July 21 2010 10:14 AM

Attempting to tiptoe around the most dreaded of conversations

Is Lady Gaga meaningful in all of her meaninglessness?

I found myself at a multimedia art show at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location about a month ago, spending much of my time wondering how I ended up there in the first place. Let's just say my reaction to the sort of social hobnobbing I tend to observe at these kinds of things is not very positive, to say the least. I guess it's just not my crowd.

No, I prefer museum trips to be quiet and contemplative, which allows me to be alone with my thoughts. But, in this case, I would have no such luck.

My initial attempt to survey the grounds was foiled, as my girlfriend quickly introduced me to a colleague of hers, who had, apparently, “heard a lot about me.” The piece she'd been eyeing prior to our arrival somehow sparked a discussion about the lack of thematic unity in the exhibit (other than that the pieces were all created and/or performed by San Diego artists) and how several of the works seemed to have no other purpose than to be displayed on a museum wall.

Now, this is by no means a personal insult, but I had no desire to continue this exchangenot because I found this person grating or because I thought she had

nothing interesting to offer but, rather, because I knew where it was headed.

We were about to commence with the dreaded “postmodern” conversation. And I was nowhere near intoxicated enough to bear that.

Let me preface this with some history. My college education (in film studies, no less, which should actually be re-named “film theory,” as no actual filmmaking skills were required) indoctrinated me with so much of this crap that I'm now convinced life is meaningless. Not that this creeping suspicion wasn't always thereit's just that I finally found out it had been confirmed by an entire generation of academics.

And it seems like every time I get into a semi-serious conversation about film, music, artwhatever postmodernism always rears its ugly head. It's a pointless discussion because it never has a foreseeable endpoint and could potentially go on for hours. And here it was again.

“It's like Lady Gagashe says her music and her image don't mean anything. It's all about how people react,” my acquaintance said.

“Well, I understand the point if somebody wants to make their work about nothing in order to reflect some larger truth about our society. But it leaves me emotionally coldif the work is about nothing, my reaction isn't positive or negative; it's indifferent,” I responded.

Of course, this doesn't even begin to touch on the entire realm of cultural products that could qualify as postmodern. But that's exactly why it's such a frustrating paradox. Read enough about it, and you'll find that virtually everything can be grouped under its banner.

Later, I found myself intermittently tuning in to my girlfriend's conversation with an SDSU professor while trying to remain detached. It wouldn't be successful, especially when it came up that I write about music for CityBeat.

“Oh, it's nice to have someone from the music world here,” she said. “I think that music and visual art have more in common than most people realize. For example, seeing a bad garage band is similar to watching bad performance art.”

Indeed. This isn't to suggest that the exhibit was devoid of inspiration, or even that any of the artists ever defined their work as postmodern. In fact, Tristan Shone's “drone machines” are a perfect thought-provoking bridge between contemporary art and music.

But thinking about these concepts always ends with a sense of desperation. I immediately had a flashback to a conversation I'd had with my friend Ryan a couple years ago after a concert by two bandsLittle Teeth and 60-Watt Kidneither of whom impressed me.

“Anybody can be in a band and call it ‘postmodern' to try to make it sound like all their faults or inadequacies are intentional,” I said, pint of Newcastle in hand.

“You don't even have to play music; you can just slam your fists on a Casio keyboard, scream into the mic and call it a song.”

Write to toddk@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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