Jesus christ, must I spell it out? Thought this was a no-brainer: MUSIC TASTE IS SUBJECTIVE = TRUE. NO ONE HAS THE AUTHORITY TO JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS = TRUE. BUT IS THAT EVER GOING TO STOP ANYONE = HELL NO.
Stumbled across the above on Tumblr a little while ago. Is there ever a more terroristic, totalitarian demand than this rabid insistence on the unassailable truth of artistic relativism? Though couched in the language of a libertarian anti-authoritarianism, this remains inevitably an argument to ram down someone's throat, to insist upon bluntly (in BLOCK CAPITALS no less) and then sit back smugly assured of one's own superiority. This is not an argument. There is no rhyme or reason behind this essentially religious belief in the impossibility of a judgement of value. It is a defence against all arguments, a refusal to engage in any sort of rational discussion. It is an "I am rubber, you are glue" for adults (chronologically defined).
Picking up a riff from a Poetix post of a few months back, the insistence that all opinions about music are purely subjective and critical authority is nonexistent at best, ultimately stems from the acceptance of the capitalist realist injunction to "live without ideas" - to live, essentially, without thinking. If someone tells you that the Mr Blobby song is just as worthy a piece of art music as The Art of the Fugue, then who are you to question them? If they claim 'Deutschland Uber Alle's is superior to Mahler's Third Symphony and the entire works of Mendelssohn, who are you to doubt the sanity of their judgement? Why stop and think, but, hang on, that's ridiculous isn't it?
And that is the point: from the mouths of its adherence, this injunction is always expressed in the tones of common sense necessity, so obvious as to require no justification, and yet the slightest examination will inevitably reveal the absurdity of the claim. So, if Michael Bolton's publicist says that Michael Bolton is the greatest composer of all time, this statement should be given the same weight in music-historical studies as the counter claim by a stack of esteemed musicologists that the honour belongs to Mozart? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not arguing that the aforementioned academics are necessarily right, and certainly not that they are right de facto by virtue of their status as academics. I am, however, saying that someone is right, that there is a right and a wrong, even if no divine angel will never descend to the earth and reveal to us the final glittering truth. We may never be externally assured of the truth of our judgements but that does not make them invalid or unnecessary. To demand that all taste is subjective is little more than the admission that one has no faith in one's own judgements, defensively applied to everyone else in a sort of well-if-I-can't-then-neither-can-anyone-else dog in the manger-ish sort of attitude. It is an inferiority complex disguised as a principled liberalism.
Apart from anything else it also displays a kind of proud ignorance of the way taste and judgement are actually formed, the implication always being that my taste is subjective precisely because it is unique to my personal being, formed in a vacuum without any outside influence. But like the atheist's lucky rabbit's foot, critical categories and discursive strategies work whether you believe in them or not. Your supposedly free and autonomous 'subjective' tastes are already thoroughly imbued with socialised assumptions, more or less uncritically absorbed, that render them anything but personal. There is no 'taste' in a vacuum. And nothing is ever just your opinion (man).