Record Store Day: Jack White Says Videogames Aren't Art, and He's Wrong
Record Store Day is a holiday we can all get behind. When Jack White was named the ambassador for this year's Record Store Day, we thought it was a pretty damned apt choice. In his ambassadorial statement, he outlines what he perceives as the ultimate value of embracing physical music media:
"As Record Store Day Ambassador of 2013, I'm proud to help in any way I can to invigorate whoever will listen with the idea that there is beauty and romance in the act of visiting a record shop and getting turned on to something new that could change the way they look at the world, other people, art, and, ultimately, themselves," he says.
Fabulous! But buried in his call to arms, where he laments this generation's connectedness with virtual worlds and digital forms of entertainment, lies this troubling nugget:
"Well, here's what they'll someday learn if they have a soul; there's no romance in a mouse click. There's no beauty in sitting for hours playing videogames (anyone proud of that, stop reading now and post your opinion in the nearest forum). The screen of an iPhone is convenient, but it's no comparison to a 70mm showing of a film in a gorgeous theater."
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What could have been a positive message now more resembles "get off my lawn" than "get out and buy records."
Jack White loses me in two very distinct ways:
1. Digital beauty and "physical" beauty need not be enjoyed in mutual exclusion.
Who says that those who find beauty in playing videogames would not also find joy in vinyl or in a stage play or in fine art? Here, Mr. White falls prey to what theorist Nathan Jurgenson calls "digital dualism." At the risk of getting too academic, let's break it down simply: Digital dualism is the false division between your "digital" life and your "real" life. What digital dualists fail to realize is that we are now living in a form of augmented reality that is merely enhanced by digital media, not in opposition to it. White's cherished face-to-face exchanges of ideas in hipster-ass coffee shops are coexisting with equally valid online exchanges of ideas. For every Grumpy Cat, there's Goddard. For every Harlem Shake video, there's Hegel. You just gotta know where to look.
The Internet is more than just "helpful and entertaining." It has ignited revolutions and given artists the ability to escape the need for major representation, develop their own followings, and create. That falls far beyond merely "settle[ing] for replication."
But on a more practical note:
2. There is plenty of beauty, romance, and emotion to be found in virtual worlds.
One need only look at the sheer wonder a game like Fez instills, the heartwrenching narrative and voice acting of the Walking Dead, and the emotional connections you forge with other players in Journey as examples of the capacity of videogames to make you feel. Not good enough for ol' Jack? Let's speak in the universal language of music: Journey's score was nominated for a Grammy this year -- just as White himself was nominated.
That's not to say the industry doesn't have its share of issues. But to dismiss the capacity of videogames to be artful, powerful works because of the existence of what some might call mindless entertainment would be the equivalent of me not buying White's album Blunderbuss because Ke$ha exists.
I'm all for "wak[ing] each other up," getting out there, supporting -- hell, creating -- local music, and buying physical copies. Just let a sister kill a dragon first.
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