Saturday, June 17, 2017

links for the weekend and a ramble on the problem of trying to cultivate "critical thinking" skills in contemporary Western education. And a frustration about cultural conservatives trying to treat Western cultural art like the canon is as closed as the books of the Bible

Over at Slate Mark Feeney describes how All the President's Men was a superhero movie for journalists

“Even before the outcome of Watergate was clear,” Robert Redford said on the set of All the President’s Men, “I thought there was a good story in how Carl and Bob were investigating Watergate.” It was just a natural. The old Hollywood’s history of infatuation with newspapering met the new Hollywood’s detestation of Nixon. Best of all, there was the way the story mirrored—no, demonstrated—the film industry’s most cherished beliefs about how happy endings can coexist with, and even triumph over, unhappy realities. The very title All the President’s Men, while ostensibly alluding to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (and, at an additional remove, “Humpty Dumpty”), also communicates a sense of great and powerful forces arrayed against its author heroes. As Alan J. Pakula, the film’s director, told one of Woodward and Bernstein’s Washington Post colleagues, “It’s inherent in the story of Carl and Bob that they have become a kind of contemporary myth” whose experience affirms “that American belief that a person or small group can with perseverance and hard work and obsessiveness take on a far more powerful, impersonal body and win—if they have truth on their side.”
By the time Nixon flew off in disgrace to San Clemente, the legend of the heroic and indispensable role of the press in foiling him was the accepted version of what had happened—a version whose acceptance was helped not a little by the phenomenal response to All the President’s Men. Published three months before Nixon’s resignation, it became the fastest-selling nonfiction hardcover in U.S. history. Two years later, the film version was released and went on to become the fifth highest-grossing movie of 1976, win four Academy Awards, and, in the opinion of no less an authority than Ronald Reagan, ensure Gerald Ford’s defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter. Even so well informed an observer as the New Republic’s John Osborne, probably the most respected and influential reporter covering the Nixon White House, could describe Woodward and Bernstein as having done more than “any officials did to expose the evil of Watergate and drive Richard Nixon from the presidency.”
The point isn’t the legend’s truth but its persuasiveness. As a newspaper editor tells James Stewart’s U.S. senator in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West, sir, and when fact becomes legend, we print the legend!” The legend of the crusading reporter, enshrined in dozens of movies of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, was what Nixon had bumped up against and one of the reasons he could never get ahead on Watergate was precisely this: Once it became apparent that the newspapers really were onto something, people instinctively felt they already knew the story—and Nixon had to be the bad guy. Just as Watergate was the logical moral climax to Nixon’s career—the man who saw enemies in so many places finally became one to himself—so, too, was it the logical Hollywood climax. The good guys—or at least the likable guys—were the ones behind the typewriters. To Richard Nixon’s dark, dour, disingenuous matter, the Hollywood image of journalists was absolute, annihilating antimatter. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Bring Down the Government” was the way one Post editor described the first draft of William Goldman’s screenplay, which isn’t far off as a description of the final version. In real life, as on screen, how could the public not go for something like that?

We could call it the Spotlight before Spotlight. Not to say these are bad movies but I can't resist making the joke that the superhero movies reviled by film reviewers just use the superhero in direct, unmediated form, whereas the journalist-as-superhero trope disguises the convention, perhaps so effectively that journalists don't realize that what Eagleton called the dogma of a double truth, of a set of ideals for the leadership-worthy classes and the common rabble, is still in play and journalists have elected themselves to the superheroic guild that is based not on physical prowess but on social and intellectual access.

Thing is, as Batman: the animated series played out decades ago it's perfectly possible for the superhero genre to concede that there's always going to be a "one percent" or even a "top twenty percent" and to ask questions in the most direct way possible as to what we want the conduct and ethics of that ruling caste to be.  In a different way Nolan's Batman films did the same thing and while Americans with lefty leanings tend to like to say those films are fascist I wonder if that's giving British film-makers and artists too little credit for admitting that frequently impermeable class boundaries exist and asking questions about what the nature of a society is or should be.  A patrician class that refuses to publicly admit how patrician it is can feel like it's endangered by other powers.  One of the tropes of Bat-lore is that Bruce Wayne never has any doubt he's of patrician stock and was born into the world with every unfair advantage possible.  But I digress. 

Other linkage for the weekend reading:

Over the last ten years I've had this impression that's hard to shake, that what Marxists describe as "alienation" is intrinsically bound up with what Christian teaching regards as the effects of the Fall.  This potent alienation of self from others, self from self, and the articulated alienation of the self alienated from self as identity and the self alienated from self in terms of labor and its results are all things pretty well spelled out in the narrative of Genesis 3.  Marxist discussion of alienation is in so many respects reinventing the wheel of Genesis 3.  But now that I'm not at Mars Hill I would venture to say there are different ways of rediscovering old things.  Each generation has to discover in its own way things discovered before by earlier generations.  Rediscovering and reinventing the wheel is part of the human experience.  What is relatively "new" is a cultural paradigm in which whatever "we" discover can be presented as something we invented or revolutionized. 

One Jacob Siegel has a rambly insider-baseball account of a thing with the editors of two magazines:

Davis: What kinds of values do you think education should be passing on?
Deresiewicz: Ultimately, colleges have inherited the spiritual mission of churches. As religious beliefs have declined with the rise of science, especially among educated people, people started to turn elsewhere to ask the big questions: What does life mean? What is the world about? People turned to works of art, to literature, music, theater, philosophy, which were in turn brought into college curricula.
That’s what the idea of a humanities education in college is and should be about, but part of that idea has very much declined. [emphasis added] It’s not about learning a specific body of information or skills the way other parts of a college education quite properly should be. Studying the humanities is about giving yourself the opportunity to engage in acts of self reflection, seeking answers to the kinds of questions you ask yourself not in a specialized capacity—but in the general capacity of being a human being, as a citizen.
Huh, that reminds me of books I've been reading this year by David Roberts on the total work of art as a failed substitute for Catholicism as the European civic religion

One of Richard Taruskin's many polemics about music historiography and music education over the last twenty years has been that the gap between the academic canon and the repertoire canon (the gap between what university programs say you have to study and what people on the proverbial street part with their own money to go voluntarily hear) has gotten too big.  The introduction of debates about the nature of canons in education and what should be canonical introduces a wrinkle here.  One possible side effect of consequence of this ... let's just say that in a way what I write could be a case study. 

One of my college friends told me he found it fascinating that I could write about episodes of Batman: the animated series in precisely the same way I could have written about Dostoevsky novels or poetry by Wallace Stevens. In a way this is a joke because based on the criteria of academic canon you're not "supposed to" take Batman or My Little Pony cartoons to even be able to address the nature of the human condition as being at the same level as poetry by Shakespeare or Milton or novels by Nabakov.  But at another level one of the implications of a lot of theoretical debates about the nature of canon formation and modes of analysis is that it seems like we "could" do this.  You could learn the tools of the trade in college that allow you to analyze this or that on the basis of having read Tolstoy or Austen or Melville but then you can turn around and apply this thought processes to, sure, a movie by Michael Bay.  How many people who can quote Walter Benjamin even want to affirm that, yes, you could use the Bayformers franchise as a way to describe where we are now.  You could do this for Star Trek, too.

That's all rambling set up for quotes from this:

Go to Inside Higher Ed, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, or read reports from Harvard University and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and you will discover that the humanities are in decline. Enrollments and majors continue to plummet.
But humanities professors themselves, like a delicatessen owner selling spoiled meat and blaming business failure on the vulgarization of consumer taste, fault their students. “All they care about is money,” they complain. “Twitter has reduced their attention span to that of a pithed frog.”
We tell a different story. For decades, literature professors have argued that there is no such thing as “great literature” but only things called great literature because hegemonic forces of oppression have mystified us into believing in objective greatness. One of the commonly taught anthologies among literature professors, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, paraphrases a key tenet of cultural studies: “Literary texts, like other artworks, are neither more nor less important than any other cultural artifact or practice. Keeping the emphasis on how cultural meanings are produced, circulated and consumed, the investigator will focus on art or literature insofar as such works connect with broader social factors, not because they possess some intrinsic interest or special aesthetic values.” (Editor's Note: This paragraph has been updated to correct a statement about the anthology.)
But if Shakespeare and Milton are no more important than any other “cultural artifact or practice,” and if they are to be studied only “insofar as” they connect with other social factors and not because of “some intrinsic interest or special aesthetic values,” then why invest the considerable effort to read them at all? Perhaps students who don’t take literature courses are responding rationally to their professors’ precepts?
The language about “how cultural meanings are produced, circulated and consumed” gropes for the prestige of something hard, unsentimental and materialistic -- in short, for economics, as a literature professor might imagine it. It appears that humanists’ key strategy for saving their disciplines has been to dehumanize them.

Now, sure, it's functionally an ad for a book.  But the concern is interesting.  The university systems as we know them in the West developed in the context of institutional churches with their literally religious concerns about a literary canon.  If you abandon this concept altogether yet still commit to the ideal that higher education should be about inculcating in people the capacity to acquire and employ critical thinking skills how do you set about doing this without a canon?  Can you do it?  For all the disadvantages canons have within poly-cultural contexts what a unified canon "could" provide is a common point from which all possible divergent readings could take place.  Christians can all debate about the appropriate interpretation of the Bible because while Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants of the Reformed or Wesleyan or Lutheran or Anglican or Pentecostal or Baptist or Mennonite or Moravian varieties may all disagree on various meanings and applications on a particular sacred text they will, at the very least, agree on what the sacred text is even if they can't agree on precisely who wrote the text and how authoritative and in what way said sacred text should be. 

Some of the battles in the last thirty years in higher education might have been to point out that if critical thinking skills are the goal we don't need a canon to inculcate those, do we?  Maybe we don't.   "If" we don't need a set canon in the arts for higher education then, as the authors quoted above propose, maybe it's a rational decision on the part of a lot of students to forego arts education in favor of picking up analytical skills in other ways.  This wouldn't have to be the STEM route that humanities fans sometimes fear, it could be history or political theory or ... maybe sociology and anthropology?  But in a way that gets us back the conundrum of the canon.  There is a canon of respected writings and contributors to the history of science., isn't there?  Newtonian physics may have needed a suppelement but Newton's place was not removed. 

What seems so lame about a swath of conservative and reactionary thought is this insistence that any attempt to add to the canon or supplement it might as well be the same as attacking the canon itself.  Look, I get why Christians would say you should not and cannot add books to the Bible.  We have those ecumenical councils and stuff.  But the idea that the canon, however we define that, in the arts, can't be a cumulative and additive thing seems stupid.  I admit that even if I were told by professors in college that Shakespeare or Hemmingway are real literary art I still enjoy Spiderman and Batman comics more than either of those, though the Bard really is pretty good.  I just admit that I like John Donne's poetry a little more if I get to choose Elizabethan era writers.  Even though both Beethoven and Mozart are regarded as more 'profound' than Haydn I disagree.  Haydn was the true luminary of that era if I "have" to pick one.  I'd rather not.  I even like Clementi's later sonatas more than much that I've heard by Mozart.  I've heard people actually gasp when I say that. 

But if we take this idea seriously that higher education is supposed to imbue us with critical thinking skills should we be that surprised if different people reach different conclusions about the arts? 

I guess I'm going to swing this back to my admiration for Haydn and how it can be explained in terms of his life and times.  Mozart and Beethoven's work, particularly after they both died, was anointed as canonical by the classes that identified with the marvelous beauty and ambition of the music.  There's a crude explanation that seems apt, the emerging middle class and entrepreneurial set could see themselves in Mozart and Beethoven because these were the two guys who were entrepreneurial about how they wrote their music and marketed their music.  Haydn was vastly more popular but he was working for the Man, for the Esterhazy court.  Even if Mozart and Beethoven were thoroughly indebted to the influence and interest of Haydn by the 19th century Haydn was admired and then, for want of a better way of putting it, ignored.  He had been canonized to the paradoxical effect of being sidelined.  As music theory began to explain forms with reference to the "deeper" composers, Haydn's more opaque and mercurial approach got shunted over to the side.  Richard Taruskin has, with cause, used Haydn as a case study of how the gap between what the textbooks tell us a sonata is supposed to be and what Haydn actually did couldn't be larger.  Haydn's unpredictable and whimsical approach to forms is so notorious that even in Elements of Sonata Theory, Hepokoski & Darcy just concede they drew more from Mozart and Beethoven and other composers for discussing formal options because Haydn was so playful it was hard to articulate any rules  about form from what he did.

Getting back to Deresiewicz's concerns about higher ed., I'm reminded of how I was advised by the late William Lane back when I was in school that if I did go into graduate studies for biblical literature to steer clear of the Ivy League.  He said the Ivy League had, unfortunately, lost its way and was completely sold out to what he called "the guild mentality".  It was all about the self-reinforcing dynamics of the guild doing things for the academic guild.  If you wanted to go into biblical studies with an eye toward serving the Church and as an act of serious Christian service he advised to go elsewhere and basically treat the Ivy League like a non-option.  That was, at the risk of reminding myself of the passage of time, more than twenty years ago.  It doesn't mean big schools can't generate wonderfully useful scholarship.  I've already name-dropped academics associated with the biggest possible schools in Western education.  Even in a case like, say, Taruskin, he's so committed a polemicist that there are plenty of people who maybe just barely grant he's a scholar at this point.  As a guitarist I've got my own little issues with his Oxford history of aired here at this blog. 

I suppose in our era of Trump the handwringing about critical thinking skills seems unfortunate because I get this sense that there's a set of assumptions laying behind invocations of critical thinking skills.  Who's to say that critical thinking skills, whatever they are, can be "taught"?  I've heard people say that you can't really teach jazz, not really.  Setting aside for the moment the annoying tendency of this kind of bromide being uttered by literal white guys ... no, wait, let's not set that aside!  I'm thinking here about Noah Berlatsky's riff against white guys like Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau using their roles as journalists to police the purity of black musicians; or a corresponding use of the role of the critic to condemn wholesale that genre of music known as prog rock.  I've had mixed feelings about prog rock all my life, loving parts of it and hating other parts of it and Haydn, in a word, has been my "answer", a composer who realized that you can do an awful lot with just a few hooks.  I view prog rock as a fine transitional experiment in high/low fusion of the sort I think a lot of us want to hear take shape, whether it's prog rock or Miles Davis' fusion period. 

Sometimes, and this is just me ranting for the weekend, I feel like the worst stuff that happened in Western academia all seemed to happen in the "long 19th century".  I've been anti-Romantic in my sympathies and convictions for a long time.  It's not without beauty or value.  I love some music by Chopin and to the extent that the Transcendentalists inspired Charles Ives that is the limit of my regard for them. 

But the canon status given to Beethoven and Mozart over Haydn exemplifies my recurring frustration with an approach to an artistic canon.  What's seemed clearer and clearer to me as I immersed myself in the early 19th century guitar sonatas on the one hand and in Hepokoski & Darcy's work on sonata forms on the other is that we're rediscovering fairly basic stuff about the 18th century music that's called "classical music". We're reinventing a wheel but we're reinventing it because, as I see it, we've been sold a bill of goods about the 18th century approaches to form by 19th century German idealists who, in the process of filtering the ideals of high art through their idolatry of Beethoven and Mozart, misrepresented the literature of the 18th century they were proposing to elucidate in the process. 

Part of me wants to go on at length about the beef I have with the Romantic era prescription of the "plan" in music composition vs the "Script" as was elucidated by Leonard B Meyer but it's the weekend and I wrote all that stuff earlier.

Recovering a more script based approach to sonata would open up the possibilities of incorporating ragtime and blues into sonata forms.  My worry sometimes is that the debates about the canon of Western music or the battles over cultural appropriation is that we have people enforcing purity codes that don't even have the explicitly religious foundations that could at least get them on the "sanctity" scale Jonathan Haidt has talked about in his work.  This might be where what people on the left call neoliberalism gets easier to identify.  Maybe it's what is going on when someone like Ethan Iverson vents that he dreads that Star Wars movies and pop music might pass for high culture in a century if we don't defend jazz and classical.  That the Beastie Boys ended up as "classical music" was one of the tossed off punchlines in Star Trek Beyond.

But, like I was saying, it is the weekend. 

former MH PR director Justin Dean has a new book out called PR Matters: A Survival Guide for Church Communicators (though it's not necessarily a survival guide for the churches themselves, is it?)

A Survival Guide for Church Communicators
Lessons learned from Justin Dean, former Communications Director at Mars Hill Church

Presented for the time being without comment.

updated 6-18-2017

The title is interesting.  It's a survival guide for church communicators.  This title does not imply that the church itself will necessarily survive.  But it telegraphs that it can be a survival guide for church communicators. Justin Dean's tenure at Mars Hill Church may truly be an instructive case study because during his stint as the person handling PR Mars Hill went from its soaring heights to complete institutional death. 

If anyone has come across reviews of the book it'd be interesting to see what the reviewers had to say about the book.  Given how high profile the implosion of Mars Hill Church was, Dean's book might be something would-be future historians of the movement might be curious about.

How Justin Dean fielded the discipline of Andrew Lamb in 2012 did chart a course for the public reputation of the church.  For those who don't remember what he said, he explained that due to unclear communication what was meant to be conveyed about Andrew's discipline within a small group context was made known to the larger MH community, which was not intended.  At the time we noted that this was about as direct an explanation of an action being caused by organizational incompetence as was likely to be seen in contemporary American discourse. 

Recall, too, that MH was laboring to state that they were interested in protecting the privacy of the parties involved regarding the church discipline situation. 

If you should want to read about thirty-five thousand words of analysis referring to social media use by former MH leaders and attenders showing how easily it was possible to connect all the dots between Matthew Paul Turner's blogging about Andrew's discipline and the identities of Andrew (Lamb) and the Noriega family) you can trawl through these tagged posts:

Mars Hill was in many respects a case study of early adoption of social media use. It was a church culture that tried to be cutting edge about media use and branding.  The upside of that culture was that they had a meteoric rise.  The downside of that culture, to keep things brief for a post such as this, is that we had a culture in which people had not thought through all the implications of social media as mass media, or social media as a means through which all varied uses came with the voluntary sacrifice of privacy.  As this blog documented in at times mind-numbing detail, MH leaders and attenders did not seem to always grasp just how huge were the streams of information left out there on the net for reference.  When I started to document how it was possible for a convicted felon on his second marriage to get fast-tracked into a high mid-level leadership position in the culture of MH after he played an instrumental role in getting a piece of prime real estate Mark Driscoll admitted he'd been wanting for Mars Hill for a decade, this was possible to blog about precisely because Mars Hill was a culture where all sorts of stuff was blogged and tweet from sermons and information was easy to look up.  I would not say that, per a tweet by Justin Dean, that "bloggers won".  Mars Hill was the kind of information culture in which revealing what was going on became easy to investigate because Mars Hill was a culture that couldn't help publishing stuff to prove how technically engaged it was.

Now's s good a time as any to ask whether we Americans throw around the word "survivor" too much, not least in days where people actually get shot and killed.   I've gone on record here saying I don't particularly like the term "survivor" blog.  I'm not saying something like PTSD can't be experienced by people who have been through emotionally traumatic experiences at church--but two years after the shooting at Emanuel AME there are people who aren't with us because they were murdered.  The men and women and children who were there and were not also murdered can certainly be regarded as survivors.  About a year ago the Pulse shooting occurred.  The people who didn't die in that incident who were present can also be described as survivors.  Dean's book may have tips on how to "survive" in a church communicator role but the word "survivor" seems over-used in American Christian social media and media use. 

Still, if you happen to know of any reviews of Dean's book, feel free to post a comment (comments are still moderated so they may not show up, or show up right away).

And now Mars Hill  is no more.  A normal person on the street might wonder whether or not the PR approach of the top level leaders wouldn't have been responsible in a crucial way for the decline of a church's reputation.  But the book title says it's a survival guide for church communicators, so if we judge a book by its cover, Justin Dean's book doesn't have to be about whether or not the church survives, just the person who has the job of handling it's PR.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

a piece in The New Yorker about prog rock, Noah Berlatsky on white rock critics obsessed with the purity of black music, and a decade of experiments at high-low fusion

In April, 1971, Rolling Stone reviewed the début album by a band with a name better suited to a law firm: Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The reviewer liked what he heard, although he couldn’t quite define it. “I suppose that your local newspaper might call it ‘jazz-influenced classical-rock,’ ” he wrote. In fact, a term was being adopted for this hybrid of highbrow and lowbrow. People called it progressive rock, or prog rock: a genre intent on proving that rock and roll didn’t have to be simple and silly—it could be complicated and silly instead. In the early nineteen-seventies, E.L.P., alongside several more or less like-minded British groups—King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, as well as Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd—went, in the space of a few years, from curiosities to rock stars. This was especially true in America, where arenas filled up with crowds shouting for more, which was precisely what these bands were designed to deliver. The prog-rock pioneers embraced extravagance: odd instruments and fantastical lyrics, complex compositions and abstruse concept albums, flashy solos and flashier live shows. Concertgoers could savor a new electronic keyboard called a Mellotron, a singer dressed as a batlike alien commander, an allusion to a John Keats poem, and a philosophical allegory about humankind’s demise—all in a single song (“Watcher of the Skies,” by Genesis). In place of a guitarist, E.L.P. had Keith Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso who liked to wrestle with his customized Hammond organ onstage, and didn’t always win: during one particularly energetic performance, he was pinned beneath the massive instrument, and had to be rescued by roadies. Perhaps this, too, was an allegory.
Sanneh's piece is long-form so we won't try to quote more than a few salient excerpts but one of the observations made along the way is that prog rock was white European music in an era in which rock was still thought of as having retained its connections to black music.  Or at least a whole lot of people still thought that at the time.  In an era of cultural appropriation it seems strange how little extended discussion has been given to, say, how much cultural appropriation could be said to exist on the still-overhyped Sgt. Pepper.
The genre’s bad reputation has been remarkably durable, even though its musical legacy keeps growing. Twenty years ago, Radiohead released “OK Computer,” a landmark album that was profoundly prog: grand and dystopian, with a lead single that was more than six minutes long. But when a reporter asked one of the members whether Radiohead had been influenced by Genesis and Pink Floyd, the answer was swift and categorical: “No. We all hate progressive rock music.”
That's interesting because I went through the 1990s and early 00's thinking Radiohead was just what you'd get if you took Pinkfloyd, added some Sun Ra, put it on simmer, and rebranded it.   It would seem that prog rock is the kind of rock a certain generation has to foreswear somewhat like post-Romantic/Impressionist era composers in Europe felt obliged to damn or saint the influence of Wagner. 
Almost no one hated progressive rock as much, or as memorably, as Lester Bangs, the dyspeptic critic who saw himself as a rock-and-roll warrior, doing battle against the forces of fussiness and phoniness. In 1974, he took in an E.L.P. performance and came away appalled by the arsenal of instruments (including “two Arthurian-table-sized gongs” and “the world’s first synthesized drum kits”), by Emerson’s preening performance, and by the band’s apparent determination to smarten up rock and roll by borrowing from more respectable sources. E.L.P. had reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Bangs wanted to believe that the band members thought of themselves as vandals, gleefully desecrating the classics. Instead, Carl Palmer, the drummer, told him, “We hope, if anything, we’re encouraging the kids to listen to music that has more quality”—and “quality” was precisely the quality that Bangs loathed. He reported that the members of E.L.P. were soulless sellouts, participating in “the insidious befoulment of all that was gutter pure in rock.” Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics,” was, if anything, more dismissive: “These guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans.”
More than a little class resentment/conflict stuff going on there, maybe?   Loathing of attempts at fusion weren't just happening with regard to progressive rock but we'll get to that later.
Half the time when Noah Berlatsky writes something I'll think its absurd and the other half of the time it will seem to be a well-made point.  Berlatsky recently wrote about Christgau.
Cultural appropriation is, at least in part, an accusation about authenticity. When Katy Perry aspires to hip hop dance moves, she’s picking up something which isn’t hers and (perhaps more importantly) getting paid a lot for it. She looks awkward, out of place, ridiculous. She looks fake.

One person who’d no doubt be eager to weigh in on Katy Perry’s fakeness, or on anyone’s fakeness, is Baby Boomer critic Robert Christgau. Christgau is something of a legend. He’s been called the Dean of American Rock Critics, and he was the chief rock critic at the Village Voice for decades, when that was a big deal. He’s known as a contrarian—but that only makes him more representative of rock critics generally. He’s not unique, but his work is convenient shorthand for a certain critical consensus.
That consensus centers in particular around race. Like many white rock critics of his age, Christgau is obsessed with black authenticity. He has policed the borders of real black expression, praising those who are truly black, and casting scorn upon the mere poseurs.

Early in Christgau’s career, those inauthentic poseurs included Jimi Hendrix. These days Hendrix is seen as the quintessence of realness; he’s a rock touchstone, the foundational artist who confirms rocks essential blackness. Back in 1967, though, when Hendrix performed at Monterey, white critics like Christgau were turned off by Hendrix’s flamboyant performance style and, especially, by his appeal to a white audience. Christgau infamously called Hendrix “a psychedelic Uncle Tom,” though editors changed it to “just another Uncle Tom” under the misapprehension that that was somehow less offensive. Christgau also approvingly quoted another critic who said that Hendrix had a “beautiful Spade routine.”
It's a bit mixed there for me because I'm dubious at best about a lot of what is called "cultural appropriation".  But then I realize that I liked a number of the bands in the aforementioned prog-rock article.  It's been interesting to cross reference Sanneh and Berlatsky to see how critics, and not necessarily always white music critics, lambasted 1970s era experiments at fusion, whether it's in the prog rock arena or, as we'll get to in a bit, jazz-rock fusion.  Stanley Crouch was none too pleased with Bitches Brew when it was released. A lot of Davis' post Bitches Brew music didn't stick with me but Bitches Brew itself holds up beautifully.  In his sprawling Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin proposed that what incensed critics was that what Davis had done was cultivate a high-low fusion.  Up to that point experiments in jazz-classical fusions had been done and without necessarily netting a whole ton of acrimony from critical establishments.  This was, arguably, because the fusion could be considered high-high--jazz was considered a nascent classical musical idiom for African Americans (and certainly composers like Ellington (though diffident about the term "jazz" itself) aspired to create music that was respectable while also emblematic of black American experience in a way theoretically anyone and everyone could relate to). 
But whether it was a Christgau or a Crouch the purity police had things to say about any attempts at fusions. 
Sanneh mentions:
Gentle Giant was one of the bands featured on “The Progressives,” the Columbia Records compilation, which turned out to have a hidden agenda: it was, in large part, a jazz album, seemingly designed to help prog fans develop a taste for Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jazz played an important but disputed role in the story of progressive rock. While some British bands were trying to turn inward, away from American influences, others were finding ways to forge new ties between rock and jazz. [emphasis added]  Indeed, Mahavishnu Orchestra, a jazz-fusion group led by the English guitarist John McLaughlin (who previously played with Miles Davis), is sometimes considered an honorary prog band—at the time, the distinctions between these genres could be hazy. And in Canterbury, in the southeast of England, a cluster of interconnected bands created their own jazz-inflected hybrids: Soft Machine, Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North. These are the bands most likely to charm—and perhaps convert—listeners who think that they hate progressive rock. Unlike the swashbucklers who conquered arenas, the Canterburians were cheerfully unheroic, pairing adventurous playing with shrugging, self-deprecating lyrics about nothing much. (One Hatfield & the North song goes, “Thank all the mothers who made cups of tea. / If they didn’t care for us, we wouldn’t be / here to sing our songs and entertain. / Plug us in and turn on the mains!”) This is music animated by a spirit of playful exploration—recognizably progressive, you might say, though not terribly prog.
Berlatsky's beef with Christgau circles back to cultural appropriation but George Walker has talked about dealing with the stereotype by which people assume that because he's a black composer of a certain age he must play jazz when he composes what's broadly known as "classical". The trouble with charges of cultural appropriation is that they very often go in all directions. 
What seems to be open for continued conversation (if, at least, anybody is discussing this) the year after David Bowie died is that it sure seems as though the boundaries between prog rock and glam rock are ... fluid.  I'm not sure why The New Yorker piece describes prog rock at such length as though some of the variables in play couldn't be applicable to The Man Who Sold the World or maybe Station to Station.  Did Bowie never pass as having even possible connections to progressive rock simply because he paid homage to black American music and critics didn't feel like labeling him prog rock?  Yet Pinkfloyd seems to be effortlessly described as prog rock and their fealty to blues could scarcely have been more obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with their work. 
While there could be damning remarks made about Pinkfloyd not being prog rock because they lacked chops I am not sure I buy that line of reasoning.  After all, by the measure of sheer technical skill would Thelonious Monk not count as bebop because he didn't have the speed of Bud Powell?  That seems dubious.
While "chops of death" are important for prog rock I would venture to say that there are formal traits to be considered in prog rock.  That seems fitting given the wonky/nerdy technique obsessions of the genre and its fan base--so I would suggest that prog rock is not just about technically demanding instrumental work, it's also about experiments in what would be known as long-form compositional processes and structures.  Whether or not you think a song like "Xanadu" by the band Rush "works", there's no doubt that it's a giant song, epic in scope and scale, and has a lot of parts to it.
If anything, and I blogged about this way back at the start of this blog, the problem with a lot of progressive rock is that it is often brimming with a surfeit of ideas that, in themselves, are memorable musical ideas, but often without any clear sense of guiding structure.  To put it in cognitive terms, prog rock is often very "in the moment" for any given minute of the performance while if you were to try to draw a schematic of what the "form" of a Rush song is you might have six to eight distinguishable parts in the longer pieces, and that's even if you decide to discount any free-ranging solo as merely an in-song variation or embellishment of a previously established structural unit.
You will never run into that kind of problem with Bitches Brew.  The governing syntactics of how the Davis album works from song to song and across the album as a whole makes it easier to remember the sum of the album and its parts than I've managed, personally, to have for a lot of prog rock albums. 
So what I'll probably end with for the time being is coming back to how there's a bunch of people who loathe prog rock and a bunch of people who loathe jazz-rock fusion experiments that have emerged in the wake of Davis' landmark albums at the end of the 1960s.  What it seems was happening was that ambitious musicians were striving to arrive at was a fusion.  Leo Brouwer, a guitarist composer whose work I've admired for decades, has said that fusion is a trend in the second half of the 20th century that academic musicology and theory has largely willfully ignored.  If anything some recent articles suggest that when establishment critics for jazz or rock or classical found they could not ignore the "cross over" or "fusion" works they could lambast them.  Sometimes those attempts at fusion were just that, attempts.  A lot of what has occurred could be likened to attempts to mix vocabularies, or to transpose vocabularies into formal idioms in ways that may or may not have always worked. 
Schoenberg developed his twelve-tone technique because he believed the viable musical options of the German tradition that didn't devolve into centuries-tested cliché were nearly exhausted.  Perhaps they were exhausted and perhaps they were thoroughly and truly exhausted by the time Stockhausen was doing his thing.  Adorno's advocacy for atonality has not endeared him to later generations who have been aghast at his dismissal of jazz.  There have been some who have damned Adorno for championing atonality because he was a Marxist.  Meh, though not exactly a Marxist myself I think that's a foolish complaint about Adorno.  I think that Adorno may have really believed that the "viable" possibilities of the twelve-tone equally tempered chromatic scale had been genuninely and supremely exhausted by the German musical tradition ranging from Bach through Schoenberg.  The trouble is that just because in an information saturated cultural milieu critics regard the art form as saturated and wasted doesn't mean this is how musicians and producers will see things.  Schoenberg had plenty of good things to say about Gershwin's musicianship and went so far as to say there was still plenty of good music to be written in the key of C major, didn't he? 

Ethan Iverson has a long grab bag of quotes from jazz luminaries who discussed which works from the "classical" canon they steeped themselves in over here.

I used to be in a would-be prog rock band ... decades ago.   The band didn't exactly break up but two of the three of us got married and started families.  I joined some church that had a few young artsy types in it ... .  Over time I began to have a vaguely subterranean impression hat, in a way, the culminating ambition of a prog rock guitarist was to write a fugue for the guitar.  What could be more progressive rock than a fugue for solo guitar based on either a blues riff or some kind of Bulgarian-inspired 7/8 or 11/4 subject?  Not that I consciously thought about it in such explicit terms, but I came to realize that a lot of what prog rock aspired to do seemed to be collapsing the boundaries between the "high" of classical music as we tend to think of it and the "low" of rock/pop idioms.  It seemed that jazz rock fusion, much of which I have hated and still find hard to really enjoy was, nonetheless, also aiming for what I still consider a worthy and eventually attainable goal.  The early and middle Baroque periods were characterized by the wholesale collapse of a style that had been long ago dubbed ars perfecta.  The stylistic cohesion of the Renaissance era gave way to nascent forms of nationalism and regional stylistic and formal innovation.  It was also an era in which seismic shifts in temperament and tuning of instruments was starting to take place. 

As I get into ... a certain phase of life, it seems that over the last twenty years the declinist meme in cultural conservatism has fixated on complaining that atonality and twelve-tone music has ever, ever existed.  It's what I find I can't trust about the Roger Scruton wing of cultural criticism.  Alban Berg's Wozzeck is remarkable.  Even Scruton would have to concede there's a time and a place for atonality in music.  Penderecki may have settled into a really predictable neo-Romantic vibe but his earlier, eclecticism still holds up, most strongly in his Passion setting, for me.  Using all the avant garde musical techniques of his era to depict the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross shows that with a compelling extra-musical purpose, even the most arcane and confrontational musical devices can be put to persuasive use.  The mistake that has often been made by 20th century avant garde movements has been grabbing for formal innovations at the price of forgetting the extra-musical associative meanings that lay audiences so frequently anticipate can be available for understanding the music. 

The longevity of prog rock might not just be about what it "is" in the ears and memories of frequently not-so-admiring critics and historians but for what it was aspiring to.  Maybe Adorno and others had a point in proclaiming that twelve-tone equally tempered notes had nothing in traditional tonality left to them.  Maybe ... but as Partsch or Johnston or others on the just intonation/microtonality side of things have been saying for decades, maybe the mistake Schoenberg and his acolytes made was assuming the octave could only ever be divided up into twelve more or less equi-distant tones.  Why on earth should that be?

For those of us who can't afford the time or materials or the technique to custom-build instruments playing with justly tuned intervals we have to work with the budget and access constraints we have.  As much as I admire Ben Johnston's string quartets he never said it was "the" way to go, just the way he found interesting.  For those of us committed to working in traditional fixed pitched instruments there are other options and those other options can be explicated by the ambitions of prog rock and other types of fusion.  What's interesting to consider is how the aspiration to a new fusion of previously existing styles has been going on across the classical, jazz and rock spectrum and also across what's dubbed the white and black spectrum.  It's not even really black or white as people of every skin color explore the possibilities latent in the permeable boundaries across musical styles.  We live in a post-tonal musical world but we had a pre-tonal musical world in the Renaissance and even in the early and middle Baroque periods for a good stretch of time.  They didn't even have a consolidated equal temperament system in place, either. 

Circling back to Pinkfloyd as the band that Sanneh said was the most popular prog rock band, let's just take that as given and propose that what their music had in its favor was macro-structural simplicity.  Yet in terms of musical complexity there's nothing in even the most complex Pinkfloyd song that approaches the complexity of what Stevie Wonder did in "Living for the City" or "Contusion" in his 1970s output.  So how is it that prog rock managed to get scorned while other musicians such as Stevie Wonder and David Bowie managed to do comparable avant garde things in popular music without getting critical drubbings?  At the risk of closing on too simple an observation about 1970s experiments at fusion, what distinguished a Wonder or a Bowie as having mastered a kind of jazz/rock/avant garde fusion was macrostructural directness yielding a simple, comprehensible whole that was lacking in prog rock.  Prog rock often foundered once you got beyond the moment-to-moment virtuosity and sought out audible organizing paradigms or principles. 

But then fans of middle Baroque music may note that a whole lot of people only think of the high Baroque masters such as Handel, Bach or Telemann as standing in for the entire Baroque period.  Prog rockers could be to a potential continuing fusion of classical, jazz and rock/pop what the early Baroque composers were in another time. 

I've got another post incubating about reading through Ben Johnston's theoretical writings about music.  The preview version is that it's interesting to look at how signature moves in the classical music avant garde of the 20th century, whether its introducing aleatoric composition, mass improvisation, serializing techniques based on formulas, or dismantling the certainty of fixed functional tonal progressions could be thought of as attempting to take one of maybe a dozen standard traits in the span of the Baroque era Western musical practice and using that as a foundation to explore new musical options. 

What I think has not been discussed enough at a lay level in musicology (though, perhaps, at the academic level) is that we see this curious thing going on, while the white Western avant garde labored to build new types of music based on the reappropriation and extension of one of the aforementioned elements into classical music, these were attempts to restore with primacy a single trait that was in Baroque theory and practice; by contrast, jazz showed us a musical idiom in which all of the elements from Baroque theory and practice that had been purged through the run of the high Classic era and Romantic eras were brought back into a Western practice musical art form.  What high German idealism had strangled out of the Western art music tradition came back in a desublimated form in jazz and it scared the crap out of some establishment chroniclers of formal music education for a time.  Some reactionary types who are committed to a Western musical canon that is functionally 19th century in its devotion seem unable to accept the possibility that a whole lot of popular music in the last century rose to the level of art and if there's a pervasive tendency in those kinds of polemics I've noticed in online vitriol over the last five years or so it's that those types of people tend to lionize the 19th century at the expense of the more unstable currents and trends of the 15th through 18th centuries.

But that was supposed to be a separate post.  Meh, I'll just throw it in here at the end because I think it connects to prog rock thematically.  Baroque music was vilified as ornate, ugly and incomprehensible by contemporary critics so there's nothing new under the sun. What Baroque era music did manage to generate, which by and large progressive rock may not have as much of, is a range of theoretical treatises guiding practice and theory.  We're arguably, some say, beyond the era of rock as it stands, so prog rock may forever remain a footnote in the history of attempts at fusions that maybe didn't quite fully ... fuse.  Perhaps that's the thing about experimental music, it's easy to decide decades after the fact that the experiment failed somehow, but there's such a thing as figuring out why we may think the experiment failed and what could be done differently rather than do what rock and jazz and classical establishment critics of various stripes have tended to declare in the moment and for posterity, that it shouldn't even have been tried.