Last week, in a profile of Tampa band Merchandise posted to uber-hip arts and culture outlet Dazed, frontman Carson Cox had this to say about his new album, After the End, and his hometown:
“I’m proud of the fact that we did this in a cultural wasteland, that we made something we think is intelligent in a place where they just don’t want anything intelligent.”
Cox goes on to refer disdainfully to what he sees as Seminole Heights’ gentrification, comparing it to that oft-derided Brooklyn post-hipster enclave, Williamsburg; elsewhere, he bemoans the lack of culture worthy of his attention, saying that “if I had to rely on the world for my entertainment, it’d be really bleak.”
The article is titled “Merchandise: Tearing Up Tampa.”
Naturally, the Tampa Bay creative community reacted with all the polite rebuttal and reserved commentary for which contentious, easily triggered online mobs the world over are known.
Which is to say, people went apeshit.
There were those who alleged that Cox and his bandmates are contrary assholes, and have always been contrary assholes. There were those who went to great lengths to point out in great detail every single awesome thing about Tampa Bay culture (before going on to call Cox an asshole). There were those who virtually tore their garments in anguish, claiming this — THIS! — is why Tampa is never taken seriously as an arts city. There were those who took Cox’s side, patiently explaining to the troglodytic masses that they just don’t get it, man, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, everything is different, and it’s just the way it is.
(Don’t ever try to tell someone online that they just don’t “get” something, even politely. You’re basically calling them a submoron.)
There were even those who saw a certain kind of backhanded compliment, even love, in the piece. Sure, it’s the kind of love that says “I’m stronger as a person because my parents made me spend all my time hawking money-shot videos to pervy cretins from behind the counter of the family porn shop,” but they seem to think it’s there.
For my part, I think it’s pretty difficult to misinterpret phrases like “cultural wasteland” and “they just don’t want anything intelligent,” and what they imply about Cox’s sense of identity; the scene probably would’ve gone easier on him if he’d just said Tampa doesn’t “get” Merchandise.
But we’ve all heard this before. We’ve heard it from college roommates, from other musicians, even maybe from our own mouths after a particularly poorly attended event — ours, or someone else’s. The outrage and frustration are passing, just like they always do, and Merchandise’s show at The Hub this Friday night will be crowded with the same people who just a week earlier were calling for Carson Cox’s head.
Because in the end, we’re really just talking about one person’s opinion, stated once, and sent out among the countless others. And Merchandise is a good band, maybe a great one.
And also, if you’re gonna agree to have your civic sensitivities inflamed by a guy that says stuff like “I went through an absinthe wormhole, and it led me to the Belle Époque and weird Armenian music and Charles Manson,” you should probably turn off your computer, crack a mass-produced light beer and watch some Expendables 3 or something.