A couple essays…

1. Tom Bissell writes about being addicted to video games and cocaine.
I’ve never tried cocaine. I wouldn’t, at this point in my life, dismiss the possibility entirely, however one of the things that goes through my mind when I think about it is that I am afraid that I would like it very much.
Tom Bissell writes about being a functional user of cocaine, but in a way that I’ve never heard before. Most description of functional substance users (from alcohol to weed to everything else) emphasize how little their substance use changes the day to day aspects of living. Bissell embraces the changes that have come to his life; he writes unblinkingly about playing video games for days at a time, going weeks without sleeping, and losing completely the motivation to complete writing commissions. The other half of this essay are Bissell’s ruminations on the unique way that video games are art.
I found this essay really challenging and somewhat disturbing. What I find hard to deal with is the fact that Bissell is obviously an intelligent and talented person, and yet he seems to have no problem with the way that he lives his life. I couldn’t live like he does. I highly recommend reading the essay.
2. Steve Almond writes ambiguously about the uselessness of music critics.
I’m not sure what is going on in this essay. Most of the evidence that Almond uses to argue that music critics are useless is that Steve Almond was a bad music critic.
Almond wraps the essay up with a sappy “all that matters is the fans” message (and how can you argue against that?), but I think he makes some assertions that I wouldn’t agree with. He says that [after a fun concert by a “bad” artist], “The very idea of music criticism — of applying some objective standard to the experience of listening to music — suddenly struck me as petty and irrelevant. I spent several more months as a critic, but my essential belief in the pursuit evaporated.” I understand that, and to some extent I agree with it, but I don’t think that’s what the value of music critics is. I think, by and large, music critics write opinions based upon facets of music that are more or less objective. While there is no objective answer to whether one album is better than another, the styles that the band is playing in, their instrumentation, the complexity of their lyrics are all things that a music critic can write about without touching the subjective experience of listening.
He also writes about how music and cultural criticism has become too snarky. I just don’t understand how this is an argument against music criticism. One, blogs and the internet have allowed bad writing of all stripes to be more easily accessible than at any time in history (look at what I’m doing right now!). Second, in an environment where critics are not trusted because their opinions are being influenced by things other than the music, an opportunity arises for another critic to build a base from people actively looking for high-value criticism.

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