January 18, 2021

The Music Debate at our House

The Music Debate at our House: Does it have an influence on what people do?

We have this continuous simmering disagreement in my household over music. I love music, and enjoy all different kinds. My kids are a lot like me, though they like Christian music a lot less (and I don’t like it much) and they haven’t discovered the joys of country yet. But they are very good, intelligent music fans and we’ve never had a row in the house about music. A few questions, but never anything serious.

One of the areas that gets me in trouble is my occasional contention that music contributes to some teenager’s problems. My kids usually kick at this pretty hard, and I am glad they think about it. Now I need to be precise. I am capable of saying that X kind of music is part of the problem, and that sounds like I mean the music is the problem. I don’t mean that. What I should say is that the way person Y uses music X potentially contributes to a problem.

I’m fairly convinced that Americans over-relate to music anyway. We tend to “wall-paper” our worlds with it. Notice, for instance, how we like it playing in the background of everything, and how commericals use it to create a reaction. And while we might complain about that in the elevator or the store, we will practice it in our own environments. Now some of this music is for enjoyment, but some of it functions as a way of creating a supportive message or mood. Music has the ability to affect us emotionally, and one of the ways we use it is to impact our emotions. I don’t mean that we don’t listen and appreciate; I just mean to say that music functions as a soundtrack. A kind of emotional wallpaper, and usually the purpose of that music is to reinforce what we think, feel or want to experience.

So I observe a lot of teenagers who have problems with depression, anger, obsession with sexuality or romance, perennially feeling like an outcast, etc. and there is a musical soundtrack available for all of these things. Many of those kids are wrapped up in those musical soundtracks for their emotional or personal issues/preferences. Music doesn’t create any of these problems, but once someone is there, part of how they will stay there will be music, and their own emotional relationship to the music.

I don’t believe music creates school shooters. I don’t believe it creates young, black criminals. I don’t believe it creates depression. But when behavior and emotions are chosen, music will be used to reinforce the choice. In that kind of symbiotic relationship, it can appear there is a cause and effect relationship. There isn’t. But by the same token, it’s not foolish to notice the potential of some individuals to over-relate to music and to reinforce their choice to be depressed, etc.

I absolutely believe that most healthy, normal people can listen to anything without being affected at all. This includes violent and depressive lyrics. But by the same token, I think persons who are unbalanced, and do not have a healthy, sane, rational grasp on life, whether they be kids or adults, can submerge themselves in music and become angrier, more depressed, etc. I also have to be honest and say that if I believed all content was neutral, I would think advertising was worthless. In fact, I think that when a person is inclined towards a particular behavior, media has a heightened potential to influence them. Hence, the advertising industry. And the bad effects of music on some people.

Smart, healthy, rational kids- like mine- can listen to things and sort them out plainly. They can think about what they hear, and make judgments about the feelings created or reinforced by the music. But for other students, there are real pitfalls in making music a way to close the windows and doors on the real world, and filling your mind with the thoughts- and emotional impacts- that you choose.

You can appreciate and enjoy, or you can self medicate, even mesmerize yourself. Content matters, but not so much that I can’t say the overall influence is neutral for most people. They know it’s a song. For other people, it really is the way to keep thinking- or not thinking- and feeling what you want. And it can be bad news.

We will always fuss about this. But I am very proud of my kids and the way they make judgements about music.

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