Stupid and Stupider

I know I shouldn’t have, but still I did — I read this article this morning and it ruined an hour of my day now.

The music you listen to can rot your brain make you stupider and kill your soul

The basic message is: apparently youngsters do not treat their sisters, mothers etc, like some songs seem to suggest. But still, the author claims that by and by the hidden message is going to creep in on the recipient’s brain and make them “stupider”.

Hey, let’s censor… music! It seems to be a great idea, as  Music is “the food of love,” as Shakespeare put it.

The loose chain of argumentation is flawed in several ways.

  • Music is more than plain text and a lovely music to better get the “message” across. There are songs though that were designed to work in this very simple way, mostly anthems.
  • The assumption that people don’t know what they are doing to themselves — poor things, all so much more gullible and susceptible  than the ones who think they are qualified to make such a set of rules — is a classic. Dictatorial regimes have used this argument since the dawn of time to justify censorship.
  • Music is a social event as much as it is in your soul. Young persons listen to music to be part of something, to be accepted by their peers who listen to the same stuff.
  • The problem that now arises is: The author assumes that what the songs “tell you” will rub off on you. He is used to do what he is told apparently — must be because of his position and affiliation.

Well, he is wrong, and he took his own foundation of the argument away the moment he says,

That question “stopped the conversation completely,as these boys would defend their sisters to the hilt.”

Songs don’t “tell you” something. It is the recipient who gives a piece of art its meaning. We keep scraps of paper, postcards that say “Hi, I’m fine, lovely weather, Love, x” not because of their “meaning” but because of what they mean to us.

Why the idea that a song’s “message” will rub off on the listener is wrong for several reasons.

  • There is not only “one” message. Even if I take Nazi hate songs as an example — even they have a subtext, which is  “I am a racist and I am so incredibly immune to reason that I even make a song about it.” One level below there is mostly even a subtext which reads “I feel I failed so hard at life, I need to blame someone, now. Oh damn, someone give me a hug.”
  • Souls are resilient. People are resilient. There is logic and experience to filter what you hear and set it into relation.
  • Good music is complex. Songs can be very violent on the surface and still have the opposite message (like Eminem’s “Stan”).

I have been raised with a lot of classical music. And no, I don’t run around wielding a Valkyrie’s spear on workdays, neither do I like to drive by boss into murdering his wife. I just like The Ring, and Othello.

An artist is playing a role. Well, the church disapproves of theatre traditionally. It is a stage persona whenever someone performs, it is not a private person.

I have been singing St. John’s passion in the choir, and it is like a role as well — it is NOT my private opinion to basically scream at the top of my voice along with the mob “CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY, CRUCIFY!” Music is meant to evoke emotions, good or bad, and it is up to the recipient to handle them.

Which leads us to the last point: Children cannot always handle. That’s why there is parental custody. I might find Reggie Watts’ song with the lovely name “Fuck Shit Stack” perfect for expressing my mood on some days — but I won’t let my daughter listen to it. I wouldn’t let her watch House MD yet either. For everything to handle it well, you have to have a background to set it in relation to. Children might not have that background and it’s their parent’s job to provide it. But — this doesn’t mean that children will grow up to like the same things as their parents. This is called Freedom or even Pursuit of Happiness, depending on where you live, and is a constitutional right.
Children are people, and will grow up to be adults — with their own taste and their own choices. In the relationship to my own parents this has always rather a plus — we have enough common ground to dwell on, but we have different preferences.

Own choices define an adult. It is inseparable from the rest. The ability to put facts and events into relation and base an own opinion on it is what is required from every voter in a democracy.  This is a skill that has to be practised long before adulthood. The author of the article doesn’t mention how old those boys were to which he refers in the quote (In “Matlock”, someone would shout “hear-say!” now.) But then — obviously old enough to find a weird little pleasure in hearing sexually connoted lyrics.  (I bet we all remember a time where the sheer mentioning of the word “penis” made us blush and giggle.)

Well, to listen to a misogynist’s words is to gather one more opinion. A few weeks later they will maybe decide it got boring, the thrill wore off, and they will listen to something else and get another opinion. Or they will stick to it, maybe that’s what Thomas Aquinas did.

“As the philosopher says, ‘Woman is a misbegotten male.’ Yet it is necessary that woman was made in the first production of things as a helpmate. Not indeed as a helpmate in any other works than procreation, for in all other works man can be more efficiently helped by another man than by a woman, but as a helper in the work of generation… The woman is in a state of subjugation in the original order of things. For this reason she cannot represent headship in society or in the Church.
Thomas Aquinas  (canonized), Summa Theologica

Just a final annotation: There is no word like “stupider”. It is “more stupid”, as otherwise you end up with three syllables. And also, the title alone is an insult –the author assumes with it that the reader is stupid as a basic state — they can only get more stupid even. A nice giveaway.

A bit of outrageously sensual sacral music to finish it off — Olivier Latry, playing Widor’s Toccata in Notre Dame.
(To Be Played At Full Volume)

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