Philosophy of….the mashup?

Cross-posted from Leiter Reports.

In hindsight, it shouldn’t be surprising to me that a Hi-Phi Nation episode on popular music would be the fastest growing and most popular. If my goal was to bring people to philosophy who otherwise didn’t know or didn’t care about it, why not follow in the footsteps of the philosophy and (insert pop culture phenomenon here)? But during the pre-production and post-production of the episode, I had the most doubts about this one in terms of its potential success in the mission, which is to weave philosophy with story successfully, rather than just pay lip service to each, and to do it without fluff.

Philosophy of music is one of those areas that just cries out for audio rather than print, so I had to do it even though I didn’t know much about it. But what musical genre to pick, and what to say about it?  The decision ended up being fortuitous rather than planned. Because of the budgetary constraints on a one-person operation, I had to limit myself to day trips by car, and it turned out two mashup scholars lived in the same town about 3 hours from Durham, NC, musicologist Christine Boone and philosopher Chris Bartel. I was surprised too, mashup scholars? This is what I love about academia.

Ultimately, the thought that mashups were the musical equivalent to the hot-dog stuffed-crust pizza was what drove the central aesthetic issue of the episode and it came to me late, in the week leading up to the release. But the idea that the genre emerged first as a form of musical vandalism, and then as a critique of the social divisions involved in popular music, came out of my discussions with the actual artists themselves, as well as from a long extended discussion I had with Christine Boone about the Beyonce-Andy Griffiths mashup. Christine was worried that our amusement comes at the expense of Beyonce, with the theme to the Andy Griffiths show representing all that is ideal about America, in its wholesomeness and whiteness, whereas I saw it the other way around, the most iconic, popular, and admired pop artist of this entire generation paired with all that is lame about the idealized America of the past.

In the pre-production stage, I tried to get various famous mashup artists for the show. This was my first time dealing with professional publicists and all that is awful about media. They don’t train you for that in graduate school. Ultimately, DJ Earworm was gracious enough to agree to a Skype interview within days of contact, and he is a trained musicologist in addition to being a famous mashup artist. Steve Stein aka Steinski was a great interview also, and to be honest 80s hip-hop was music I was actually familiar with going in. I’m actually a little on the old side for mashups. We met in a NYC hotel room while I was preparing for, of all things, a Sanders Foundation meeting. (Talk about switching gears quickly!) While this episode may not be the most timeless of season one, as generations older and much younger will probably just not get it, I think it ended up satisfying the mission well; bringing philosophy to people who just didn’t care about it in the first place.

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