Moral Panic and The New Didacticism

New rules of conduct are popping up everywhere, and in many cases, that’s a good thing, e.g. reduction of the harrassment of women in the workplace, expansion of civil rights for minorities, and so on.

This zeitgeist for updated ethics has spread into the arts, and that can also be a good thing, if it results in changes that reduce predatory behavior within institutions, as when two male dancers were recently fired from the New York City Ballet for alleged sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, now everyone is empowered to leave a comment on everything, and any asshole with a smartphone can take down somebody else with a bad review. People nit-pick anything and everything, leading to an infinite regress into social atomization.

Reorganization of codes of conduct is periodically necessary for societies to move forward, but at this point there is so much social media-fueled uncertainty, division, and vitriol in the air that it is bleeding over into the work itself, often with less-than-satisfactory results.

Of course artists can’t disconnect themselves from current events, and a political work can sometimes have the power to transcend its time and place. If all art and poetry are fresh responses to experience, then that must include the social and the political.

The problem for me with didactic poetry and artwork is more form than content. It’s tonal. We can and must respond to the world around us through our work, but the preachy tone and the black and white, all or none, baby with the bathwater attitudes will go away in time.

I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.


For years as a teenager I focused on teaching myself music theory with as much energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail as a trekkie would expend learning the ins and outs of warp drives. I tried to take theory classes when I got to college, but was told that my knowledge would place me out of them. I took them anyway and reënforced what I’d already learned.

As a songwriter, of primary interest to me has always been a hook, or a distinctive and memorable piece constructed of words and music together. These are a dime a dozen, easily made, and it always shocks me that more songwriters in my local music scene do not incorporate such a basic, entry-level method of making their music listenable. The majority of bands around here seem to have no concept of what a hook is, how to construct one, or how to incorporate it into a song’s design, and most of the ones who do write asinine, saccharine hooks that only the most unsophisticated listeners would find moving or compelling.

Even worse are the high-school journal keeper types who insist upon emoting their humdrum lives in song in a way that would better serve the world in the privacy of therapy. Greenville, South Carolina abounds with these types of musical dross.

If you’re reading this, then of course you’re excluded from all of the above blanket statements. You wouldn’t stoop to crafting such trite, forgettable, and meretricious nonsense, now would you?

In spite of a theoretical background (or perhaps because of it, who can say for sure?) the concept of noise, specifically when defined as unwanted sound, has always appealed to me. There is a perverse, transgressive pleasure in defining all of my sonic output as noise. It frees my guitar to howl like Allen Ginsberg on crack. (I don’t know if Ginsberg was ever a crackhead, but in my Mirror Universe, “crack” is the hypothetical fuel of all the wild and wonderful poetic crazies of history, the bards, the shamans, the heretics, the martyrs, the visionaries.)

It also frees me to make whatever I damn well please, as what I make is allowed to come into the world without regard for whether it suits the taste of anyone, living or dead. All of it comes through, be it angelic or demonic, and all of it is noise, foisted upon an unwelcoming world.