November 05, 2002

I haven't yet made up my mind about Hank Steuver's Washington Post piece called "Unspooled: In the Digital Age, The Quaint Cassette Is Sent Reeling Into History's Dustbin." Steuver makes a good point -- one that's been made before, and one that deserves reinforcement. Tapes are vulnerable, easily eaten, easily warped, but there's a human element to them that many people connect with. They sound shitty, but it's part of their ragged glory. And, he says, with cassette sales in decline, it's important to remember this format and what it symbolizes for (his words) "Generation X."

The article fails by being unstomachably precious -- falling somewhere between gawky middlebrow Sarah Vowellisms (in fact, he quotes Vowell, AND Nick Hornby, predictably enough) and a cutesy this-sentence-is-so-clever-I-isolated-it-into-its-own-paragraph sort of puff-piece disposability that prevents me from taking the article any more seriously than I would the Apartment 3G comic strip on the next page. Also, it indulges in what I'll call The Amy Phillips Mistake -- the author assumes that the reader agrees with him (or her, in Phillips' case), using vague pluralities and rallying-cry pronouns like "us" and "we" and even that journalistic no-no "you" to forgive himself for the embarrassment his own nostalgia brings. It's not Steuver's fault he once loved Huey Lewis and the News -- it's the culture's, because apparently we all loved Huey Lewis too, and we all now regret it.