Stairway to Heaven


Pop culture sometimes makes it hard to go on enjoying ‘the classics’ unironically. Popular works get repurposed over the years as symbols, icons, or just winking shorthand for a joke too complicated to explain. The music of Led Zeppelin, in particular, has been understood not as a product of the 1970’s but a representation of “The 1970’s” as a concept, and a handy symbol of a certain nostalgic brand of cool. Today’s impressionable youth get to enjoy the spectacle of Thor hammering his enemies to the dulcet tones of Robert Plant screaming about Valhalla, which signals that Thor is an old-school-cool kinda guy who takes pride in having really pretty hair, which we knew, and also relays the message that he is not only a golden boy but a golden god. That’s incredibly lazy film-making, but it’s a good example of the implied context of a well known piece of music being used to illustrate – in this case, hammer home, literally – the overall tone of the filmmakers’ vision. In layman’s terms, a Led Zeppelin song functions as a musical Emoji, to be deployed when writing out full words would take too long. Which rankles those who enjoy writing everything out without Emojis, so to speak, and who enjoy music for what it is and not for what it can be used to signal. One doesn’t ever need to justify a love for Led Zeppelin, but sometimes there’s a need to explain that the love is unironic and not linked to any pop culture “Emoji moment”.

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