Simon Reynolds talks about “artists as portals” in The Guardian, specifically referring to the NME’s “Portrait Of The Artist As A Consumer” column of yore. This kind of thing is still popular – Pitchfork’s “Guest List” columns, for instance, where we learn that indie rockers like one another, and books. But what’s intriguing to me is the way this idea of “portals” has spread into the marketing world. Here’s planner Mike Arauz writing in January:

“For brands on the web: if I don’t see your sources (what you read, watch, and listen to) and which things you think are important enough to pass on, then I don’t know who you are.”

Arauz’ is a somewhat minority view – most brands don’t have the personality to work as a “consumer” and it’s hard to imagine their audiences taking their recommendations without several pinches of salt. But it’s reflective of how commercial organisations are adjusting to social media – Twitter, in particular, can often seem like an extended series of “Portrait of the CEO as a Consumer” if you follow any members of the executive class. The default mode for execs on Twitter is peppy enthusiasm leavened with plenty of endorsements (often for airports and restaurants, admittedly, rather than for German commune members).

Of course it’s not just artists and corporate types who get to share their enthusiasms: we’re living in the world of “Portrait of the Consumer as a Curator” – which means that the phenomenon Reynolds is discussing has shifted a little. When Nick Cave laid out his sources following them would have involved a lot of dedication and legwork and quite probably money: this isn’t nearly as much the case now. I don’t necessarily regret that – the confusions between effort and achievement, scarcity and value, haven’t always resulted in great artistic decisions.

But at least back then Nick Cave – thanks to his profession – genuinely had a higher and more frequent level of access to obscure cultural production than most of his fans. Is that really true of, say, Grizzly Bear? Let alone of the CEO of a shoe company? The “Portrait Of A Consumer” columns worked as ‘portals’ because celebrity was a smokescreen for getting people with that wider access in front of the (relatively) impoverished readership. Celebrity looked like the point, but it wasn’t. Now it’s all that differentiates a star’s list from a blogger’s. Is that enough?

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