Why Bashing Jazz Is Profitable
Everyone wants to get in on the fun. Just over a week ago, the New Yorkercreated a fuss by recklessly fabricating negative quotes on jazz and falsely attributed them to Sonny Rollins. Days later, a disclaimer was added to let unsuspecting online readers know it was all in jest. Over the weekend, it was the Washington Post's turn. In an online column entitled "All That Jazz Isn’t All That Great," Justin Moyer, deputy editor of the paper's online "Morning Mix," wrote that jazz stinks because it's too long and messes up perfectly good songs. At the column's start, Moyer wrote, "Unlike a poorly received New Yorker piece purportedly written by jazz great Sonny Rollins, this is not satire." Well, guess what? Turns out it was satire after all. [Above, Untitled, Harlem, New York; Gordon Parks,1948]
As comments below Moyer's column expressed outrage and derision, the deputy editor tried to clear the air by adding comments of his own, including this one: "This article was not intended as a serious analysis. To better understand the piece as parody, you should read an article I wrote back in 2012…" First readers were told the column should be taken seriously. Then readers were told way down below that it's all a joke—with the odd caveat that they should have realized it was humor since Moyer has done this before "for another D.C. paper."
Whatever you think of Moyer's column, online media will likely continue to have fun at jazz's expense for some time to come. Duping jazz and jazz fans is not only great sport but also works wonders for online traffic—the web's equivalent of ratings. Nothing boosts page traffic like outrage, even if it has to be ginned up. After all, most jazz fans are sensitive, soulful and articulate. You just have to shine them on a bit to get the ball rolling. As we can see, fans grow irate, express themselves online and likely share the link of the offending column, which in turn drives up traffic.
Duping audiences into thinking that fake content is real isn't new. The granddaddy of the gotcha gimmick dates back to Orson Welles's War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, when the drama's news-bulletin tone convinced listeners that the planet was indeed being invaded by Martians. Today, the motive is the same (building an audience) except the execution is a little meaner and not nearly as entertaining. Shoving Sonny Rollins' reputation down a flight of stairs for laughs triggered online outrage and links to the New Yorker's send-up. The number of page-views for the column can only be imagined. Other media sites watched the dust-up with envy. After all, where there's smoke, there's traffic.
Moyer was first to jump in post-New Yorker, articulating why jazz bores him to tears. He argued that Duke Ellington's version of Take the A Trainwas short and sweet, so why did Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy bother with an "overlong" version of the same song years later? He also wrote that many songs that jazz artists choose for improvisation were better in their original form, with the lyrics intact. And for good measure, Moyer called guitarist Wes Montgomery's [above] playing "serviceable, forgettable and uncontroversial"—equating it to elevator music. Just kidding, Moyer said later.
Faking-out passionate readers is a dangerous gambit. Once you've lost the trust of readers and engendered animosity, distaste lingers and credibility is difficult to earn back. Is a temporary spike in online traffic really worth that risk?