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One constant in my life is that my cultural taste tends to move in phases. There was the period where I was obsessed with the Star Wars extended universe, the years I was into professional wrestling, the long anime-watching and J-pop listening phase, and so on. These things would help me grow, and shift my world view, until I would find myself into something completely different. But even while knee-deep in an obsession with whatever, I would still keep up with whatever else was going on in pop culture at the time.
As I have said before, in my current phase all I want to listen to is ladies with electric guitars singing their hearts out. And while I would occasionally hear about a new band or album, I mostly would just re-listen to the same classics (Rilo Kiley, Sleater-Kinney, Vivian Girls, Bikini Kill) while waiting for something new to come out. I worshipped these older bands, most broken up or no longer active, because they represented what I really want in its purest form and I thought the heyday for this had passed. Around this time last year, I basically wrote a eulogy to any chance I had to experience Riot Grrrl in its true form because I was not aware of it in 1994.
What I know now is that I was wrong: Riot Grrrl is alive and well and living in every city in America. In the last two months, I have been to more shows comprised entirely of women-fronted punk bands than I ever thought possible. At so many of these shows, I thought to myself that if not for people taking photos with their smartphones, I could squint and it would be 1994 all over again.
The difference between then and now is that I realize I have to go out of my way to find these bands, because the cultural tastemakers I had been relying on were not going to deliver them to me. And for every Waxahatchee or Upset that I already know about, there are at least ten more bands waiting out there to be discovered.
This came to a head when I went with friends to Burger-a-Go-Go, a one-day music festival, in July. The bill was 30+ bands, every one either fronted or entirely made up of ladies, and they were pretty much all amazing. As the day went on I kept seeing new variations on the exact thing I wanted, and I realized every single band had been around a few years, sometimes five or more, and many had put out multiple albums. I kept saying "why had I never heard of them before?" and the answer was the same: They were out there, but I was not looking hard enough. For me, this has been a life-changing experience.
What I realized is that I no longer need to settle. I was complacent, in that I used to accept whatever was put in front of me because sometimes it resembled what I wanted. I know that I can do better, I can expect more.
Especially when the culture I am consuming is compromising my values. It turns out I do not need to have an opinion about a buzz band that does not include women just because they are on the Pitchfork home page, or watch The Colbert Report when I am disappointed in its casual transphobia, or even go see superhero movies that refuse to inch themselves any closer to acceptable female representation.
The thing you want, the one that does not make you settle, is out there. Someone is making it, and it might take a lot more effort to find it but it will be extremely rewarding when you do. And once you know how to find it, finding more of the same will be easier, too. You can open up new worlds to explore, ones that are actually worth your time, if you just try a little harder.
And I recognize the risk of falling into an echo chamber, that I still need to diversify the culture I take in to continue to grow. But I am willing to accept that risk, because it means there are greater challenges to take on, and it means being infinitely more satisfied along the way.