in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free choice? Jack Johnson?!

You know, a lot of you are living under an illusion. Ask people why they’re doing what they’re doing, the people they’re doing it with, and the place they’re doing it in, and they’ll tell you they ‘chose’ it. I suppose that’s fine up to a point, but it pimps a distorting image of the whole situation, once you get to thinking it’s a ‘free choice’. Let’s go through this and ask ourselves about those things in our life that make us who we are, and then wonder which of them we chose, freely or at all:Parents? Country of birth? School? Friends? First job? Pregnancy? Marriage? House? Dog? Children? Disease? Death?

Some of these fundamental life-events contain absolutely no element of choice, either free or restricted. You didn’t choose to be born, where to grow up, or even the school where you met the people who you grew up with. What did you ‘freely choose’, really? Maybe you chose to do physics instead of chemistry? Maybe you chose to sleep with Bob, instead of Jenny… but then again, maybe Bob was the only person who could overcome their repulsion to sleep with you. You ‘chose’ to do commerce, but then, maybe you were too gutless to do social work or creative writing, and you didn’t want to go against what all your friends were doing, or disappoint your father (like you seem to do, no matter what). Did you ‘choose’ to get pregnant? Again? And even if you did choose to have ‘a’ baby, you didn’t choose the actual baby you had… odds on they weren’t quite who you’d hoped for… Or even that mortgage – okay, so you chose that particular house, but could you choose to not have a home, to live in a tent, on a boat, by the side of the road? You’re not even allowed to do that. Probably the only thing you really ‘chose’ were your consumer choices. Bog roll – scented and embossed, unscented, unbleached…hmm… or the colour of your toothbrush. Or the brand of batteries for your vibrator. Or your dog. Maybe you chose your dog…and you chose a labradoodle?

DJing (the old-school kind, with records in a box) presents us with something far more like life than the flattering picture we like to paint of ourselves as ‘empowered choosers’. As any DJ who has experienced the following conversation can testify, people (drunk people) seem to think that the person behind the decks has the entire history of dance-music packed into her box. A box that, in fact, can fit no more than about one hundred records.

Deck pest: Do you have…Mylo?
DJ: No. (I pack my box carefully, and I think about what I’m playing. I thought this track was appropriate for right now, but obviously not, thank you – now fuck off)

Back at the crib…

House guest: ‘Do you have… Milo?’
Host: No, only tea. (I asked you if you wanted tea because I only have tea.)
House guest: Oh…
Host: Do you want tea?
House guest: No… that’s fine. (I’ll just sulk)

Back at the foot of the booth, think about the DJ for a change (please desk pests, think of the poor DJ who’s trying their guts out to play the best music for the moment). Let’s say I have 100 pieces of vinyl, with an average of two tracks per EP. That’s two hundred distinct moods, each of which opens up new possibilities and closes off others. But I can’t just play any of them in any order – at any given moment, there’s probably only really about ten mixes to move into from the track that’s playing, at best. In any given set, there’s probably only one ‘golden window’ for you to drop Hall and Oates from without clearing the floor. Maybe. At critical points in the set there’s only one or two ways to move – because as it all rolls on, the selections are depleted, the choices diminished. The stakes get higher, and you’re playing with less time, less music and less potential. Not only that, but you’re also dealing with any bad selections you’ve already made. It’s as much mess as chess. And sometimes, when you’re tired and people are pestering you to play Jack Johnson or Tupac, you really get to the point of wanting to a real choice... the choice to KILL – ‘cos it’s either you or them, when you’re talking singer/songwriters.

Fact is, DJing presents us with a far more appropriate metaphor for our very limited life selections than the bullshit we’re fed about ‘free choice’ – the difference being that, in life, we make selections with individual pieces that we often didn’t choose at all. A large part of our box was pre-filled by our parents, really. Imagine that – having to DJ under pressure to a crowd full of drunk Jack Johnson fans with a box of records chosen by circumstance… or by your mother. No wonder that, most of the time, most people are ‘just coping’. Or just coping. That’s what we do, mostly. We cope. We’re presented with a half-made mess, and we’re told we ‘chose’ it – then when we try to turn it into something good, somebody comes along and asks for Mylo, or Milo, or Tupac, something which is both a reminder of how appalling other people’s taste is, and how badly they’d be doing if they were the one trying to transform their very limited selection into art. Now there’s a comfort. Think of the mess they’d be making of your life. You’re doing alright, kid.

No comments:

The Author

[almost nothing] about me

My photo
PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.