Is Triple J’s Hottest 100 all about White Male Privilege?

The Guardian is (yet again) trying to stir up trouble. This time it’s over the results of an end-of-year list by an Australian indie-rock radio station of being too male. It’s one of those articles where excessive use of sweeping generalisations means that the valid points the author is trying to make end up getting lost in the noise. The comments thread is a predictable car crash.

On one level it looks like a trivial twitter spat being blown up out of all proportion, and that spat itself looks like a prime example of two people talking past one another because neither is willing to recognise that the other is using a different meaning of the dreaded word “privilege”. Or that the social justice activism’s definition of the word was meant to describe structural inequality rather than be used to attack individuals.

But the wider point of whether or not a poll from an indie-rock radio station is a symbol of endemic sexism in the music scene doesn’t get coherently expressed. As some comments have pointed out, mainstream commercial pop is dominated either by female singers or male singers such as Justin Bieber with overwhelmingly female audiences. You could make a strong case that genre snobbery has a more than a whiff of sexism, especially the implication that indie-rock is somehow superior and more “authentic” than pop. But the piece doesn’t go there.

Taste in music is both subjective and deeply personal. The sorts of music people enjoy listening to, or indeed make, is often strongly gendered, and that gets more so the more you move away from the commercial mainstream. Which means it can get ugly very quickly when you inject identity politics into music fandom in a clumsy and heavy-handed manner. If you imply to someone that their preference for rock over pop somehow makes them sexist and racist, they’re likely to take it personally, and many will react angrily. Especially if you give the impression you don’t actually connect with music at a deep emotional level yourself.

If you want to point out how an awards shortlist, a festival bill or a listeners poll is too male, and there are plenty of those that are guilty as charged, you do need a bit more evidence than merely failing to meet some arbitrary gender quota. Unless of course the bias is so blatant that it’s impossible to explain away.

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3 Responses to Is Triple J’s Hottest 100 all about White Male Privilege?

  1. Colum Paget says:

    Hiya,

    You asked me how this read. It reads fine, but this whole business is rich-person’s politics. The political ‘left’ these days, and particularly the likes of the Guardian, is obsessed with who gets to win an Oscar, or who gets to be a rock-star, or win a Hugo, or who gets to sit on the boards of fortune 500 companies. These are not only first-world problems, they are middle and upper class problems. When people complain about too many ‘white men’ on the boards of companies or winning Oscars, I’m always left wondering how many of those ‘white men’ were born on housing estates to parents neither of whom had degrees. But to be honest for most people in the world, of any race or gender, there’s far more pressing questions than who is on a top 100 list of indie rock. Inequality is getting extreme, we have a refugee crisis no-one has any idea what to do about, democracy seems to have been bought out by corporate powers, we have record numbers of people living rough on our streets, we have stupid wars going on killing untold innocent people, the US police system seems to shoot a black person every day and the odd white guy at weekends, and no one has any idea how we will feed and clothe the world when global warming and the resulting resource-shortages hit. There’s a lot of serious news out there. Yet, among people who describe themselves as ‘left wing’ these days I mostly see a concern over whether they and theirs are getting a seat at the top table and a slice of the pie that most of us won’t even get crumbs from. When I have spoken to such people (the science-fiction community being full of them) I’ve been struck by how much of a middle-class bubble they live in. They often deny the existence of class because they’ve got no idea how most people, even in the west, live, and certainly no idea that the underclass even exists. They live in a world of high culture and theory, which is why they’re persuing ‘culture war’ instead of ‘class war’ right now. (Not that I’m for any kind of war, but these people have their priorities wrong).

    My problem is not that these areas shouldn’t be more equitable, they should. Even rich-world problems are problems. My problem is that every time some rich ‘activist’ speaks about ‘white men’ they erase the experience of the majority of working-class white men in the world, who are often less privileged than the speaker themselves. Did the speaker go to university? And if so, how did they pay for that exactly, now that we’ve lost grants? The politics of the new left erases the working class so completely that, at least for the white working class, UKIP and Trump are their only option for someone who will address the things that worry them (or in Trump’s case, pretend to. But someone who pretends to be on your side is still better than a ‘left’ that hates your guts for being white and/or male and poor). For non-white members of the working class it’s worse, because although the new left claims to be their champion, I predict that there’ll be very little ‘trickle down’ to them. Very few of them will get to be CEOs and Oscar winners, at which point they’ll start to realize that money trumps race every time. I wonder who they will vote for then?

    Without trade’s unions and other working-class inputs the left is reduced to being a lobbying group to improve the career prospects of those members of the richer classes (particularly women) who are currently locked out of the plum jobs. You know, someone should do an analysis of how often the Guardian online uses words like ‘white male’ or ‘patriarchy’, an how often it uses words like ‘class’ or ‘poverty’. I think the results might be interesting. Many of these people (not all, but many) make everything about gender or race in order to disguise their own privilege, which is probably what Rachael Dolezal was up to. Thus the feminist, postcolonial ‘new left’ is really the ‘Rich Left’, and the implacable class enemy of every working class person. Not that the working-class has any friends anymore.

    At the end of the day the Guardian is now a clickbait rag publishing provocative articles to make people angry so they can hatesurf and get clicks. This article is a perfect example of the new yellow journalism: find something that white guys tend to do, and attack it to the applause of the social-justice crowd. The Rich Left is no longer the voice of the people, it is the voice of the coming establishment, and it divides the people on race and gender lines so as to rule them better. Why do you read it? Why read the Telegraph? Would you read the Daily Mail? Real news outlets are generally behind paywalls, because they are producing a quality of output that people are prepared to pay for. Free online newspapers are mostly just webcomics for one group of bigots or another.

    These articles only have power when we (and I’ve done it often enough) pay attention to them. That is what they want. They are the Donald Trumps of the left-wing political circus. Best to just ignore them, there are bigger, better issues to be angry about than so-called feminists generalizing about large swathes of society. While these politicos are outraged over something they read online or saw in a movie, real people in the real world are dying in droves.

    Colum

  2. Tim Hall says:

    One interesting data point. I’ve written five album reviews in January 2016; two from female solo artists, two by bands with female lead singers, and one all-male band. The only negative review is for the all-male band, because it isn’t very good.

    Does it reflect male privilege that they got a record deal and significant PR for a very ordinary record, and some of the others didn’t?

  3. Synthetase says:

    I’d just like to point out that Triple J isn’t actually an indie rock station, but a youth-orientated station dedicated to playing whatever happens to be underground and new at the time. That its current playlist is dominated by bland indie rock merely reflects the cultural zeitgeist. The results of the countdown would seem to confirm this, as anyone can vote for literally any song that was released in the previous calendar year – and hundreds of thousands routinely do.

    I didn’t vote this year because I just couldn’t be bothered. I don’t listen to the station any more. A couple of friends and I were talking about this the other day and we agree that the fact we no longer care about what they’re playing is testament to them still doing their jobs correctly.

    I guess I should be addressing this to the Guardian, but meh. :)