PRINT September 1983


POPULARITY—DIFFUSED, INCHOATE, BUT INTENSE response—transforms a work. As Laurie Anderson is finding out, the “mass audience” is less an abstraction than a new art space. Mass popular response can bleed a work dry, break it into once-invisible component parts, make its composition seem obvious and pandering, make it impossible to see the original except as a version of its imitations. Mass response exposes. But it can also turn the mystery of a work (why do we respond?) into a different mystery: why does our response continue to build on itself? How does the response become part of the work, generating not so much a one-way assent or refusal as a subliminal emotional conversation? The question of why a work continues to grow becomes a question not merely about its form but of the language it speaks.

Three records dominated the first half of 1983: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (former

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