Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Those damn kids...

There's an article on NPR right now about music downloading. Well, to be more precise, there's a response by David Lowery to an article written by a college student about music downloading. David raises a number of objections to file sharing and illegal downloading (some of which are really on point, and some of which, I think, seriously miss the mark). I think that David's main points--that musicians deserve to be compensated for their work and should have control over their work--are pretty solid. In particular, I agree that musicians--indeed, all artists--deserve fair compensation for their work. Of course, I don't think that fair compensation and the easy access of music sharing are necessarily mutually exclusive. There's every reason to believe that file sharing and downloadable music should make it easier to get money directly into the hands of the people creating the work. Of course, that's bad news for record labels who have a vested interest in making sure that there are barriers between the people actually making music and the people listening.

But that's actually not my beef with the article.

My main point of contention is with the contempt that David and many of the commentors treat young people. Can we not have a conversation about college aged or younger people without treating them like total shit? I know, I know, this is something of a generational thing--every generation looks down on the generations after them, right? But, seriously, this is David Lowery we're talking about... this is the guy responsible for Cracker. You know, the band with the song "I'll be with you girl, like being low. Hey, hey, hey, like being stoned." His bread and butter was slackers and stoners.

Admittedly, the worst part of the disdain comes from the commenters, who are quick to take his letter about the damage that free music downloading does to artists, and turn it into another "damn those kids these days!" pile on. After all, everyone knows that kids these days are part of "an entitled, 'gimme that now, 'i do it because i can' culture". Or this: "This is an extremely ENTITLED generation whose values include trying to have what they want on demand with no consequence to themselves–zero concern for any but the self, no ability to postpone gratification and so little empathy, appreciation, wonder and love for art–in a word: Narcissism."
This isn't "People who steal are being shitty." This is a blatant and thorough dismissal of an entire generation over song downloading.

I just hate that line of argument so much, but I see it all the time. What is it about getting older that turns some people into such grumps about young people? I'm in my thirties, and while I'd love to think that I'm still young at heart, I know that I'm not really part of the group "young people"; I'm only a few years short of being twice as old as I was when I graduated high school (I'm not sure why, but that milestone--being out of school as many years as I was in school--is really important to me). Still, people who I knew when they were young people end up griping and complaining about "kids these days."

I hear complaints about how kids these days are so rude (from people who I know for a fact were total shits as kids). I have colleagues who complain that "kids don't read anymore" despite the fact that our children's and teen rooms are amongst the busiest areas in the library.

All of us were once young people. I'm guessing that most of us had to deal with adults and older folks looking down on us and dismissing us because of our ages. I know that I had people assume the worst because I was young, and I can't believe I was the only one. Why are we still perpetuating that? I don't expect to "get" youth culture, but I don't see any reason why I should be shitting on it, either. I came from the generation that gave us N*Synch and Pogs and Vanilla Ice. Who the hell are we to judge?


Mark said...

I think this is a specific instance of the more general problem of extrapolating from a small sample size. I thought Lowery's article was reasonable, though the tone of some of it came off as smarmy and condescending. Some of the comments get much more into judging the whole generation. But the specific case of someone who basically stole 11,000 songs, it's pretty easy to get condescending to such an individual... and it's easy to extrapolate that out to a generational effect. This is obviously not correct, but it happens all the time in all sorts of situations.

It's tricky though, because I feel like my dream system for the delivery of media (movies, music, and books) is something that has everything available all the time that I'd pay a monthly fee for. Sorta like Netflix instant, but if it had a comprehensive selection. But there's an element of entitlement to that desire too... Am I entitled to such a system? Not really... it'd just be realllly nice.

Roy said...

I think you're right, Mark--there's a lot of "this person did X, so young people are like this" happening. I also agree that Lowery's article came across as really condescending, and I think his point about the two artists who unfortunately took their own lives is really unfair; while people stealing music may have contributed to their financial situation, you can't just point to decreased record sales and say "see, it's your fault they killed themselves. If people hadn't been stealing music, they would still be alive and making music." Well, obviously you can, but I think it's a very tenuous connection being made.

I confess I haven't read the article he was responding to, so I can't speak to the content there (yet). I think that the problem I have with their attitude towards her is largely based on my experiences--I'm 33, so I'm not really the same generation as someone who is just now 21, but I know tons of people who downloaded the hell out of music when they were in college and Napster popped up. I know that my mother and her friends used to trade cassettes back and forth and record things off the radio when they were younger. Am I supposed to believe that Lowery's generation wouldn't have been all over file sharing if the technology had been available? That it's really just that young people today are greedy ne'er-do-wells? I don't think so.

I absolutely agree with him that artists should be paid for their work, but how that happens is going to change. I just don't think that piracy and file sharing are going to go away--all the arguments in the world against it won't change the simple facts that it's easy, free, convenient. I think that making it easier for people to pay artists directly is a step in the right direction. Incentiving legitimate purchases helps. Certainly the argument can be made that the creators of music shouldn't have to provide incentives to ensure that people compensate them for their output (and I agree, they shouldn't have to), but that's the difference between reality and theory. The reality is that something has to change, and I don't think that condemning entitled youngsters and lamenting the old days is going to change the situation.

I think you hit it with your last point, too; we all have ideas about our ideal delivery system, but does that really make us entitled? I don't think so.

I'm not sure what the best solution is, but I don't think that guilt tripping kids or calling them names is going to be part of an effective solution.

Rebecca said...

I thought one of the more interesting comments was Aaron's where he made the point that its not so clear that downloading is the only or even main problem with artists being able to make a living these days. I agree there is some level of entitlement to the people who download music - but it seems to be that there is also a degree of wishful thinking (I tend to hate the term entitlement so not going to use it) on the part of a lot of content providers. Given most jobs are hard to come by (and especially for the younger generation everyone was being so quick to pick on) Like Aaron I wonder how much is really "free culture" and how much is just that the number of people who want to be artists way out weighs the amount of money there is to support artists working full time. As Aaron said in his comment there are a lot of (young) people at there who would really like to have 35k without benefits right now.

Anonymous said...

People who rant about the pitfalls of the younger generation seem to forget who raised them...