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Lecture 23

Sociology 2202 Lecture 23: Headphones and ubiquitous music

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Sociology 2202

Citations in red An audience at a rock concert is an example of a community built around the spectacle…. but it is often an unstable and volatile community, and it sometimes seems to have more in common with a mob. Freud points out that crowd psychology is based on libidinal identification with a leader (often charismatic); but also points out that this identification is unstable and can easily slip over into its opposite, into rage and the desire for vengeance. In the Rolling Stones’ famous free concert at Altamont, at which four people died, we see the fragile bonds of community unravelling under the various contradictory pressures at work. Freud on unstable libidinal identification with the leader (from Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego): In a group the individual is brought under conditions which allow him to throw off the repression of his unconscious instinctual impulses…. The evidence of psychoanalysis shows that almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time—marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children—leaves a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression. A little boy will exhibit a special interest in his father; he would like to grow like him and be like him, and take his place everywhere…. The little boy notices that his father stands in his way with his mother. His identification with his father then takes on a hostile colouring and becomes identical with the wish to replace his father in regard to his mother as well. Identification, in fact, is ambivalent from the very first; it can turn into an expression of tenderness as easily as into a wish for someone’s removal. The relationship between the audience at a concert and the performer is also structured. This becomes evident when fans try to enter the “performing space” of the performer, by climbing onstage or getting too close to the performer after or before a performance. Thus the fantasy of community, of a shared space in which everybody loves everybody else (a fantasy actively encouraged by most performers through their onstage conduct, the lyrics of their songs, etc) is contradicted by the economic and social reality, which is that the performer is concerned with profits, and that fans can mistake the nature of the relationship and can be intrusive or dangerous. In Gimme Shelter, the documentary film that records the events of (and the events leading upto) the Rolling Stones’s ill-fated free concert (1969) at Altamont, California, we see articulated and explored many of the themes that have accompanied the emergence of rock music and rock concerts. We notice the irony of the fact that Mick Jagger, in an interview before the concert, suggests that rock concerts can be a “microcosm of society,” a model for the world of how to behave, how to live in harmony. Although this hope is still alive, the concert at Altamont did a great deal to increase cynicism about such utopian ideals. Most people today, including most rock fans, are more willing to accept that rock concerts are events bound by the same material and contractual obligations that bind other events in the world. The performers are expected to perform for the money (among other things); fans are expected to be unruly if there is no authority there to enforce law and order; and the idea of a (rock) community held together by love is balanced by the idea that it is a community of buyers and sellers, exchanging services and payments. Should we conclude, then, that rock concerts are just another aspect of modern commercialism and consumerism? Perhaps not. The recent spate of concerts for poverty stricken populations in Africa and India, concerts for AIDS victims, concerts for cancer victims, concerts for refugees; all these suggest that rock concerts, and musical performance in general, still carry the promise of utopian outcomes. Rock, which still explores, above all, the themes of loneliness, intimacy and love on the one hand and of social injustice on the other, may have become one of the largest foci, outside organized religion, for the idealistic and generous impulses of human beings. A rock concert, for many, may be the most satisfying expression of communal feeling that they have ever experienced. John Storey: “Rockin’ Hegemony: West Coast Rock and Amerika’s War in Vietnam” West Coast rock advocated and articulated a culture in which the distance between producer and consumer was minimal. After the Doctor Strange dance, Paul Kantner made the following remark: ‘It was like a party. The audience often far overshadowed any of the bands, and the distance between the two was not that great. Grace used to say that the stage was just the least crowded place to stand.’ This is a view shared by Ralph Gleason. “At the Free Fairs you could see people like the Jefferson Airplane wandering around, just members of the crowd like anyone else, enjoying themselves. For the first time to my knowledge, an emerging mass entertainment style insisted that its leading figures were human beings.’ And on the Doctor Strange dance: ‘That night you couldn’t tell the bands from the people. It was obvious the bands represented the community itself.’ Jim Morrison of The Doors expressed the relationship thus: ‘A Doors concert is a public meeting called by us for a special kind of dramatic discussion and entertainment….When we perform, we’re participating in the creation of a world, and we celebrate that creation with the audience.’ …the counterculture regarded its rock musicians as part of the community. To remain representative of the community they had to remain part of the community. It followed from this that involvement with the music industry was greeted with great suspicion (at least initially) by audience and artists alike. Commercial success threatened to break the links with the community. The problem was this: in order to make records musicians, however alternative, have to engage with capitalism in the form of private ownership of the industry. If you want to continue making records you have to continue making profits. Your audience is no longer the community, but the marketplace….[There is] a basic contradiction at the heart of the counterculture’s music. On the one hand, it could inspire people to resist the draft and organize against the war, while, on the other, it made profits which could be used to support the war effort. Where Adorno and Healy see popular, ubiquitous, privatized music as a threat to excellence, to learning, and to the community, Kassabian and Chow read these developments in listening more positively: “On Popular Music”: Theodor Adorno Listening to popular music is manipulated not only by its promoters but, as it were, by the inherent nature of this music itself, into a system of response mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society….The composition hears for the listener. This is how popular music divests the listener of his spontaneity and promotes conditioned reflexes. Not only does it not require his effort to follow its concrete stream; it actually gives him models under which anything concrete still remaining may be subsumed….The musical standards of popular music were originally developed by a competitive process. As one particular song scored a great success, hundreds of others sprang up imitating the successful one. The most successful hits, types, and ‘ratios’ between elements were imitated, and the process culminated in the crystallization of standards. Under centralized conditions such as exist today these standards have become ‘frozen.” The notion of distraction can be properly understood only within its social setting and not in self-subsistent terms of individual psychology. Distraction is bound to the present mode of production, to the rationalized and mechanized process of labor to which, directly or indirectly, masses are subject. This mode of production, which engenders fears and anxiety about unemployment, loss of income, war, has its ‘nonproductive’ correlate in entertainment; that is, relaxation which does not involve the effort of concentration at all. … People want to have fun. A fully concentrated and conscious experience of art is possible only to those whose lives do not put such a strain on them that in their spare time they want relief from both boredom and effort simultaneously. The whole sphere of cheap commercial entertainment reflects this dual desire. It induces relaxation because it is patterned and pre- digested. Its being patterned and pre-digested serves within the psychological household of the masses to spare them the effort of that participation (even in listening or observation) without which there can be no receptivity to art. On the other hand, the stimuli they provide permit an escape from the boredom of mechanized labor. Jane Healy: from Endangered
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