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Reclaiming and Diversifying Taste

by Ethan Tussey

by Ben Aslinger for IN MEDIA RES

The soundtrack in Clueless’ opening moves from a cover of the 1980s song “Kids in America” to David Bowie’s “Fashion” to No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl.” Much of this music is non-diegetic music, and the songs move both backwards and forwards in history. The soundtrack riffs on popular music history and gender with the cover and with “Fashion.” The No Doubt song is non-diegetic but we believe that it might be something that Cher might listen to in her Jeep, which she drives illegally. Gwen Stefani’s voice becomes a voice of contemporary female pop music celebrity that serves as a then contemporary antithesis for Cher/Dionne, two of the major characters named after pop divas.

This clip illustrates the ever present need for more nuanced perspectives on popular music licensing, medium specificities, and temporalities. Is “generation X” an anomaly in that technologies and modalities of listening encouraged or required us to become “promiscuous” listeners (to twist a phrase from Jonathan Sterne’s analysis of mp3s)? What does it mean to listen to and appreciate the music of our parents, and how have musical technologies and mobile technologies enabled and disabled these cross-generational listening practices? For many of my students who love 1970s classic rock and contemporary music, how does parental listening play a role in the values we attach to listening and our listening practices?

This clip and other multivocal, multigenre soundtracks point us to the important work of elaborating, nuancing, and diversifying constructions of taste cultures based on gender, racial, and sexual identity categories (and identifications) done by a variety of media production personnel (both those workers long deemed “creative” and those workers such as music supervisors who have transcended the “line”). By embracing genre hybridity, Clueless rejects the tenets of rock discourse and the ways that rock discourse sidelines the contributions of women as artists and listeners; it suggests that there are alternative ways of imagining gender and music. Similar to the work done by so many queer, feminist, African American, Asian American, and Latino/a directors, music supervisors, producers, and music critics, Amy Heckerling’s film reclaims “mainstream” understandings of group listening tastes and musical fandoms by arguing for taking specific forms of listening pleasure seriously, asserting musical quality, and valuing musicianship. Simultaneously, the Clueless soundtrack diversifies listening tastes, working to move beyond obvious articulations of sound and bodies in order to think new connections between demographics and drum beats.

Clueless and Taste

The opening scene from Clueless

from Clueless (1995)
Creator: Amy Heckerling
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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