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!!


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A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.