A nickel for your thoughts...
I was listening to a local radio station recently when a DJ brought up the hot topic of the day: there had been a study done in Finland by a woman named Salli Antonnen, focusing on why people hated Nickelback so much.
Apparently the author of the study wanted to figure out the root cause of the mass popularity of this peanut-gallery phenomenon by researching over 14 years of music reviews, given worldwide, over the course of the band’s career. The conclusions to the author’s study was that:
“Nickelback is too much of everything to be enough of something. They follow genre expectations too well, which is seen as empty imitation, but also not well enough, which is
read as commercial tactics and as a lack of a stable and sincere identity.”
The DJ left us with opening up the lines for a discussion on listeners’ personal take on the issue, along with determining the credibility of this topic as an academic paper. I was immediately intrigued by this proposal, with my head already buzzing with the connections and implications revolving around what people might dismiss as a ‘420 conversation’*
There must be some deeper motive that has driven generally respectable citizens to the brink of decency, whether it be in attempting to boycott Nickelback from playing at the 2011 Grey Cup or Australian police officers tweeting warnings, accusing them of “music crimes”. I mean, all jokes aside....what gives!?
“How the “Bleep” did-we wind up like this?”
[Quick Side-note: For those of you readers that might be persuaded in believing that I am pulling this topic out of my...imagination, I assure you, I am not. The actual title of the Finnish study, “Hypocritical bullshit performed through gritted teeth’: Authenticity discourses in Nickelback’s album reviews in Finnish media” was published by Metal Music Studies (Volume 2, Number 1, 1 March 2016, pp. 39-56(18), and you can purchase the article online.]
Committed to examining this topic further, I went online to discover that I wasn’t the only one interested; in fact, there were already a vast number of articles streamlining Antonnen’s findings. While Anttonen is not shy in making her own poignant comments about her feelings towards the band, she theorizes that the degree and magnitude of animosity towards Nickelback is a result of Rock critics.
Rock critics and journalists are regarded as the elected officials presiding over the cultural values of society, telling us what is hot, or worthy of public attention and integration, and what is not. In a sense, they view themselves as what music blogger Brian Storm would describe as “protectors of authenticity and are lent credibility by bashing a commercially successful band like Nickelback”.
Anttonen would agree, noting how journalists began a sort of one-up-manship in ridiculing the band, all based more or less on the same reasoning as a way of gaining steam and support.
Yet, it would be too easy to lay all the blame, or--depending on your inclinations towards the band--praise for this phenomenon on the critics; we are all the cause. In a Globe and Mail article published online on Nov.24, 2011, Sam Sutherland (who created the Nickelback plug-in for Firefox and Google Chrome) stated that “There’s almost something fun about disliking Nickelback...I think it bonds people.”
Further along in the post, Robert Belton, a professor in the faculty of creative and critical studies at the University of British Columbia, sees it as “a meme, a sort of pop cultural flu...Somebody somewhere said, ‘Nickelback stinks’, and it was funny, so everybody else piled on, whether they actually think that or not.”
So you see, there is most certainly a game afoot; and it is a game. A game of rhetoric, retorts, and as far as all the brash critics and ‘haters’ are concerned, a game to de-throne.
Name of the Game
These last two testimonials are crucial in uncovering what lies beneath the keyboard, and into our psyches at-large. Using Nickelback as a platform, we can connect with the notion of a ‘pop cultural flu’ in the form of group-think judgment as bonding towards some of psychologist Erich Fromm’s driving principles behind his Humanistic Psychoanalysis theory.
Fromm’s main tenet is that as a result of humanity’s evolution we have become separated from our natural world, or basic nature, having replaced many of our primal instincts with our power of reasoning--the capacity for self-awareness. The ability for rational thought is both a blessing and a curse, elevating humanity as distinct among other creatures, while also making us keenly aware of our separateness and isolation. This peculiar identity we have, which Fromm refers to as ‘the freaks of the universe’, is the cause of basic anxiety.
As a way of relieving this anxiety, Fromm theorized that we have five human, or existential needs; the three most relevant to this conversation being: relatedness, rootedness, and a sense of identity.
Relatedness is the drive or union with another person or persons. Rootedness is the desire for belonging, or feeling at home again in the world. And Fromm’s notion of a need for a sense of identity is what really captivates me, which permeates and gives life to all the others. A sense of identity is the capacity to be aware of ourselves as a separate entity. It is what ultimately unites and divides, creating an I’ness as a basis of comparison to all that is not.
Our primitive ancestors were not encumbered with establishing themselves, as they identified more closely with their clan as a unit within a larger group. Even in the Middle Ages, people had relatively little freedom, anchored to their prescribed roles in a feudal system. These roles provided them security and certainty.
Yet suddenly, with the rise of capitalism and industrialism, these rigid caste-systems were now open for reinterpretation, on one hand creating opportunity while on the other hand doubt. This burden of freedom results in basic anxiety, and a feeling of being alone in the world...something to which most people find too unbearable to deal with.
So what Fromm contends, which is the title of arguably his most well known book, is that an unconscious motivation of humanity is ‘Escape From Freedom’. How that is achieved is through authoritarianism, destructiveness and conformity, found in normal people--both individually and collectively. This sounds, quite naturally, ridiculous and non-productive; yet logical when you see the alternative. Without a sense of identity, people could not hold onto their sanity, and this threat is the stimulus to do almost anything in the name of, well, having a name; a designation. And that is ‘the Game’ that we all play. If you look at the current events right now, it appears that we have simply just upped the ante.
Building and Breaking Walls
I realize the sentiment gets thrown out so often that one might wish it had a speedometer to check the mileage before use, but we are amidst an era of radical change--of transformation from the inside out. The advent of technological development, an exponentially growing world population, and an impending threat towards resource extinction has fueled the need for this expedited growth in our evolution, leaving us feeling unsettled, unbalanced, and emotionally erratic; akin to a frenzied gym-goer taking steroids.
Symbolic boundaries are being dissolved, as the use of high-speed internet, mobile laptops and cell-phones have created a liminal space between work and home-life. For many, the concept of working a 9-5 job no longer has any significance, with the idea of retirement being the subject of a dark-joke, as second-mortgages and evaporating company-pensions are leaving many baby-boomers with a rap-sheet of debt.
Millennials, who have been brought up with the idea that ‘They can do anything they set their mind to’ in the workforce are also going through a sort of panic via this expanded notion of freedom. It reminds me of the common ‘Netflix dilemma’, where one experiences a sort of paralysis by analysis brought about by the burden of choice. And, likewise to taking on a career, there is ultimately only the illusion of free will, as we have handed over trusting our own personal instincts for rational thought--which is to say more poignantly, relying on the opinions of others as the basis for decision.
I would argue that people do not know what they really want; just what they think they need, or are meant to achieve, based on societal standards and norms. This plays into Fromm’s viewpoint that the majority of people have not really transcended their pre-industrialistic clan identity, but have merely substituted it for a new ‘herd identity’. This herd identity rests on a sense of identity being established through a feeling of an unquestionable belonging to the crowd. From punctuates this by stating,
“That this uniformity and conformity are often not recognized as such, and are covered by the illusion of individuality, does not alter the facts.”
This tendency of submission is the breeding ground for what Antonnen would describe as the power of the critics, and the propulsion that gives rise to authoritarian public figures.
And in comes the Trump card...
Of course I was going to bring in the infamous Donald Duck of politics, business magnate and presidential candidate Mr.Trump. It’s sadly amusing how I can hear the lines from a particularly not-nice song from ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ in my head as I write this.
Does it not shock you now why he not only has somehow gotten himself in the running, but also, why we just can’t stop talking about him? During uncertain times of economic and cultural upheaval, in comes someone who has no problem telling you what he stands for and who he is (or would like himself to be maybe...) in his how ‘He Will Make America Great Again’ campaign. His bewildering mass support is a perfect example of Fromm’s definition of escaping freedom by authoritarianism:
“The tendency to give up the independence of one’s own individual self and to fuse one’s self with somebody or something outside oneself, in order to acquire the strength which the individual is lacking”
And conversely, all outspoken individuals who are opposed to Trump are inevitably caught in the same deck of cards; like our good ol’friends Nickelback, we need someone like him in order to establish an identity based on being ‘Not That!’. If you are truly being honest with yourself, as much as we protest his side-show antics, who among you hasn’t stopped to stare at the screen when you see him on TV? Having just come back from three years in Costa Rica, I had only minimal contact, by proxy, of Donald’s endeavors, yet guess what happened while walking in an airport terminal on the way back to Vancouver?...
Pop culture picks up on this trend, with a prime example being the latest season of South Park, which is a borderline satirical-comedy cartoon, poking fun at two of the most talked about public figures today, Donald Trump and Caitlyn Jenner.
Looking Over the Wall
While this editorial-piece may appear to just be a long-winded rant against our current predicament, it is in fact, quite the opposite. While I believe that there is less-than-altruistic rationale motivating the unprecedented attention and press given to a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump, I also agree with internet blogger and Psychic medium Danielle Egnew that Trump is the best thing that could ever happen to America--and thereby the world.
He not only represents the insanity of taking on an extreme capitalistic, divide-and-conquer attitude that is becoming more and more prevalent in western society, but to also see how we have all used him as the basis of our shadow, or ‘not-nice’ projections as a way of creating an ill-bonded connection with one another.
Acting as the unwitting spokesman for a global ‘Wake-Up Call’, we can in fact, through reflections and positive, open-minded discussions discover how we can remember our innate innocence--again.
For that is the purpose of existence. But don’t take my word for it. That is something I have come to recognize--through my interactions with others, but mainly, from going within. The practice has become the development of reconnecting with my basic instincts, or essential nature, through rational processing as a way of self-discovery.
‘When We Stand Together’
And this process, while highly personal, can only proceed through venturing out beyond one’s comforts zones amongst our collective environment. It would be folly to say that our society hasn’t done that. Just look at all the attention the transgender community has received as a result of Caitlyn Jenner. Whether you like her, or agree with her motives of pubic attention on a personal level is irrelevant. The countless people out there who are viscerally struggling with what we are all, on some level or other, going through--identity crisis--are being heard.
In Ellen DeGeneres’ 2009 commencement speech in Tulane, she talks about her personal struggle with identity and acceptance by saying,
“It was so important for me to lose everything, because I found out what the most important thing is to be true to yourself....I will always be okay because no matter what, I know who I am”
And similar to Ellen’s tongue-in-cheek final advice on not giving advice or taking anyone else’s advice, I recognize the somewhat hypocritical nature of this think-piece, highlighted by the title’s choice wording of a ‘critique on critics’. At the same time, this alludes to the take-away theme I leave you with: to recognize the absurdity of judging ‘art’ or authenticity, and how that actually dilutes the content by an outsiders labeling and stamp of approval, as well as understanding that it is okay to have a difference of opinion.
I do not write this as a means of converting every Nickelback ‘hater’ out there to new devotees; my aim is merely to place a microscopic lens in front of you for you to investigate your underlying motives at your disposal. I personally enjoy some of their songs, but you won’t see my lining up at dawn to purchase tickets to their next concert.
I also write this as an offering for a new life motto for those people who feel stuck in life, trying to decide either what career path to follow, or if the job they are currently in is the way to go. Instead of taking on the ‘You can do anything’ mentality, dare to go inwards and ask yourself what is it that life is asking of you. And if it both terrifies and excites you, then GO FOR IT! The goal of this work isn’t to stand out, but to stand up--to the role that has been given you and awaits your acceptance. And who’s to say that that role need be confined by one job description?
Article- “ Why Donald Trump is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to the USA
YouTube- Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane’s 2009 Commencement Speech
YouTube- Nickelback: When We Stand Together
* [if you are unaware of the urban meaning of ‘420’, inquire via google search...god bless the internet]
Dave Vass RTC, CCAC
Registered Therapeutic Counsellor
Certified Choose Again Counsellor
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