The Politics of Music: Part two [music]

I'm BACK!  I mean, for now.

Last time I introduced the idea of music being a historical record of political movements and trends in our society.  Today I'd like to discuss what that has contributed to my generation in particular.

First, which generation do I belong to?  We generally define generations narrowly, but for our purposes, I'd like to use a broader brush.  My generation is defined by a proficiency in technology, the expectation that information be available quickly and constantly, and a desire to be fluent in the social memes of today.  This includes anyone from high school age to those in their mid-30s.  It can easily include those older than that, but because there is a higher chance of these individuals having actually lived the history being referenced in music, we will put them in a different category for now and discuss their experience a little later.

So, we have this broad swath of society that has the capability and desire to be exposed to the intensely diverse variety of music in the world today.  Mp3 players allow us to bring this music with us everywhere we go, and the internet gives us access to crowd-sourced databases of information on bands, albums, and lyrics.  The ability to download large quantities of music (legally or otherwise) means that if you want it, you can get it, period.  Availability of music has almost made obsolete the radio and other services that don't allow the end-user to choose which song they are listening to at what time.


The culprit behind my inability to write:  work.  My mind is bound up by the futility of resisting the pull of complacency that is so deliberately laid out for my eyes to gaze upon.  This is not the life I want.  This is not the future I foresaw, nor the future I will inherit.  Stay strong, fellow resisters.  Don't give in to the allure of the 9-5 time-waste.

The Politics of Music: Part one [music]

I have lost my gumption to write on this blog.  This is an attempt to reclaim said gumption.

I am supremely interested in the question of how people receive their perspective on politics.  Every generation has their defining moment, or set of moments, that catapults them from political adolescence into political maturity.  My generation was framed by 9/11 and the political reactions that preceded and followed it.  Our parents generation was framed by the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and the cold war.  [Editor's note:  this is a clear generalization, possibly very inaccurate, and is not the point of the post!]

The point is, our political consciousness tends to crystallize at a certain point based on the experiences we have, and this consciousness is organized generationally to some degree.  We tend to think that our political knowledge comes from books, school, and teachers.  This is true to an extent, but what about other media sources?  Print media certainly has a large effect on the ways we view current events and those past events that remain in our cultural consciousness.  Television and the internet both provide us with the same scrolling, up-to-the-minute source of news such that anyone in our society is almost forced to be aware of SOMETHING current, whether it be political or not.

I'm purposely eliminating media sources here in order to arrive at the one I believe has the most impact on us:  music.  Like art, music possesses the quality of being "timeless," which is to say, able to be enjoyed in a context other than the one in which it was created.  Unlike art (of the painted or sculpted variety), music made in the last 150 or so years transmits its message without a necessity for an education dedicated to its appreciation.  It does so using familiar tropes, mechanisms, and above all by using lyrics that we can understand simply by speaking the same language.

Songs about war have always existed, but as of late, they have taken on more and more political undertones.  Songs about sex have reflected the way we think and talk about sexuality, and also the sub-cultures within our society and how these specific slices of people in a specific time comprehend it.  We can sing about feelings and sensations using similes and metaphors to current events that later fade into history, thus informing future listeners to the way in which we think about love, hate, loyalty, and so forth.

In the next parts of this topic, I want to talk about the ways in which music contributes to political movements, collective memory, generational forgetting and political apathy.  Those will have to wait for tomorrow, though.

Stay tuned!!

The Increasingly Delicate Nature of Reality [scope]

Today, we take a trip into scary territory.  Reality, as a concept, is integral to our understanding of the universe.  Philosophies that explain away reality are explaining away the very basis of existence--without it, we exist only in theory.  I'm not interested in proving what is real.  Most things I write, think, and do are based on the assumption that SOMETHING, however trivial, is real.  Surreality can substitute for reality in a pinch, as well, so that's on the table at all times.

What's interesting, though, is the nature of our present reality versus the reality of a citizen of the British Empire in the mid 1800s.  Our ideas of permanence would differ very drastically from theirs, and by association our sense of time and progress.  Let's take the example of the computing device.  In the 1850s, this would have been a slide rule at most, an abacus if you lived in the east, or simply a pen and paper.  If you were really lucky and knew a Mr. Charles Babbage, you might have gotten a glimpse of the future in the form of a "difference engine," the precursor to the modern binary processing computer.  The devices of this age were robust, easily integrated into life, and generally relied more on a person's ability to manipulate numbers rather than a device's ability to perform without error.  Thus, the computing device of the mid-1800s was relatively slow but ultimately reliable and did not require repairs on any grand scale.

Privacy: Sam Starts Writing Again Edition [privacy]

Well.  It's been a long time since I've written about the news.  So, this might be a little rough (or just a little short).

If you haven't heard, the Lower Merion School District in the suburbs of Philadelphia has installed a mandatory spying program on the laptops students are required to purchase.  The spyware is capable of monitoring students both at school AND at home, and can hear conversations and take photos and video via the built-in webcams (reports indicate that the school uses Macbooks).  This was discovered when a student was reprimanded for eating candies that looked like pill capsules.  He was doing this AT HOME, but the computer took a photograph of the activity and sent it to the school, which then found it necessary to mention it to the student.
Since then, the school has since denied spying on students, and then was interviewed by PBS and seemed to know VERY WELL what was happening.  The ACLU and EFF have taken up the case of the student's parents, who are suing the district for spying on their child, and the FBI is on the criminal case as we speak.  Since the lawsuit was announced, several other school districts have been called out for using similar tactics.


My mother came to visit for the last few days.  I had to work during the day, and she was in meetings, but we spent the evenings together, went out to dinner, she met important people in my life, saw my new living situation, we went shopping at Macy's, and we went out to a Broadway show.  We had deliberated for a good week or so prior to buying tickets, and finally she made an executive decision that we would be seeing Hair.  I felt a small amount of trepidation about this, as Hair is known for having extensive nudity and sex, neither of which exactly fit in a show being viewed with one's mother.

But, as with all things, nothing really pays off if you're unwilling to see past the possible negatives.  So we went to the show.  I came straight from work, and after blitzing through a juicy diner burger and several diet cokes we took a cab to the theater, anxious about being late.  As usual, we were about 10 minutes early.  I love the theater, especially theaters in NYC, but the seats are WAY TOO SMALL.  This usually detracts from the show itself, but not this time--not even the giant of a man in front of me with the tall gelled hair distracted me from the show itself.

It was clear from the comments my mother made and the way she reacted that it was a significant performance.  She was involved in the counterculture movement at its tail end, but the hippy lifestyle was her own.  She cried at the end of the show.  I came close, not for times past, but for the fierce revolutionary spirit that burned within people of that caliber and seems to have died out in my own generation.  Our response to the negative aspects of life has been to become apathetic and ignore as much of the world as possible.  At least, that's how I see it.  The activists among us are a rare breed and generally thought of as too radical for the mainstream to adopt their ideals.

But, there is always hope.  We can change the way people think simply by providing a viable alternative at the right time.  Just like at the end of the show when the audience was asked to come dance on stage to "Let The Sun Shine."  We would have been unwilling to do so before the show, but afterwards, full of pathos and empathy for a bygone era of free love, marijuana, and awesome clothes, we were more than happy to oblige. And we had fun doing it.

Heads up: Sam is goin' offline for awhile


I have a LOT of meetings this week, and my mom is visiting from VA!  I will not be able to update the blog because I'll be super busy during my usual writing hours.  Stay tuned, though, I'll be back in full force as soon as I can be.
A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.