Every Like Is A Flirt

A graduate student got in touch with me recently to talk about a research paper she’s writing on identity and music. Since I’m a music journalist I’m an expert, I guess. Expert at bullshitting things on the fly anyway. “I’m detailing the reasons behind young people defining themselves by the music they listen to,” she said. “Not, like, ‘Why do goths listen to industrial?’ It’s more like, ‘How is it that young people are using their music taste to define them?’”

Using Facebook, and iLike and Last.fm and Pandora are the ways we broadcast to the world whatever our shitty taste is now, and has been for years. Back in my day you had to go through the painful process of growing out a mohawk and sewing weird shit onto your jacket to let everyone know you were into punk, or not shower for a week to let everyone know you hearted Nirvana forever. It took some effort, you see. Gross, gross effort. Nowadays all you have to do is push a button to push someone’s buttons.

“When I had Myspace, I would only add people whose music preferences overlapped with mine,” she said to me. “Why? Why is musical preference so important for some people? How can it comprise an identity?”

Why? Boning each other is why. Like every single other thing we do and have ever done, it’s because we’re looking for sex. But in this case, it’s not just sex in general, it’s genre-based sex. Welcome to the future.

People like the music they like, and that can either be a private ritual, or one they can share with the broader community of like-minded fans. But the outward expression of that fanhood outside of the specific fan community is all about sex and dating and increasing your opportunities for both. It’s a broadcast signal sent straight from your crotch via your brain’s waylay station, to the world at large, but it’s coded in a signal that only other members of your group can decipher.

It all comes down to separating ourselves into little tribes for the purpose of more efficient mating. Exclusivity has always been attractive, and the more exclusive your expression of your self is, the more attractive it is going to seem to others. This is shit that goes back to the first dinosaur scenester writing on her cavebook wall page that her interests include “dudes with sticks and fire.” Same idea applies when you’re using your online identity to trumpet your musical tastes: it’s just another way of thinning the pool of potential suitors to ones you’d deem acceptable.

Whereas our parents and grandparents probably looked for qualities in a mate like, you know, stability, life-building potential, and sure, attractiveness, now it’s more like “I’m into dudes who are fans of other dudes who know how to manipulate a laptop or guitar in the highly specific manner that I also deem to be commendable.” It’s no less superficial than it ever was, it’s just using different criteria to determine whose face you want to smash your face into.

Why do we do it like that now? Because people treat partners like accessories. Young people anyway. If you’re involved in a particular music scene, you have to have the right pants and shirt that evokes membership, but also the right human being to wear on your arm like a shoulder bag covered in band badges. And even when it’s not about directly attracting a member of the sex you’re attracted to, it’s a means of gaining entry into a club that might be secondarily observed as being desirable. For example, you may not be that into some obscure techno, but you know that being perceived as someone who is, that there are plenty of people who are going to assign value to that. People like people who like things, particularly if those things are deemed just enough outside the norm to be interesting.

Or it could be simpler than that. What else are we going to talk about with others besides the things we are entertained by? Politics? Doubtful. Literature? When I was younger I used to judge people on whether or not they had read enough Dostoevsky, but I was also what you might call a judgmental prick. I’d love to still do that now if only I could find anyone who read anything besides Gawker anymore. Nonetheless, the idea remains that you need to preselect for conversational success by filtering out the people unlikely to ‘get you.’ It’s like narrowing the parameters on a Google search, but you’re searching the world for a mate.

Putting quotes around your personal identity search field cuts through all the search results that would be a waste of your time. Have you ever tried talking about cultural likes with someone who is on an entirely different wavelength? Not, like, someone who is into dubstep while you’re into hardcore – because the very act of liking there can be grounds for overlap as “fans” – but someone who isn’t very particular about what it is they like? That is a seriously rough hang. “I like all kinds of music!” “Uh, I gotta go.” (Just kidding, for the purposes of a single hookup a dude will probably tough that one out provided the girl is attractive enough. You know what I mean though.)

People who say they like everything are really saying they don’t like anything. That doesn’t wash in our consumer driven culture, where brand identity is so important, not just for the products we buy, but for the product that is our raging boners and raging vaginas, the things we are most driven to sell to the world. A product that everyone likes has a lesser value. When you limit supply, people want it even more. Why do you think they only do limited runs of iPads or whatever? It’s not because they don’t think they couldn’t sell more. It’s because the less people that get to fuck an iPad, the more people want to fuck an iPad.

So every push of a “like” button on Facebook, or everything you upload to your Soundcloud or what have you is just another entry into your identity portfolio. It’s like a peacock showing off his feathers or a bird singing a mating song, except instead of something inherent to our biology – displaying our secondary sexual traits like tits and ass and broad shoulders or whatever it is we’re biologically inclined to be turned on by – it’s a killer remix of a Crystal Castles track that we wear to advertise our readiness to make a baby, except not really, just a pretend style baby that floats above our heads in an aura of cool when we walk down the street together, whether the ones in the real world, or the ones on the internet.

For young people this is a lot more important obviously, but that’s because the pool of potential partners is so much bigger. When you are in your mid 30s and older I’d guess, women start to settle for someone who isn’t, like, a cannibal pervert, who also has a job and clean shoes. Dudes start to look for a partner who isn’t too fat and laughs at his dumb jokes. Good enough. It doesn’t really seem that important that they aren’t the type of person who downloads all the right shit from Rcrdlbl.com anymore, because given the choice between getting old on your own with no one to talk to, or having to talk to someone who can’t necessarily expound on the poignancy of Morrissey’s mid period b-sides, it’s not really a choice at all. Well, not for me anyway. I’d take the crushing solitude, but that’s because I’m a giant pussy who self-identifies as a huge Morrissey fan. Then again, I’m probably just saying that so other Morrissey fans out there will want to take a look at what’s going on inside my Morrissey fan pants.

More from Mr O’Neil over at Put That Shit On The List, and if you want to redesign his site for him, he’s after some graphic design at the moment…


  • Dollface November 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    my response to this and why you’ve damned me to one night stands forevermore.

  • lukeoneil47 November 24, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    I feel for you on that, but if it makes you feel any better the above only applies to like 98% of people. So… good luck dating!

  • dannecf November 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    BAM! in your face @Dollface hahah

    • lukeoneil47 November 25, 2010 at 5:23 am

      I didn’t mean to put anything in her face.

  • moosewood November 25, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Dollface, as far as I see it you don’t necessarily need to be looking for a straight guy who listens to all your gay stuff, but someone who respects the fact that your specific tastes and passion set you apart from other people.
    These differences are also important in defining some sort of hierarchy among members of your own gender. That would explain why some guys obsess about tiny little things that no girl would ever care about but that they see as vital. Details which they believe will give them more credibility/respect among a group of male peers that will eventually lead to them being more desirable to girls.


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