About a month ago now, Mike Cosper wrote a post for the Gospel Coalition blog asking us to consider what we can learn from the band Radiohead. In particular, he highlights the increased electronic element in their sound, drowning out anything human. Cosper informs us that Thom Yorke’s lyrics point out the bleakness and despair of world increasingly dominated by the machine, by the computer. Understood in this way, Radiohead’s music is an exercise in irony.
Such a message, no matter how insightful, seems fatally undermined when we consider the degree to which Radiohead has profited by their contribution to the very problem they lament. To offer a parallel: there is no small element of irony in Neil Postman’s appearing on a television interview to discuss the ways in which television undermines serious discourse. But who could take Postman seriously if he had a nightly television program dedicated to that topic, if he were a celebrity for being exactly the sort of talking head he impugns? This, to me, seems to be Radiohead’s position, and for that reason, to attribute to them some kind of knowing social critique is far more generous than they merit.