It ain’t about Napster: … it’s about cultural control.
The connection between big business and rock has been well documented, but rock scholar Larry Grossberg wrote the definitive book on the subject, 1992’s We Gotta Get out of This Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture. Astonishingly, Grossberg writes that not only does the right dictate mainstream pop culture, but it actually understands the importance of youth culture better than the left does, and has used it to its own advantage. Remember when Ronald Reagan used Springsteen�s “Born in the USA” in his political campaign? And how do you feel when a song you love is “kidnapped” onto a car commercial?
Conservatives understand the power of folk culture, and have co-opted it into their brand of pop culture�the familiar cult of “insider cool” that is spoon-fed to teenagers and twentysomethings in an effort to sell products. Commercials aim to tell us how to be inside the “in” group while at the same time stand apart from everyone else�cooler than cool, and able to afford that car or slick lifestyle.
Even more chilling is that the right knows instinctively that to control access to culture is to control people. Writes Grossberg: “[The new conservatism] involves the struggle to regulate information and entertainment: What is included? How is it to be used? How is it distributed and regulated?”
In one sense this need to control information and entertainment describes the right�s attacks on the NEA and other culturally “liberal” and independent organizations�but could it also apply to the attack on Internet file-sharing? I ask Grossberg if he sees that connection.
“Yes, I don�t think they are fools. I think they know that there are two reasons to control the media,” Grossberg says. “One is to control the information people have, and the other is to control commerce. Napster is a great example of how they recognize that the Internet could destroy the constructs they have set up.”