Beyoncé, MLK, and “authenticity”

I have a big problem with this despicable Slate post that seeks to equate the “right” to steal intellectual property with the civil rights struggled for by Dr. King.

But there is something else going on here, especially in the context of the Beyoncé lip-sync pseudo-controversy. On the one hand, the Slate post equates the film of Dr. King with his speech, in much the way that what most people mean by a “song” is not a composition but a recording – the document and the content are one. But for some people, when (if?) Beyoncé lip-syncs, they are not getting the “song” when they are getting a recording – they feel cheated. It seems that when the issue of performance is at play, an older* understanding of the relationship between content and its presentation enters in. Or perhaps those who felt cheated didn’t really care about the song, but were interested in only the performance itself – and being able to say that they had heard/seen the performance. But what does it mean to “hear” or “see” a performance that is so completely mediated by technology? How much different was it to be there as compared with being on the sofa at home? I have the impression some of the people on the Mall were  standing there watching the event streamed on iPads. Did any of them object to the use of a recording? For people who objected to using a recording, there was something inauthentic about not performing live, especially in a quasi-religious context predicated on utter sincerity. I imagine that the sense of being cheated also springs from the removal of risk from the performance situation. What does it say about us as audiences when we admit that part of the pleasure of observing a performance springs from the knowledge that the performer might fail? Which brings to mind the myriad “fail” compilations on YouTube…

Speaking for myself, I don’t really care if she used a recording or not. The irony is that, at least on the network I was viewing, the volume level on Beyoncé’s vocal was too low for the opening portion of the piece – there was no problem with the levels for Clarkson and Taylor’s live (but musically weaker) performances.


*) pre-digital? or perhaps pre-Sgt. Pepper, when a song was a composition, not a recording?

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