Dispatches from the Empire

Kidulting is tragic

The opposite to rockism is “poptimism”: successful music is often very good, the thinking goes, and should be treated as such. Poptimism has largely taken over music criticism. Pitchfork, a website once synonymous with snooty taste, went from reviewing Kylie Minogue as an April Fool’s joke to putting her in its “Best Songs of the 2000s” list. A lot of pop music, Kylie included, is very good, and it’s good that it can be properly appreciated. Poptimism can also apply to children’s art: for example, the Studio Ghibli cartoons. Plays based on My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away are currently running or scheduled to run in London, thanks to demand from adults as much as kids. And why not, when the works in question are brimming with soul and subtlety?

But poptimism comes with a bias towards celebration rather than critique, which obsessive fans of stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift zealously enforce. When one Pitchfork writer only deigned to give Swift’s album Folklore an 8/10, she got death threats. Another poptimist assumption is more sinister: that might is right. If millions of people like something, then who are you to disagree? When anyone, from Martin Scorsese down, suggests that filming people in tights against green screens isn’t the pinnacle of cinema, they get called elitists. It just so happens that going along with this non-elitist conception of quality makes a lot of rich people in Hollywood even richer. People have sleepwalked into arguing that the LA executive is more a man of the people than the struggling indie film director.

There are no kidults without poptimism. You can only jump into a ballpark aged 30 without shame if you’ve been warmed up on Harry Potter reruns.