On Monday, MGMT’s lush, cerebral, fanboy-infuriating sophomore album, “Congratulations,” was leaked, snatched up by the grubby hands of the unwashed file-sharing hordes. On the band’s Web site, the effortlessly hip, self-effacing Wesleyanites streamed the album for free and posted the following message: “Hey everybody, the album leaked, and we wanted you to be able to hear it from us. We wanted to offer it as a free download but that didn’t make sense to anyone but us.”
It certainly made sense to me, if not Columbia Records. At a hush-hush concert several days earlier in the Lower East Side’s murky Mercury Lounge, I had seen our Spring Fling headliner’s impish lead singer — visibly cloud surfing, highly stoned — declare to the hundred-v-neck-strong crowd: “It’s no secret! We just like playing music … we like playing music.” It made all the sense in the world.
On Tuesday, IvyGate — an Ivy League news and commentary Web site which I co-run — leaked the complete Spring Fling roster, easily found in the HTML code of the official Web site run by the Yale College Council. Editorially, a nice scoop and musically, one hell of a lineup (slightly marred by the unfortunate inclusion of a certain fraternal pair who will threaten to “beat that p—-” during the 40th anniversary of coeducation at Yale). The same evening, the committee officially released the complete roster through its own channels, despite its original plan to “let people know the bands one at a time,” while insisting that the leak had nothing to do with its decision (“Leaks foil Spring Fling lineup release plan,” March 24).
Although after the leak occurred,, responses were markedly positive, even from members of the Spring Fling Committee, I received a petty message from one YCC member informing me that I had “gained many an enemy.” It was hilarious, to be sure, but also a little startling.
Compare MGMT’s reaction to the record leak with the reaction of the Spring Fling administrator who booked them: The libertine musicians certainly come off better. And so should they. Like most polemicists, I’ve long had a distinct, almost visceral aversion to secret keeping. I have always loved that puckish schoolyard rejoinder — “secret secrets are no fun, unless they’re shared with everyone”— and taken it to heart. Don’t whisper around me; I’ll squirm.
There is something so beautifully taboo, explosive — sexy, even — about the unintended revelation, the slip of the tongue; a formerly parochial piece of knowledge radiates outward, and suddenly, we’re all wiser, more up-to-date, hipper, happier. The zesty sparkle of the exclusive scoop does more than sell tawdry celeb-rags like “US Weekly” (which, I’ve always thought, should really be called “Them Weekly”). It is the lifeblood upon which the core of journalism feeds.
Power brokers wield information as their most pervasive of tools, fighting tirelessly to keep us in the helpless dark. In this tug-of-war, the plucky journalist plays the populist, keeping knowledge democratic, fueling our insatiable hunger to know, from Nixon tapes to weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, as the traditional news-business sails toward the setting sun, plagued by the dusty industry orthodoxy and market-share-crumbling Internet, we should take solace in the found secret and joy in the leak. It matters less what people want to know than that they want to know. As long as they do — and as long as information clusters inequitably, coalescing in hidden pockets, concealed by those “in the know” — the crusading journalist will always have a vital role (and, hopefully, a paycheck).
To make “many an enemy” of the secret-keepers is an occupational hazard (just ask Ambassador Joseph Wilson and wife Valerie Plame). As information flows through rapidly opening, more vulnerable channels (HTML, for one), its keepers are even quicker to bare their teeth; they want us to find out their way, on their terms — Iraqi prisoner abuse on Tuesday, Presidential Medals of Freedom on Wednesday — and will fight for the privilege. But it is, after all, just that: a privilege. Not a right.
The right belongs to us: our freedom of conscience, to explore and uncover, to seek and find. It is our right to know and, luckily for journalists, to employ those who will find out on our behalf. Flush with the forbidden joy of the clandestine, we take the reins for ourselves, embracing our newfound common knowledge. The leak is the great leveler. For recognizing this — and for heavenly soundscapes, streamed to all — our Spring Fling openers deserve, in their own lyrical words, “a great big congratulations.”
Alex Klein is a sophomore in Davenport College.