There's been some very innovative music release actions this year. First there was Beyoncé's 17 videos vs Bowie's secret album and oh the world was full of delights and mysteries, and any morning might bring an unexpected creative explosion in the most unexpected places. What joy!
Then, of course, it had to get creepy. I'm looking at you, Thom Yorke. The decision to release via Bittorrent doubtless felt very right and now as it was happening. Perhaps he had been advised that everyone with a computer had Bittorrent, but that's not exactly true, is it? Perhaps he had also reflected on those old early-days CD releases which would install some bit of crapware on your computer and thought, this isn't unbroken territory! Perhaps there was some thought that only people who were able/willing to install a piece of 3rd party software on their computer should be able to purchase the album - a sort of initiation test, the music hidden behind a technical tiger. So we had Bittorrent. Briefly. And felt slightly violated.
But worse was to come. Itunes is of course WAY more ubiquitous than Bittorrent. There are three iterations of it running in this household alone (if you don't count the ones on the i-pods, and if you do, there are five*) and that meant potentially THREE copies of a U2 album we never ordered parachuting into the household. Alas, I'd lost my iTunes log-in in a password reset fiasco about four years ago and never got round to fixing it**, so it was only my dearly beloved suddenly exploding in a pile of swears. "Violated!" he choked, "By Bono!"
Unusual. But it got me thinking. Why are we staring at Beyoncé and Bowie going ooooh! aaaaah! like kids looking at fireworks, and going uuugghh aaaaaah at Yorke and Bono waving our hands like teenagers startled by a creep at the busstop? There's the obvious difference of course (the former being glorious edifices of alien glamour and the latter being essentially middle aged men with ponytails) but there's something more going on I think; and I think that we must reach for gender studies.
We choose what entertainment we let into our homes (and our computers are our homes, or at any rate an important part of them). We choose the providers and tools and methods and programmes that make up our own individual technical support zone. This area holds our memories, creative output, social group and task lists. Our body doesn't end at the skin, it extends outward, into our household and its echo, in the remote servers of the cloud; and for most adults*** access routes to that body-echo is as carefully monitored and controlled as access to our actual body.
What then of the music release that requests that you download and install a programme that you are fully aware of but consider a risky access route? It strips choice away from the receiving partner. There's a power shift, a power imbalance. Consent is compromised, or at least carries an unwanted freight, and one which exposes you to further risk. The act of receiving the music requires an act of self-compromise. Like certain encounters with gentlemen (or ladies) you might have had in your early twenties, it's not technically what you'd call .... awful ... but it leaves you feeling nasty and desperately scrubbing the programme from your computer, thinking, I didn't want this.
Bono, of course, went rather further. The traumatic penetration of iTunes libraries resonated around the world. Of course, it made a bigger splash than Bowie and Beyoncé. He'll have made more money (does he need more money? do any of them?) and got more media coverage. But he's also joined that long list of powerful men in the entertainment industry who feel you should be grateful for (you may insert pretty much anything here) . Last I heard, Bono was being chased down the street by angry Germans, and I laughed, along with the person telling me the story, because I have been (like many people of all genders and ages) a powerless girl, and, oh, wished for that, or something like that.
*The extra ipod is fully functional bar the sound chip which got fried in a tragic headphone jack/power lead confusion incident.
**As I already have a surfeit of entertainment channels and music acquisition routes.
***Children's access is moderated by their parents/carers/schools.