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.

And thus, we are inundated with music.  We are able to listen to the music of our parents, thanks to CDs and vinyl and re-releases in digital form, as well as the music being produced today.  We are thus exposed to not only the vastly different perspectives present in our own generation, but also those of our parents, their parents, and so forth.  Where before artistic eras were marked by a general sensation, be it modernism, post-modernism, etc., our generation is marked by a lack of cohesion to a single or dominant set of ideals or truths.  Some of us believe we should return to a time when the counterculture was alive and well.  Others believe we should assimilate into the mainstream.  Still others believe we should ditch everything and start over, we've made too many mistakes to recover properly.

And, because of the loud voices of a few, the vast majority of us no longer care.  An overload of knowledge and an ability to exist in a state of complacency has led many of us to a life of hedonistic, indulgent apathy.  We hear, through music being produced at the current moment, that there are others in the world that are seeking change, forcing it through with teeth bared and arms held high, and we feel their rush, their triumph, their struggle.  It is this channeling of the emotions of others that makes us feel that the problems we see in society are being addressed, thus making our own action superfluous and an addition to the chaos.

We have become, in effect, mirrors and shadows of a few great ideas, repeated through history, first in person, then over the airwaves, and now transmitted through a series of small tubes.  Our political consciousness is a reflection of this shadowy existence; there is no incentive to pay attention or speak up, because we are already having the emotional experience of having done so.

Is this a bad thing?  An end-point or a phase of our growth?  Does this pave the way for a prophetic presence, a musical genius whose ability to bring us together outstrips all who came before?  Or is this simply another form of social masturbation, a method through which our appetites for change and progress are sated artificially and without real catharsis?


Will M said...

Thought provoking.

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