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Black Sky Thinking

Why The Jordan Peterson & Mumfords Brodown Comes As No Surprise
Jazz Monroe , August 3rd, 2018 09:59

There was a minor conference of whoppers recently when alt-right figurehead Jordan Peterson popped into Mumford & Sons' studio for a photo op. Jazz Monroe explains why this proves that music journalists and cultural Marxists were right all along

The social justice crusaders have run into trouble, according to men online, and the left’s in a pickle: it’s backed itself into a corner, you see, with its scandalous obsession with identity politics. The libs got brainwashed by cultural Marxism, and now even the most self-evident truths - that men deserve their supremacy, white privilege is fabricated, gender-nonconformism has gone mad, ‘enforced coupling’ will cure violently misogynistic virgins, and leftwing feminists oppose Islamophobia because they secretly crave oppression - strike them as nonsense, rather than pure genius.

The intellectual heavyweight behind all these claims is Jordan Peterson, who recently turned up in Mumford & Sons’ recording studio. It’s not the psychology professor’s first pop cultural liaison: Peterson has enjoyed the company of Russell Brand, and his ardent defenders include Sean Ono Lennon and, bafflingly, Laetitia Sadier, onetime singer with Marxist pop tinkerers Stereolab. With Mumford & Sons, perhaps it was an impromptu hang - we know only that an invitation was granted, a warm welcome received - but something about this particular alignment is too perfect to shrug off.

Mumford & Sons have never had it easy with the press, for reasons Peterson would no doubt contest. The basic principle is that it is undignified, in a developed society, to have expensively educated white men play dust bowl dress-up for our entertainment. The plunder of American roots music has gone quite far enough. Is the glitzy repackaging of working-class art by the rich ever innocent? Perhaps, but it is never good.

There is a question, then, of entitlement. But artists are entitled, aren’t they? We have an understanding that art transcends reason, and influence is ungovernable, and wealth hardly precludes genius, so why shouldn’t nature take its course? This is the counterargument, and you knew it already; the trick played by intellectual populists like Peterson is to convince you that these easy answers are actually innate truths. Like a Mumford & Sons chorus, it is sycophancy dressed up as ancient wisdom.

In recent years, enemies of cultural Marxism, who tend to convene in places like Reddit, have said this is all a terrible mistake. In particular, they lament identity politics’ perceived influence over the music press. When women and artists of colour prosper, they jump to action; when curmudgeonly men are dethroned, they rage. In their eyes, to recognise unjustly ignored artists is virtue-signalling, while lamenting Father John Misty’s ultra-cynical lyrics reveals a failure to see past his persona.

Conservative music fans, it seems, are convinced that everybody experiences music as they do: a pure expression of rhythm, emotion and melody. Great music, they believe, exists independently of social complexities - disenfranchisement, power imbalance, the everyday floundering for life’s answers. To these listeners, the idea that music is how an artist moves through the world, and so must embody a politics and culture, is outlandish.

But what defines artists, and songs, is character. Whether it is informed by the music alone, or complicated by knowledge of its creation, a record’s character is tangled up in how we hear it. It’s also how, in our most prized records, we find ourselves. To identify a song’s character is not to reduce music to its creator, but to connect with it deeply enough to identify human drives at the root of each beat, note, sine wave and vocal grain. Sometimes you unearth beauty. Sometimes you find serpentry. And that is why it was always okay to ridicule Mumford & Sons.

Critics denouncing pop music are often considered grudge-bearing contrarians. In fact, moral clarity and great pleasure went into the trashing of Mumford & Sons, whose throwback aesthetics and bluegrass fetishism are repellant. Music can pervert identity or challenge history, venture inward, channel trauma and rally the dispossessed, but the Mumfords didn’t consider music useful. Like Peterson, they co-opted tradition to confer authenticity, then used it as a platform to commodify nostalgia.

By identifying such politics in Mumford & Sons’ work, the critical apparatus denigrated as cultural Marxism has done precisely what it was meant to. The man’s patronage indicates the band’s lazy appropriation was never just music, signifying nothing, but a symptom of malign intent. Their songs, like any, reflected a worldview; critics reverse engineered that worldview and, after inspection, said no thank you. The haters may now be vindicated, but it’s thanks to identity politics that we knew Mumford & Sons were fucking us all along.

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