Hello my Missives. Most of you aren’t reading my writing for the first time; most of you have read my riotous little posts before. Some of you have responded (which is great, because now Everything Is Problematic isn’t simply a site you read, it’s a place you come to hang out and just talk about things like kids dying in The Hunger Games and Samuel L. Jackson starring in Yo Gabba Gabba!), turned others people onto the site and have eagerly returned for more. You had to return, you are after all, Missives and Everything Is Problematic is where Missives go to read like minded ramblings and ravings and other words that start with the letter “r”.
Five years from now, when this site is huge and the Huffington Post is making its pitch to buy us and make us a brand under its umbrella (oh yeah, I will gladly accept that kind of sell out, and you can make it all happen!), and I am an internet star, referenced by the characters of HBO’s Girls or whatever project Lena Dunham will be working on then as “a voice of a generation” like Lena’s Hannah Horvath, we might all have to deal with another “r” word. “Rated”. We live in a world that rates everything. I’m not talking about movie ratings; nobody really gives a fuck about those unless it is their job to market an NC-17 movie to the masses or their turn to decide what movie their church will boycott next without ever seeing. I’m talking about our need to look at any piece of art, any act of intellectual creation, and reflexively put it into one of the two categories—overrated or underrated.
If you want to know how full of shit somebody is listen to what they say is overrated. Proclaiming something to be overrated is usually an act of proclaiming our own stupidity and inability to properly define terms. See an artist is actually overrated if he/she is given more critical praise than his/her work merits based upon whatever random criteria the person doing the rating happens to believe in. That’s what “overrated” means, but it seems that you can’t have a single pointless conversation about pop culture without somebody misusing this simple term. “Adele is so overrated!” somebody will emphatically insist to me, and when I ask why the only reason given is “They play her all the fucking time. I am so sick of her.” It is at this point that I dodge the idiocy be refusing to carry on the conversation. After all, if you don’t know the difference between being “rated” and being “exposed” then I don’t really have enough time to help you. I mean I have a life to live, I can’t teach people what every single word means. Plus, an actual discussion of Adele’s music is impossible because you haven’t even conceived of any criteria with which to “rate” it in the first place. “Shit! This song? Again?” is a not criterion.
In addition to haphazardly proclaiming everything that’s overexposed as something that is overrated, people also love to proclaim that things they don’t read, watch or listen to are all overrated. I call it the Radiohead Syndrome. People love to talk about how overrated Radiohead is. It has become something of a past time amongst those that used to prove how cool they were by making sure everybody knew how much they loved Radiohead. Loving Radiohead was the old cool, the 1997-2001 version of cool. The new cool is making sure everybody knows that you’re too cool to listen to Radiohead. It usually ends up sounding like this:
“Are you going to download the new Radiohead album?”
“Oh, I did yesterday. It’s pretty damn good. Are you going to get it?”
“No. They’re so overrated.”
“You don’t like them?”
“I used to, but there stuff isn’t any good anymore. All of their stuff since Ok Computer has sucked.”
“Really? How much of their more recent music have you listened to?”
“None. I just told you it sucks.”
Don’t even waste your breath giving the logical “Well if you haven’t listened to any of it how do you know it sucks?” response because they have already proven to be uninterested in logic. Have fun, ask them what their favorite Radiohead song is and when they say “Creep” you’ll know that they never listened to them in the first place. The scene I’ve laid out for you is more than hypothetical. I have had this conversation a number of times, and every single time the other participant, the one that says they’re overrated, has never even listened to a complete Radiohead album. Please understand, I don’t need everybody to love Radiohead, but just once I would like a person to simply not like them without feeling the need to imply that nobody should like them because they’re so overrated. It would be refreshing to hear somebody say something like, “No they’re good, but I’m so into metal music that I don’t really dig the laid back vibe a lot of their songs have. It’s just not my thing.”
However, you never get anything as plain and thought out as that. A simple statement of fact isn’t petty enough for the overlords of the overrated—you know those people who seem to live on declarations that people are overrated as though these declarations were actual sustenance. The overlords are petty because they seem to go out of their way to deny greatness. As I have said a number of times in conversation, and written in other pieces found on this very internet, sometimes things are considered great because they are fucking great. I call this the Citizen Kane Postulate by which we can reason that other movies are truly great because Citizen Kane was truly as groundbreaking as everybody actually says it was and it is great enough to serve as a barometer for other films rumored to move the form forward. Citizen Kane is not overrated, it’s brilliant. The Radiohead Syndrome is a musical subset of the Citizen Kane Postulate, because Radiohead really is as good as the people who aren’t overrated overlords say they are.
You may be wondering what brought all of this on in the first place, other than my own eventual demonization at the hands of such overlords (which would be phenomenal. I would like nothing more than to be read widely enough to be overrated. Come one! Rate me so that you can overrate me!).
Jack White. This was all brought on by Jack White.
Nobody in contemporary music suffers more from the Radiohead Syndrome than Jack White, not even Radiohead. He seems to release a new album every year (yes I still call them albums) with various groups and the worst of it seems to still be better than almost anything else available. It’s a testament to his talent that a song like the Raconteurs’ 2006 single “Steady, As She Goes”, which most White Stripes fans thought was just a throwaway song by a hobby side project, was one of the best pop songs released that year. He’s successful, but he doesn’t move a ton of units, so most of the people that talk about him don’t actually listen to his music. They do love to talk about him though. Critics love to talk about how great he is. His fans love to talk about how great he is. The overrated overlords? They like to talk about how great the Black Keys are.
Oh yes, there is a whole lot of, “The Black Keys are great!” going around which shouldn’t bother me so much, because I really like the Black Keys a lot. I’ve liked them for quite some time, even before they started having albums debut in the top 10 and I’m glad a whole bunch of people are buying their music. The Black Keys’ popularity is a positive for rock music in general. However, the Black Keys are being misused by people all across the country determined to use the Black Keys to deny Jack White’s great talent. Last month White released his first solo album, Blunderbuss, and it is easily the best album I’ve heard this year. Can you remember the last time you listened to an album all the way through without skipping a single track? I can. I listened to Blunderbuss all the way through three times in a row and I didn’t skip a single track, not one in the three listens combined. The album is great and it is getting fantastic reviews and for some reason these fantastic reviews have brought overlords, posing as Black Keys fans, out of the woodwork. You see, the success of the Black Keys’ doesn’t bother me at all, but the number of times I’ve heard, “The Black Keys are great! They’re so much better than the White Stripes. Jack White is so overrated.” is mindboggling.
Jack White isn’t overrated. He is one of the most consistently adventurous musicians of our time and one of its best songwriters. If anything, his proficiency as a guitar player makes him underrated. White is such a great player that quite often people only talk about his playing and ignore how amazing his lyrics are (much in the same way people never seem to talk about the fact that Bob Dylan is a damn good musician because he’s such a great lyricist). He is like Citizen Kane and Radiohead. People think he’s great not because they’re overrating him, but because he is genuinely fucking great. If you haven’t listened to Blunderbuss yet buy it and do so. If you start to feel bad because you like it just tell everybody how much more you like the Black Keys (which will certainly make you seem foolish because most people who knew who the Black Keys were before they heard “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling” are Jack White fans anyway; they always have been). After all the Black Keys, much like yours truly, aren’t due to be overrated for another few years yet.