Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Language of Sex, Part II : Sex and Music

When we talk about communication as it relates to sex, perhaps none is so obvious, nor understated, as the modern use of music in today's world to promote sexual feeling and the social revolutions that surround it.  I return once more to Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, and there find a treasure trail of information, opinion, insight, into the idea of music as an instrument to communicate sexual ideas, the feelings of pleasure, and on a directly related note, the siren call of the youth in America to use their massive spending power to satisfy that need for pleasure. There is no real way to work with Bloom's essay on Music except to paste it in almost its entirety, from pages 73-81. The first section of the essay shows the importance of music in the classical world, from the position that Plato gave it, to the treatment it received in the Renaissance. The important part of this is the relationship of music to the polar opposite symbols of reason and passion, Apollo and Dionysus. The pendulum, as I have talked about previously, has swung in both directions, from the Classical works of Bach, orderly, with predictability and stately timbre, to the more chaotic measures of Beethoven. But the assumption today is that passion and chaos sells, that the emotions that ride on each drum beat of Katy Perry's "Firework" with all the sexual imagery that that entails, is as appropriate for those listening to Kidz Bop as college age students making out in the dorm rooms.

Bloom's writing is sometimes complex, and I feel sometimes that in one sentence, I completely agree, while in others, I completely disagree. As Bloom's entire work is certainly polarizing, there is rational thought in all of it, While doing research for this blog, I found that the comments surrounding his ideas go from total agreement (see Mark Steyn's article written in 2007, 20 years after Bloom's book was published, to personal attacks that question the validity of his statements based on his Jewish roots or his sexuality. I have blockquoted Bloom's writings, while those with no indention are mine. Any formatting inside the blockquotes are also mine, if applicable.

This is the significance of rock music. I do not suggest that it has any high intellectual sources. But it has risen to its current heights in the education of the young on the ashes of classical music, and in an atmosphere in which there is no intellectual resistance to attempts to tap the rawest passions.

 See, that's what I was talking about... I have no problem with dipping into "raw passions" when it comes to music, or emotion, or whatever.  Just that there are times that music is meant to be experienced on a level where raw passions are brought out, and others, when economists and salesmen use music and it's effects to manipulate an emotional response, usually to purchase something.  And this, too, is not a problem.  That is what capitalism is supposed to do.  And as everyone knows, "Sex sells." Thus, music is used to this effect.

Modern-day rationalists, such as economists, are indifferent to it and what it represents. The irrationalists are all for it. There is no need to fear that "the blond beasts" are going to come forth from the bland souls of our adolescents. But rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire-not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children's emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing. Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later.

I recall a meeting that my mom once attended with the Mustang Valley Elementary PTA, in which they exposed parents to the lyrics in 80's rock songs. One I remember my mom telling me about was "Bad Boys," you know, the one that they play on Cops... They said it promoted criminality in the listeners.

I read this passage and am reminded of the scene in Brave New World where the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning showed a group of students a garden where children were playing, naked, in various activities, including commercial-driven games and erotic experimentation.  In BNW the idea of sex was a government-approved activity.  Orgies took the place of religious rituals, merely the worship of one's own body. Specifically, the orgy aspect made it a worship of the body of the community, of society as a whole, a pleasure-driven life where the government gave happiness and controlled its citizens that way.  In today's world, it is obviously not the government doing this, but rather the stronger influence of consumerism, of spending money for pleasure, of spending credit for pleasure, all to the benefit of corporate entities.  A better way of life than government controlled citizens (a la 1984) because we do it of our own accord.

If we think of music as being a medium in which we communicate, instead of an art form, then we must look at the lyrics as poetry, as essays, as messages that are being sent to today's children.  Music as a mode of communication is very overlooked in today's visual world.  We criticize the sex and violence in television programs, even in music videos (when they had such things), but dealing with music, I think we often overlook it.  I know I do, mostly because I don't understand it.  I do wonder if words that are said, even when you don't consciously understand them, are interpreted and processed by the brain. Subconsciously, if you will.  Anyway, because of the absolute inundation of music into our lives today, from grocery store Musak to Mp3 files on ipods and ipads and iphones, there is probably very few minutes that go by in silence. I recall the times at Borders when the overhead CD's ended, and, as much as we might not have liked the music, the thought of being in the store without it made us cringe.  Better to have music playing then to deal with our own thoughts.  But I digress again...

Neil Postman, in The Disappearance of Childhood looked at the sheer volume of information that children receive each day and have to process and deal with.  In earlier times, that amount of data was limited, as parents were able to restrict the amount of stimuli children were allowed to take in.  Television had only 3 or 4 channels, and was kept in the living room under observation of the parents.  Or even look before that, before radio and television, only through books were children allowed to have information given to them, usually in the form of children's books or the Bible. In this, parents were able to shelter children from the real world, and the innocence of those children was kept in tact.  Children were allowed to be just that.  And think that, when Postman wrote his book, it was the 1980's, before the Internet and the Mp3 revolution, before Youtube and digital cameras and all the things that allow instantaneous consumption of music, video, news, print, almost anything a child does (or does not) want to consume and process. Pornography is easily available via the internet, for free, sometimes without the child purposefully looking for it.  Music can be easily played via Pandora or Spotify, or Youtube, and the language and messages can be whatever the singer wants, without parental restrictions on what is learned.  A child, as long as they can understand the ideas behind the words used, can process as much information as a parent can.  In terms of data, there is no childhood anymore, past the ability to listen and understand.  Kids don't even have to read anymore to get information, they simply listen and watch. 

Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. That is why Ravel's Bolero is the one piece of classical music that is commonly known and liked by them. In alliance with some real art and a lot of pseudo-art, an enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flood of fresh material for voracious appetites. Never was there an art form directed so exclusively to children.

Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame. The words implicitly and explicitly describe bodily acts that satisfy sexual desire and treat them as its only natural and routine culmination for children who do not yet have the slightest imagination of love, marriage or family. This has a much more powerful effect than does pornography on youngsters, who have no need to watch others do grossly what they can so easily do themselves. Voyeurism is for old perverts; active sexual relations are for the young. All they need is encouragement.

I found this last paragraph very interesting, as there are so many filter companies that block porn sites from children finding them.  But outside of just curiosity, porn in a visual medium is only accessed by people who aren't able to have sex themselves.  This would include those who are outside cultural aesthetic norms (i.e. ugly people), or those who are forbidden from sexual activities by religious beliefs, etc...  So for teenagers, for example, the thought of watching two adults having sex might actually be revolting.  Now, I'm sure a large part of teenagers (males, at least, I know nothing of the female population), have looked at porn online, but perhaps what makes this stimulating is the idea that it is forbidden by parents, or that it is religiously taboo.  This makes it even more influential.

Now, for that first sentence above. "Rock has the beat of sexual intercourse."  Imagine the percussion of thighs pounding together, or breasts bobbing up and down, of regular heavy breathing, of moans of "yes" and the like... It becomes the same tempo of most rock songs.  My stepdad commented whenever there were teenagers dancing on television, for instance, that they were practicing their "sexual moves." He was very correct on this, whether it is consciously done or not.

We could write a book looking at the lyrics of even the most innocent pop songs, but since I've referenced Kidz Bop 19 on here already, let's take their version of "Dynomite." These are songs deemed safe for children.  The lyrics are the same from the original version sung by Taio Cruz:

We gonna rock this club
We gonna go all night
We gonna light this up
Like it's dynamite.

Note the spelling and whatnot in the lyrics of the Youtube version, but that's another blog.

Even in this chorus, music and dance is equated with sex.  It takes very little imagination to see how most pop songs, even written for children, are filled with sexual innuendos.  Now, that is not to say that a 6 year old is going to understand that.  A 13 year old certainly would, even if it is subconsciously.  For another example, try Aaron Carter's "Bounce," off his second album.

The inevitable corollary of such sexual interest is rebellion against the parental authority that represses it. Selfishness thus becomes indignation and then transforms itself into morality. The sexual revolution must overthrow all the forces of domination, the enemies of nature and happiness. From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform. A worldview is balanced on the sexual fulcrum. What were once unconscious or half-conscious childish resentments become the new Scripture. And then comes the longing for the classless, prejudice-free, conflictless, universal society that necessarily results from liberated consciousness-"We Are the World," a pubescent version of Alle Menschen werden Brueder, the fulfillment of which has been inhibited by the political equivalents of Mom and Dad. These are the three great lyrical themes: sex, hate and a smarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love. Such polluted sources issue in a muddy stream where only monsters can swim. A glance at the videos that project images on the wall of Plato's cave since MTV took it over suffices to prove this. Hitler's image recurs frequently enough in exciting contexts to give one pause. Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux. There is room only for the intense, changing, crude and immediate, which Tocqueville warned us would be the character of democratic art, combined with a pervasiveness, importance and content beyond Tocqueville's wildest imagination. [Bold emphasis mine]

In my book, I have the bold sentence underline (among others), with the songs "Jeremy" and "Imitation of Life" written outside it.  "Jeremy" is a song that speaks more toward the violence in today's society, but it's applicable to the idea of Plato's cave allegory.  If only Pearl Jam knew how prophetic that video was.  "Imitation of Life," by R.E.M. also deals with Plato's cave, as we are looking at a snap shot of life, moving back and forth, as if on that cave wall.  Although they don't deal with sex and music, I'll put them here, too.


One other thought about this paragraph. Could the 1960's, the protests against the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the whole thing, have been able without the music stimuli that children were able to absorb during that era?  One can argue that it originated from the radios in cars, where kids were able to hear the music that their parents wouldn't let them listen to at home.  Course, this goes back to the beginnings of Rock N' Roll.  Freedom, which comes from the resistance of parental guidance, which transforms into indignation, and into a movement of sometimes vague destinations.  In the end, a movement with numbers such as those in the 1960's, or those, similarly, near Wall Street today, are ultimately helping the corporate and government structures they are fighting against.

 Picture a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the living room of his family home doing his math assignment while wearing his Walkman headphones or watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike electronic sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.


This description may seem exaggerated, but only because some would prefer to regard it as such. The continuing exposure to rock music is a reality, not one confined to a particular class or type of child. One need only ask first-year university students what music they listen to, how much of it and what it means to them, in order to discover that the phenomenon is universal in America, that it begins in adolescence or a bit before and continues through the college years. It is the youth culture and, as I have so often insisted, there is now no other countervailing nourishment for the spirit. Some of this culture's power comes from the fact that it is so loud. It makes conversation impossible, so that much of friendship must be without the shared speech that Aristotle asserts is the essence of friendship and the only true common ground. With rock, illusions of shared feelings, bodily contact and grunted formulas, which are supposed to contain so much meaning beyond speech, are the basis of association. None of this contradicts going about the business of life, attending classes and doing the assignments for them. But the meaningful inner life is with the music.

I think if I were to get a medical degree, the direction I would go in would be to provide hearing aide devices to future 60 year olds.  How many times have I seen kids walking behind their parents with either their faces stuck inside a Nintendo DS or with earplugs stuck in their ears, connected to an ipod or other such devices.  There is no communication anymore between parents and their children, and one could probably say the same between peers and even friends.  Why bother when your ears are stuffed with rock music? I loved it when customer came up, asked me for a book, with the earplugs still inserted, as if they were listening to their music and expected me just to take them to their book.  And without communication, where is the bonding going to occur? Where are the feelings of love or passion going to grow from, but from the rhythms of music going through their brains? Relationships become only about the percussive messages, and not about actual communication.  It's as if people talked to each other as Bumblebee did in the recent Transformers movies.  Only though radio songs and messages.  A relationship based solely on music, and not through actual communication, is bound to fail, as the people watching the images in the cave can never be friends as they are too busy watching the wall to notice each other.

This phenomenon is both astounding and indigestible, and is hardly noticed, routine and habitual. But it is of historic proportions that a society's best young and their best energies should be so occupied. People of future civilizations will wonder at this and find it as incomprehensible as we do the caste system, witch-burning, harems, cannibalism and gladiatorial combats. It may well be that a society's greatest madness seems normal to itself.

 To re-insert the scene from the Monkee's movie Head: "Pleasure, the inevitable by-product of our civilization (cut scene of a butcher pounding meat)...A new world, whose only preoccupation will be, how to amuse itself. The tragedy of your time, my young friends, is that you may get exactly what you want."

The child I described has parents who have sacrificed to provide him with a good life and who have a great stake in his future happiness. They cannot believe that the musical vocation will contribute very much to that happiness. But there is nothing they can do about it. The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music, and they cannot possibly forbid their children to listen-to it. It is everywhere; all children listen to it; forbidding it would simply cause them to lose their children's affection and obedience.

This is the psychological result of allowing children to have all the luxuries that the parents never got as they grew up during the Great Depression.  This also prevents the parents from restricting the amount of information that comes to the child, and therefore, opens up children's minds to sex, drugs... see below...Bloom argues that the rise of psychology in the 20th century, especially of Freud, and the philosophy of Nietzche, has eradicated much of the spiritual beliefs being taught to children, especially now.  The idea of Cultural Relativism, which says that very little is wrong or right in this world, which is everywhere in television episodes (which is one reason why I won't watch the new Transformer animated series on television, they've taken the moral absolutes out of everyone.), makes it so that what music children listen to is okay with the parents because they listened to the same as children, and because they can't define any message short of worshiping Satan as evil or wrong.  Parents tend to underestimate the power of music in their children's lives. 

When they turn on the television, they will see President Reagan warmly grasping the daintily proffered gloved hand of Michael Jackson and praising him enthusiastically. Better to set the faculty of denial in motion-avoid noticing what the words say, assume the kid will get over it. If he has early sex, that won't get in the way of his having stable relationships later. His drug use will certainly stop at pot. School is providing real values. And popular historicism provides the final salvation: there are new life-styles for new situations, and the older generation is there not to impose its values but to help the younger one to find its own. TV, which compared to music plays a comparatively small role in the formation of young people's character and taste, is a consensus monster-the Right monitors its content for sex, the Left for violence, and many other interested sects for many other things. But the music has hardly been touched, and what efforts have been made are both ineffectual and misguided about the nature and extent of the problem.

The result is nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it. This has been achieved by an alliance between the strange young males who have the gift of divining the mob's emergent wishes - our versions of Thrasymachus, Socrates' rhetorical adversary - and the record-company executives, the new robber barons, who mine gold out of rock. They discovered a few years back that children are one of the few groups in the country with considerable disposable income, in the form of allowances. Their parents spend all they have providing for the kids. Appealing to them over their parents' heads, creating a world of delight or them, constitutes one of the richest markets in the postwar world. The rock business is perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping to create it. It has all the moral dignity of drug trafficking, but it was so totally new and unexpected that nobody thought to control it, and now it is too late. Progress may be made against cigarette smoking because our absence of standards or our relativism does not extend to matters of bodily health. In all other things the market determines the value. (Yoko Ono is among America's small group of billionaires, along with oil and computer magnates, her late husband having produced and sold a commodity of worth comparable to theirs.) Rock is very big business, bigger than the movies, bigger than professional sports, bigger than television, and this accounts for much of the respectability of the music business. It is difficult to adjust our vision to the changes in the economy and to see what is really important. McDonald's now has more employees than U.S. Steel, and likewise the purveyors of junk food for the soul have supplanted what still seem to be more basic callings.
 This change has been happening for some time. In the late fifties, De Caulle gave Brigitte Bardot one of France's highest honors. I could not understand this, but it turned out that she, along with Peugeot, was France's biggest export item. 

Just as Nixon met with Elvis, or JFK with Marilyn Monroe.  The government knows that Hollywood is a giant supplier of information to the youth of the country, you know, the ones with the highest amount of disposable income, and besides capitalism, that money can also go towards political activism.  Just recently Lady GaGa, whose male counterparts will be discussed later, went to meet President Obama.  These marriages of music and politics are measured tactics to keep the movements of musical social reform in check, allying themselves with the current administration.  That marriage, of politics and entertainment, will become more and more connected, with the result of Brave New World, a government who controls its citizens with pleasure, being the end result.  Perhaps we should have kept the Constitution as "the pursuit of property," and not of "happiness," as, in my opinion, our happiness is not what the government should be dealing with, but rather our safety.  We shall, as Postman says, amuse ourselves to death, or even worse, to slavery. 

As Western nations became more prosperous, leisure, which had been put off for several centuries in favor of the pursuit of property, the means to leisure, finally began to be of primary concern. But, in the meantime, any notion of the serious life of leisure, as well as men's taste and capacity to live it, had disappeared. Leisure became entertainment. The end for which they had labored for so long has turned out to be amusement, a justified conclusion if the means justify the ends. The music business is peculiar only in that it caters almost exclusively to children, treating legally and naturally imperfect human beings as though they were ready to enjoy the final or complete satisfaction. It perhaps thus reveals the nature of all our entertainment and our loss of a clear view of what adulthood or maturity is, and our incapacity to conceive ends. The emptiness of values results in the acceptance of the natural facts as the ends. In this case infantile sexuality is the end, and 1 suspect that, in the absence of other ends, many adults have come to agree that it is.

It is interesting to note that the Left, which prides itself on its critical approach to"late capitalism" and is unrelenting and unsparing in its analysis of our other cultural phenomena, has in general given rock music a free ride. Abstracting from the capitalist element in which it flourishes, they regard it as a people's art, coming from beneath the bourgeoisie's layers of cultural repression. Its antinomianism and its longing for a world without constraint might seem to be the clarion of the proletarian revolution, and Marxists certainly do see that rock music dissolves the beliefs and morals necessary for liberal society and would approve of it for that alone. But the harmony between the young intellectual Left and rock is probably profounder than that. Herbert Marcuse appealed to university students in the sixties with a combination of Marx and Freud. In Eros and Civilization and One Dimensional Man he promised that the overcoming of capitalism and its false consciousness will result in a society where the greatest satisfactions are sexual, of a sort that the bourgeois moralist Freud called polymorphous and infantile. Rock music touches the same chord in the young. Free sexual expression, anarchism, mining the irrational unconscious and giving it free rein are what they have common.//

This strong stimulant, which Nietzsche called Nihiline, was for a very long time, almost fifteen years, epitomized in a single figure, Mick Jagger.

Or, for today's world, Prince, Michael Jackson, Boy George, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Adam Lambert, even Justin Bieber, for the younger crowd.

A shrewd, middle-class boy, he played the possessed lower-class demon and teen-aged satyr up until he was forty, with one eye on the mobs of children of both sexes whom he stimulated to a sensual frenzy and the other eye winking at the unerotic, commercially motivated adults who handled the money. In his act he was male and female, heterosexual and homosexual; unencumbered by modesty, he could enter everyone's dreams, promising to do everything with everyone; and, above all, he legitimated drugs, which were the real thrill that parents and policemen inspired to deny his youthful audience. He was beyond the law, moral and political, and thumbed his nose at it. Along with all this, there were nasty little appeals to the suppressed inclinations toward sexism, racism and violence, indulgence in which is not now publicly respectable. Nevertheless, he managed not to appear to contradict the rock ideal of a universal classless society founded on love, with the distinction between brotherly and bodily blurred. He was the hero and the model for countless young persons in universities, as well as elsewhere. I discovered that students who boasted of having no heroes secretly had a passion to be like Mick Jagger, to live his life, have his fame. They were ashamed to admit this in a university, although I am not certain that the reason has anything to do with a higher standard of taste. It is probably that they are not supposed to have heroes. Rock music itself and talking about it with infinite seriousness are perfectly respectable. It has proved to be the ultimate leveler of intellectual snobbism. But it is not respectable to think of it as providing weak and ordinary persons with a fashionable behavior, the imitation of which will make others esteem them and boost their own self-esteem. Unaware and unwillingly, however, Mick Jagger played the role in their lives that Napoleon played in the lives of ordinary young Frenchmen throughout the nineteenth century. Everyone else was so boring and unable to charm youthful passions. Jagger caught on.

In the last couple of years, Jagger has begun to fade. Whether Michael Jackson, Prince or Boy George can take his place is uncertain. They are even weirder than he is, and one wonders what new strata of taste they have discovered. Although each differs from the others, the essential character of musical entertainment is not changing. There is only a constant search for variations on the theme. And this gutter phenomenon is apparently the fulfillment of the promise made by so much psychology and literature that our weak and exhausted Western civilization would find refreshment in the true source, the unconscious, which appeared to the late romantic imagination to be identical to Africa, the dark and unexplored continent. Now all has been explored; light has been cast everywhere; the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed. And what have we found? Not creative devils, but show business glitz. Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld.

I absolutely love the comparison here at the end to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The void that modern philosophy has left in the minds of the intelligent, and is now being filled, even in the minds of the masses, with popular culture and music, is much like the void in the heart of Africa, in the heart of the Congo.  The problem is, instead of finding one's self, when we set out from the riverbanks and head into the unknown, we find other philosophies trying to get our attention.  We find the metaphysical realm calling from the New Age rack, where the Law of Attraction reigns supreme.  We find this need to enter the primordial stages of our Sub-consciousness, much as in the movie (and book) Altered States, where chemicals and stages of isolation were used to hallucinate the main character into some form of primitive man.  But the clear winner is the world of popular culture, which clouds the void with suspension of belief of anything, except for that "We are the World" feeling that gets people to donate money. It provides for the hours of "entertainment" to be on in the background, in the form of TMZ or any of the various "reality" television programing. It brings artificial pleasure to the minds of everyone who would do anything except face the void that is in their own lives.  We have found fame to be the new god, and the more outrageous and spectacular the stunt, the more that fame grows.

Fame is what brings us to riot after the basketball championship games, to make out in the middle of the Vancouver riots.  To be noticed, to make Karaoke videos of ourselves and put them on Youtube, for all the world to see. The visual and audio world of communication collides, and it makes us feel happy.  "Pleasure, the inevitable by-product," as the tour director said.

Sex is but one avenue which the producers of entertainment, including music, uses to make us happy, to convince us to buy stuff, to use all that disposable capital. Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational , studied a group of college students and the decisions they make while in an aroused state.  He found that many of the students would make very different decisions while watching a porn tape than they otherwise would have.  If a state of arousal is all that consumers need to change their decisions, then using the subconscious rhythms of music to influence children without actually showing them porn (although a shirtless Taylor Lautner will work just as well), is a great idea to get money from today's youth.

I really do recommend Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, at least to those who are of conservative mindset, as many of the things he talks about are very relevant to today's education system.  And while the second half of the book is like climbing up a mountain with your teeth, it does reveal how many of the beliefs of today's world come out of the German philosophers from the 1800's.  I doubt I will do any more actual blogs coming from this book, as it's been a while since I read it, but I wanted to finish this blog before I moved on to other, heavier projects. 

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