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Cultural Sustainability I: Media & Cultural Programming: Introduction.
Media, backed by a socially legitimized, centralized currency, is our modern method of cultural indoctrination. It can even serve as a form of leverage through which we can spread culture without ever bothering to send military force. It is only in areas that we cannot leverage through financial or media-indoctrination pressure that we must resort to military occupation. The motivating factor here is of course primarily corporate and financial.
The music, film, or broadcast industry is filled with technicians and those who understand advertising. If they don’t, especially in today’s market, they’re probably out of work. Those who “understand advertising” are masters not of broadcasting a message that will appeal to everyone, instead they are masters of pinpointing what simple social cues will most appeal to a group of people who can think in a particular way, in other words, a target market. It is their job to simultaneously pinpoint these markets, and expand them.
For this to be effective sometimes new markets have to be created, while old ones are expanded. The more “key-word” oriented, the better. People have to believe in these easy-to-digest cues and recognizeable aesthetics to such an extent that they will identify with them in the most literal sense. A person's whole identity has to be developed around these memetic “seeds.” Quite obviously this is a process that takes some time; it's best to start on young, impressionable minds. Teenagers work best, since rebellion is so easy to redirect, and insecure individuals tend to be a great deal easier to influence than self-assured ones.
This indoctrination may be carried out intentionally or unintentionally on the part of the advertiser: it is ipso facto apparent that an advertiser is, through branding or any number of other techniques, attempting to make psychological connection within an audience that brings them to alter their behavior. Really when it comes down to it most advertisers are just trying to keep themselves in a job or push profit margins. It is not clearly apparent if a Christian Evangelist, for instance, is creating an audience response through intentional manipulation or because his beliefs bring him to behave in such a manner himself, and expect the same from everyone else.
Despite the strong leftist slant that may seem to color these statements, our investigation of these techniques is not meant to be ethical. The technique itself does not have ethical implications, though its application may. The intent behind an action is again a fulcrum point. As it is said guns don’t kill people, people do. (Though maybe one could still ask the question, “what were you intending by bringing an AK47 into in a 7-11?”)
In the present cultural and political climate in America, it is fairly easy to recognize that media is an instrumental tool for shaping the development of the American mind. There is no clear-cut Big Brother, (though Clear channel might make a good contender), only the motivation of greed and the mouthpiece of those who happen to hold the largest megaphones. Yet in pure democratic style, it is the people who ultimately shape the media landscape, more than the media producers. Heavy Metal isn’t responsible for teen suicides. A more valid question would be, what is motivating so many teenagers to look within the “artful nonsense” that most rock lyrics consist of and find themselves staring down the barrel of a shotgun as a result? (Even rock stars aren’t daft enough to take the time to create “subliminal messages” that kill off the members of their primary market.)
This process isn’t reserved for the old, rich white boards of executives monitoring the content of NBC or FOX. Individual media Entrepeneurs use the same indoctrination techniques in their media. Again, these repercussions have no inherent bias. It is unclear how aware of this many of these people are, they may simply be so entrenched in their beliefs that they can't see that what they are doing is no different than Jerry Faldwell. Thus it really does no good to those interested in thinking about the “tools of the trade” to waste energy pointing our fingers. Fairenheit 9/11 is leftist propoganda as much as the Fox News is right propoganda, and this essay you’re reading right now is clearly the propoganda of a madman. Again, consider the propositions, the method, the context, and the intent.
What I would like to explore in this preliminary sketch is instead on a meta-level, an exploration of the questions – how is media used to incite changes in brainstate? What are its cultural rammifications, and how is it of use to those of us who want to bring about action through the media we produce? What are the techniques for creating and shifting belief? That’s the key question. And the fulcrum point is communication, and belief.
Media is a means of communicating information-- be it implicit or explicit-- to an audience, through one or more of the senses of experience available to us. “Media” itself seems to place an emphasis on the medium of communication. I think even more key to this exploration are the social filters we apply to the input we receive, as well as the recursive nature of this process.
This is where my bias admittedly comes in, because the majority of the “information” perpetuated within the so-called “Ad-cult” of consumer mythology is content-less. We share a heritage that pretends to share the function of mythology, in that it brings us together through social conventions, however it contains absolutely no information that helps us come into accord with the cycles of life, which is the second primary function of mythology. This is what makes it “junk food for the soul.” There is no advantage to be had in knowing about the Jolly Green Giant. This mythology fails to indoctrinate people into a body of knowledge of any kind, and in no way allows them to relate to others or the mystery of their own lives. This then has been my life-focus, to figure out what these techniques are, and then to help generate a mythology that is as interesting or addictive as the predominant ad-cult material, but which contains a backbone of this knowledge, whether we need to sugar-coat the pill or not.
Enough for my personal bias and interest in the matter. Generally speaking, what are these “techniques”?
The first technique is idea-associative. The input we have received in the past, and our reactions to it, sculpts our reconceptualization of raw input in the present on such a basic level that we aren't even consciously aware of this process. A sort of mental shorthand takes place, so that if we make the inference “Republican – Bad,” this inference will be made automatically, subconsciously, in the future. What this means to the advertiser is simple: it is hardest to make the first “sale.” From this point on it's like rolling a snowball downhill. (Think about this in terms of Nazi Germany.)
If you can get someone to build such an inference, and then substantiate it with “evidence,” the audience will apply an emotional commitment. They will form a belief. This fact is well documented in studies of social cognition, however it is an inclination we develop to save ourselves what most would consider an odious amount of thinking. If we exert conscious effort to think things through in a new way, we can build new associations. The amount of thought and effort this requires is beyond most of us. When we crash out in front of the couch it is usually after a long day of work, we just want to “veg out.” Not to sound sinister, but this is just how advertisers want it.
The precepts upon which our perceptions are based, our “world-view,” in other words, is the instrument that divines what concept is “true” and “false.” We verify our beliefs through feedback with other individuals. These feedback loops wind up creating tribal belief pacts - whereby we verify or dismiss our personal beliefs. Thus certain beliefs come to be known as “true” within a group, and others are “false.” The ramifications of these beliefs are of course extensive. They determine the behavior of the group, and ultimately whether it will survive or be devoured by another tribal belief pact, (whether through media, financial leverage, military invasion, or all of the above is ultimately irrelevant.)
An astute observer may object at this point that belief has absolutely nothing to do with truth in a physical sense; I can’t fly merely because I believe I can. Although my belief may present me with the possibility of doing so, it doesn’t provide the means of actualizing that possibility. Where there is not a universal truth, there are instead pragmatic, contextual ones which may contradict each other as the context shifts.
The second is belief-associative. This is possibly even more powerful. As we have discussed before, belief is primarily emotional. Logic is an afterthought used to contextualize and explain away that root, oftentimes illogical, belief. If the contents of a piece of media can be slanted in such a way that an individual associates his or herself with the actors within the media, emotional transference occurs. This idea is in no way new – Aristotle explored this idea as catharsis as an explaination of the utility of Greek theatre as a rebuttle to Plato’s Republic thousands of years ago.
One effective technique to employ to generate this sort of connection is generalization. If you are too specific, it is much more difficult to get a broad spectrum of people to associate themselves with it. Let’s use the example of lyrics in a rock song:
Can you feel it, see it, hear it today?
If you can't, then it doesn't matter anyway
You will never understand it cuz it happens too fast
And it feels so good, it's like walking on glass
It's so cool, it's so hip, it's alright
It's so groovy, it's outta sight
You can touch it, smell it, taste it so sweet
But it makes no difference cuz it knocks you off your feet
You want it all but you can't have it
It's cryin', bleedin', lying on the floor
So you lay down on it and you do it some more
You've got to share it, so you dare it
Then you bare it and you tear it
You want it all but you can't have it
It's in your face but you can't grab it
It's alive, afraid, a lie, a sin
It's magic, it's tragic, it's a loss, it's a win
It's dark, it's moist, it's a bitter pain
It's sad it happened and it's a shame
You want it all but you can't have it
It's in your face but you can't grab it
What is it?
What is it?...
-Epic, Faith No More.
Now what was this song about? According to the band, it is about masturbation. (Take that as you will.) But chances are there are a lot of people out there who heard this song, which got a great deal of airplay in the 90s, and built some pretty potent emotional connotations and meaning to it. Maybe they projected their present infatuation with a girl, or their struggles with cocaine addiction with that “it.”
These two techniques, idea-associative and belief-associative, are what I would call social techniques. They have more to do with the “meaning” of the material, as it is contextualized socially. The third is tonal, and will require a more thorough investigation of both music theory and binaural audio technology, which has been proven to create corresponding changes in brain-state.
The Power of Sound: Music as Meta-Language
I would like to focus on music as a form of media, communicating within the realm of sound and time. It's hard to imagine someone conceiving of music without sound, but many, aside from composers and audio engineers, forget that time is just as crucial an element of the process. This communication effects the reality of the audience much as any other direct experience would, on the level of the body, “dream consciousness,” and on the level of conscious awareness. Musicians help people define their worlds, whether or not they are aware of their power to do so.
As I stated, there are generally two levels that music effects us on: tonal and social. The first is our immediate reaction to the sound, the second the way we contextualize these sounds. The “meaning” of punk rock is lost on most classical violinists and vice versa. They don't have the “ears” for it. I think that this categorization, or grouping response is really fascinating, and curious, however I think it is also antecedant to the simple acoustic process of listening, so I would like to look at that first before giving further thoughts on the social techniques.
On the surface, it would seem that the language of music isn't all that different from any other form of communication. It is generally assumed that communication comes about through the transmission of information between two or more parties, all of whom use a previously agreed upon system of symbols and expressions to transmit that information. Through this we can make the analogy to language through specific symbol forms which are based on a system of agreed upon rules. This is true both in systems of playing and performing music around the world, as well as the unspoken rules and categories we devise for listening to it. While the units may differ from location to location, the nature of the agreement itself determines not only the quantity but also the quality of the interaction. This system of agreement-- and the trends involved in a non-static, i.e. human world-- can be considered macrocosmically as the way we humans construct our realities, at least from our perspective. Turn this around and we can see the importance which music can play in people’s psychological makeup: the language of music is one method of reproducing, sharing, and agreeing upon the nature of our experience, i.e. the nature of reality.
The language of music is generally non-specific. One can "mean" one thing with an A# in one performance that is not meant in another. (This is generally a good thing, seeing as a language with only twelve words would be rather crude.)
Though meaning is always derived in part through the relationships of symbols rather than the singular meaning of any one symbol or utterance, this is especially true in musical communication. There is some defined meaning of "cat," however there is absolutely no essential meaning to an A#. Also as with spoken language, the symbolic form of a note is representative of a sound. (Which is constant thanks to our agreeing on “A” as 440 Hz.) Similarly a chord, or conglomeration of tones, can be thought of as one unit much as word, or conglomeration of letters, is.
However, even a constellation of notes is of little value to us as a communication unless if we have a means of contextualizing the experience. This is what strikes me as the great mystery of musical communication. According to some old, bitter, dead German philosopher, “pure” music was the only truly valid form of communication. “Pure” music so defined is mathematically defined by certain conventions, and is devoid of these cultural or associative categories that we may want to apply to it. (i.e. It has no lyrics, carries no political or social agenda, the experience it conveys may be beautiful but only so far as a sunset is beautiful, beyond categorization.)
It is no surprise that this would be the opinion of a German philosopher, much less an Idealist. However whether or not these conventions are required for us to experience music, we nevertheless do contextualize our experience through previously learned social cues. So much for Schopenhauer.
There is an internal structure to music theory, which itself determines how most of us “hear” music since most of us have been raised with it as our only tonal language. This structure is internally consistent like mathematics, certainly far more so than our mongrel modern English. For our purposes I’d like to generalize these rules into the following two categories. Certainly musicologists will say there is a great deal more at work here, however our intention is exploring the language of music and how it effects us, not to learn music theory.
1. Pre-defined tonal relationships: created through observations of how frequencies work with and against each other. This of course creates relative consonance or dissonance which can be used to provoke emotions, or build and release tension. An interesting question here is how is it that a change from minor to major key is interpreted as an emotional shift from “sad” to “happy”?
2. A means of understanding relationships which exist within nature, just without systematic context. In other words a musician won’t play an augmented 5th because it’s an augmented 5th, he’ll play it because he wants the sound of that pitch collection.
Both of these seem to point at the mathematical structure as the guiding force in Western music. In many ways this is true in terms of the hard theory, however a new approach to perceiving music began in the 19th century. Though he wasn’t standing alone, Beethoven is a perfect example of this shift.
You can see a constant struggle in his work against the predictable conventions which had developed from the purely mathematical idea that came to its culmination within the so-called Enlightenment. This isn't to say that his compositions are out of sync with Western music theory, however in some of his compositions you see the “meaning” of the piece taking the fore, over and above the necessities of the composition itself as a “pure” or mathematical object. Dissonance and intentional irregularities became tools in the musicians palette in a way that they never had before, at least within this tradition.
"…And nobody but Beethoven or a damned fool would represent the unity of thesis and antithesis (or the individual Will and implacable Fate), by progressing from the third to the fourth movement without the traditional pause; but Beethoven does it and makes it work. Genius is the capacity to conceive the inconceivable, as Alekhine checkmates with a pawn, while his opponent and every witness was wondering what his knights or queen might do." (Wilson, Illuminati Papers.)
The communication between musician and audience takes place not on the level of nouns and verbs, where there is a specific thing doing something, but rather on a level in some way closer to our direct and yet nebulous emotional experience of the world. It fills the void of all of those things that cannot possibly be put into words, and never will be. Though a frantic descending line may imply a simple bodily motion such as running down the stairs, the interrelationship of the instruments on a harmonic level represent an even more elemental force: the interrelationship of thoughts within that process. Direct musical analogy, such as "that piccolo run represents his triumph," is secondary and somewhat hackneyed.
Thus we come the first premise related to the tonal aspect of musical communication: music is a meta-language that is closer to our direct uncognitized experience than spoken language. Meaning is variable and visceral. To many composers this provides an opportunity of direct mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart communication that far surprasses any verbal communication in a day-to-day context. Though this may seem absurd in light of a composition written in honor of Napoleon, it is nevertheless equally absurd to believe that a composition can represent anything other than the contents of the mind of a composer. A composer's job, should this theory have some merit, is to accurately portray a state itself and compel an audience to bring that into their own experience. The merit of this, the direct emotional impact and the implicit philosophical stance, is that it continues on through the experience of the entire audience, and continues to evolve the state of the art form-- and consciousness-- everywhere. Music history, in light of this, becomes little more than the study of the situation in which various thought processes occurred.
I used Beethoven as an example here as an important reminder of the sine wave progression of tradition, expectation, and deviation within the artistic and cultural interplay. Music, art, and language are all form of communication that have variable meaning and rules. They are living things, constantly changing, which cannot be pinned down and mummified. There is no way a truly encompassing theory of Aesthetics can ever come about, though Aesthetic philosophers and artistic commentators continue to chase after artists as they make their progress. Every time an explaination seems immanent, someone comes along and changes the rules.
There is a constant forward motion and backlash in the art world that has been in effect. This is what I refer to as the ‘sine-wave progression.’ This process is described in one sense by Hegel as synthesis and antithesis, by C.G. Jung as antiodromia, or the attainment of any extreme position as the point when it begins to turn into its own opposite. It occurs everywhere: in politics, social dynamics, martial arts, within art.
However the real function of art is not Historic. What it really meant to be in the room with Monk at the 5 spot, or to see Guns N’ Roses when they were playing in LA right after the release of Appetite For Destruction, cannot be portrayed even in a recording. There is an aspect to the creative burning point that, like a Zen koan, both defies definition and yet constitutes the only truth which we can actually experience, of an eternal present moment.
The role of the artist in some sense is to define the rules themselves, though if those rules are changed too suddenly the audience may be incapable of understanding what it is that they are experiencing. An artist in any age must be an ideological contortionist. He must bring his world to the world, and it must be unique enough to be original, yet not so original as to provoke immediate, categorical rebuke; he must commit himself wholly to the unearthing of this identity for the audience without sacrificing its integrity for the marketplace, but ultimately if it finds no niche in the marketplace it will never be heard. This is why, in this day and age, any artist who wishes to dance these lines must be familiar not only with the history of his chosen medium(s), he must also study and pay attention to the history of philosophy, psychology, and anthropology, and apply all of these to advertising the work in a way which either finds or creates a niche small enough to allow freedom of expression but large enough to sustain the creation of more work.
As a final thought on this idea of music as meta-language, the postmodern concept that music has reached an end of some sort is perfectly idiotic. Though tonal possibilities may have been primarily exhausted, the social context is inexhaustible. We can always develop new cultural meanings which apply to the necessities and inherent life-issues of the present. So long as there are new people in music that live their lives from their own center there will always be new directions and contributions. The composer or musician is constantly re-inventing the language of music, expressing his personal involvement with and evolvement through his experience of life. As if this wasn't a tall enough order, one must also nevertheless make this communication through the veil of a music "form" (be it sonata or 12 bar blues) so as to reach an audience with certain expectations, each in their own processes of coming to understand their worlds.