Carl Wilson is one of my favorite music writers. I got to know him from his blog, www.zoilus.com, and you should too. His talk yesterday was about Celine Dion. He is writing a book for Continuoum's 33&1/3 series on her, and spoke, basically of the "guilty displeasure" that many people take in her music. Going through all the obvious descriptions, including viciously hilarious excerpts from reviews, the basic question is, since Celine clearly has an incredible amount of vocal skill (Wilson described her voice as having "many octaves like the wings of a mansion"), and celebrity as well, what exactly is it that prevents people from truly respecting her work?
A central culprit, in Wilson's view, rests in psychoanalysis. Treating taste from a Freudian perspective, he supposes that since you can judge essential things about a person from their greatest fears, it follows that you can do the same based on their greatest hatreds. (Strong negative reactions somehow elicit something that is deeply instinctual within us.) In a musical sense then, contrary to popular belief (and top ten lists), people's admiring reactons are not nearly as central to their essence as are their deeply disgusted ones.
This is an interesting idea. I think it has a lot of value to it, but I don't think that it's necessarily true. Its value comes from the attention that it draws to conflict and the necessary tension of opposites that illuminate a conceptual notion of definition. I would bet, from this discussion, that Wilson is a person who, when asked if human nature is basically good or basically bad, would choose the latter.
I am not this kind of person. To believe that a primal, innate, subconscious force within us is there because of repression and therefore is fundamentally negative, is not something I am capable of. I say capable because I don't have the foundation in me that could believe in this Heart of Darkness kind of mythology. Instincts and primitive connections certainly bind, but the interaction of biology and mental process doesn't have a qualitative aspect to it.
Wilson asserted that people who deeply hate Celine Dion are distancing themselves from their conception of the people who love her. The gut-level reaction is not a conscious thought: "Joe loves Celine and I think Joe is a loser, so I have to hate Celine in order to separate myself from his loser-ness." This is where the subconscious Freudian analysis comes into play. It's also basic playground antics, and also a weighty social or political force that drives much interaction (see Stalin, WWII).
And what about the bands that you hate? Or the bands that I hate? What does this say about us? Is it an inability to take criticism that suddenly becomes self-imposed projection, or is it truly irrelevant? I am interested to find out what Wilson ends up celebrating about Celine Dion in his forthcoming book.
4.30.06 UPDATE: See Wilson's own blog for a different but related discussion of Celine and "otherness,": http://www.zoilus.com/documents//2006/000750.php
5.3.06 UPDATE: More from Wilson here: http://www.zoilus.com/documents//2006/000752.php