Thursday, March 20, 2008 | Categories: Q Blog
Jian makes a plea to lay another buzzword to rest:
Saying goodbye is never easy. And I haven't supported the death sentence in the past. But I hope we can collectively confirm the first casualty of the new millennium lexicon: Let's mercifully retire the word "indie."
The time has come. Have you considered "indie" of late? It's a sad sight. Staggering around on its last legs, finding employment to describe just about anything in the cultural sphere. It's ubiquitous and meaningless. Brutalized and disfigured. Omnipresent and bereft of any, let's see, independence. Let's euthanize it. Brace yourselves, dear hipsters, publicists and corporate marketeers. No more "indie kids," "indie rock," "indie approach," "indie sound," "indie lifestyle" or "indie film." Surely the true do-it-yourselfers will soldier on without an increasingly empty moniker co-opted to buy cred and the mirage of integrity. The "indie" myth needs to hang up its skates.
Disclaimer No. 1: My intent is not a lack of deference to artists or entrepreneurs who are actually creating and controlling their own career path -- quite the opposite. It's the authentic autonomous types that can get drowned in the widespread ersatz claims to the "indie" mantle.
Disclaimer No. 2: There's nothing wrong with an interesting young filmmaker partnering with a large Hollywood company to help distribute her work. Nor a self-made musician signing to a major label that ostensibly understands his art. Nor a mom and pop coffee shop deciding it needs Second Cup assistance. Let's just stop the masquerading that any of this is still "indie."
My sister -- the "smart child" and professor of linguistics -- informs me that the linguistic community applies the term "semantic bleaching" to refer to a word that through high frequency of usage has lost its original meaning or intent. Remember the heartbreaking semantic bleaching of "alternative" in the 1990s? Once meant to earnestly describe art and culture that was outside of the mainstream of corporate influence, "alternative" went from an artistic movement in the early '90s to a corporate brand in less than a decade. Not only did "alternative" lose its original meaning, it came to represent the very opposite of its origins. Alternative rock, for example, is the term used for a type of new music generally bankrolled and manufactured by corporate interests. "Alternative" has been diluted to the point that Tom Cochrane is nominated in the adult "alternative" category at the forthcoming Junos. Tom is a nice man. He's written classic songs and puts valuable time and energy into helping the developing world. But Mr. Cochrane is not "alternative." Or is he? Who knows? The term means nothing.
In the 1980s, the measure of success for a young band was to get signed to a major label. Today, the badge of honour is to be self-made. This generalizes for film, publishing, television and coffee (the list goes on). But as most eight-year-olds can attest, the entertainment industry is still largely the domain of giant corporations. So now the giants engage in a game of promotional Twister to support the veneer of "indie" for their clients. Sometimes it's simply a matter of using the word. "Indie rock" is a musical genre. Clothing chains promote "indie culture" and captains of industry claim to have an "indie attitude."
Leslie Feist is one of the best Canadian musical treasures around these days and she received two "Indie" music awards last weekend. Does it not matter that her records are largely promoted in America by Interscope, a huge corporation? Simple Plan are one of the top "indie" bands on MySpace right now, but their career is shaped by Atlantic. Juno won Spirit indie films awards but was released through Fox Searchlight. The quarrel is not with the quality of the art. It's just, how is any of this indie? Is it simply about an attitude?
I wrote this piece with my own hands using my own brain. This paper is so indie. It's over.
*Originally published in The National Post.
Should indie die? Have your say!