracks. Kings of Convenience, Brian Eno, Röyksopp, etc. These are not the best tracks, they are just the tracks I can listen to in the widest possible range of states.

The point being that the age of electronic vote-up-vote-down, call-in-to-the-tv-show, vote-people-out, average-out-the-sums rule might just be internet-driven demagoguery. Being a demagogue means telling people exactly what they want to hear. Being a successful demagogue means telling a greater propoportion of people what they want to hear. It's not the best leaders that get elected, it's the best politicians. In mass democracies, the problem of demagoguery, of chasing the lowest common denominator, is a serious issue at the core of everything we do. And it also manifests in our iPods and in our Flickr accounts.

If you average out critiques, and use them to decide, you're left in a vague, sprawling middle-ground that is all things to all people. Maybe quality means not chasing after popularity? Is what I'm saying here the beginning of elitism? Of aristocratic thinking? Can people really be trusted? Maybe we should have a strong state run by a benevolent aristocracy?* God only knows. But I think it means that at least criticism has to be made by good critics, and maybe not compared with other critics too much.

* Kidding.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe we should have a strong state run by a benevolent aristocracy?"

You're kidding? That's approaching my general political theory these days. I am losing hope in democracy and am becoming plebiscite and monarch obsessed. Although the idea of pure democracy does intrigue me, as modern (or American anyway) democracy--even in its most idealistic form--is more meritocracy than anything else.

June 29, 2006 6:11 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Well, it tries to be a meritocracy, at least. In the case of the US, it fails spectacularly.

Pure democracy is interesting. The greeks sorta-made-it-work almost a little for a short while. Except not really.

June 30, 2006 9:14 am  

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