A writer for the New York Review of Books has jumped the shark of music criticism by accusing the "Good Vibrations" supergroup of "unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege."
In "Looking for the Beach Boys," Ben Ratliff muses that "[t]he story of the Beach Boys is a kind of philosophical problem." Well, it's only a philosophical problem for a music critic who seems to have forgotten what it is to enjoy music for its own sake. For everyone else, the Beach Boys' music was a harmoniously sophisticated but lyrically uncomplicated soundtrack for summertime fun.
"But time and social change have been rough on the Beach Boys," Ratliff continues. "Their best-known hits (say, “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around”) are poems of unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege. It is hard to imagine that they helped anyone toward self-determination or achieving their social rights."
Must social justice politics infect everything? Are we now judging pop music by the measure of how successfully it pushes listeners toward self-determination or social rights? Are the Beach Boys, whose pure joyfulness touched millions, now to be dismissed as lesser artists because they are straight white males who "merely" entertained?
Furthermore, it hardly needs to be said that there is no such thing as beach privilege (unless you own a private beach, and if you earned it, more power to you). The only barrier anyone of any color, sex, or class faces in terms of enjoying the beach is lack of proximity to one.
Leftists see everything, even the Beach Boys, through the lens of their religion, social justice. It's not enough that Brian Wilson's musical genius provided a fun-in-the-sun soundtrack for generations of youth of every political stripe; what's important to Ratliff and his ilk is that it didn't contribute to the fundamental transformation of the United States into a socialist utopia. Gee, if only The Beach Boys had been performers of color who wrote dirges about inner-city poverty, then perhaps Ratliff would be less condescending.
Dear New York Review of Books: please hire someone to write about music who doesn't feel compelled to shoehorn his politics into the article irrelevantly.