The reigning style of music criticism today is called “poptimism,” or “popism,” and it comes complete with a series of trap doors through which the unsuspecting skeptic may tumble. Prefer Queens of the Stone Age to Rihanna? Perhaps you are a “rockist,” still salivating over your old Led Zeppelin records and insisting that no musical performer not equipped with a serious case of self-seriousness and, probably, a guitar, bass and drums is worthy of consideration. Find Lady Gaga’s bargain basement David Bowie routine a snooze? You, my friend, are fatally out of touch with the mainstream, with the pop idols of the present.Okay, so far so obvious. But then he asks--and this is where the tweet came from: "I like to entertain myself by imagining what might happen if the equivalent of poptimism were to transform those other disciplines." He imagines the worlds of literature and film under such a backlash (which makes me wonder where he's been--this backlash is very much active in these other disciplines). Indeed, it's a flavor of meditation that we have been happening since at least the 1960s when pop art challenged the mores of art. (I mean, it's right there in the title. How is "poptimism" anything remotely new?)
Poptimism wants to be in touch with the taste of average music fans, to speak to the rush that comes from hearing a great single on the radio, or YouTube, and to value it no differently from a song with more “serious” artistic intent.
But now we come at last to the point of this post: in beer, what is haute? You can't have a backlash without a lash, and I'm not sure we can make the case for one. Certain beer styles are very popular with a niche group (barrel-aged beers, strong hoppy beers, sour beers), but there's no ruling beer orthodoxy. The sourheads, to take one example, aren't zymurgical royalty; they are, to use the music analogy, like metalheads. Many people want to declare a high and low among beer styles, but no one has come close to enforcing it. Even a group like CAMRA, set up to expressly to do this, now finds itself defending beer that many craft beer fans consider old and lame.
(Parenthetical semi-digression. The whole notion of orthodoxy probably died around the turn of the century, or perhaps a few years later when Facebook and Twitter arrived. We're no longer really aware of worlds we choose not to inhabit. Without a collective dataset that includes both high and low, the critical framework collapses in on itself. I listen to certain types of music, watch certain kinds of movies, read certain kinds of books, and drink certain kinds of beers. But only in rare cases do I actually find myself discussing these critically with anyone else; they all have their own, different groups of movies, books, and music. Everyone sees the Avengers and we all judge it like it's sui generis, or possibly in comparison with a set of very similar movies. No one thinks to mention Fellini.)
So unless someone can make a very effective argument that there's a high culture in beer, I don't think we're really ready for our pop art correction.