I missed THIS ESSAY when it came out a few years ago.
While I tend to have respect for anyone who can write catchy melodies as Joel can, Rosenbaum is really on to something with this:
I think I've identified the qualities in B.J.'s work that distinguish his badness from other kinds of badness: It exhibits unearned contempt. Both a self-righteous contempt for others and the self-approbation and self-congratulation that is contempt's backside, so to speak. Most frequently a contempt for the supposed phoniness or inauthenticity of other people as opposed to the rock-solid authenticity of our B.J.
Then Rosenbaum goes through hit after hit illustrating the thesis.
A couple of observations:
- Graham Harman has written about the "sneer from nowhere" that ironic Gen ex hipsters perfected pre-internet and that came to characterize an awful lot of the early blogosphere. I think Rosenbaum's "unearned contempt" is pretty much the same thing.
- Academic philosophers give in to unearned contempt much more than people in other fields. For some reason, we feel justified saying nasty things about thinkers and movements we don't know very much about. This is probably worst with analytic and continentals who view the distinction in Baby Boomer culture war terms (not to say only Baby Boomers do this). I think this comes from a kind of anxiety in philosophy that if other people are right about certain things, then your life work might be worthless. I mean, you can't get started on a project unless you presuppose an awful lot. But if those presuppositions are kicked out, then there's no point to what you've been doing.
- Incidentally, I think this bit about presuppositions is why orthodox Heideggerians don't make time for Harman. What is overwhelmingly offensive to them is not Harman's critique of correlationism, nor his neo-Aristotelian views, but rather his claim that most of Heidegger's work is just a repetitious restatement of of the tool/broken tool dichotomy. If Harman is correct about this (and he gives arguments, e.g. the discussion of time in Tool Being) then thousands and thousands of books and articles by orthodox Heideggerians might end up being beside the point. This kind of thing is pretty terrifying if you are on the receiving end of it.
Anyhow, the Billy Joel article is really interesting. Joe Bob says check it out.