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Posted Feb 13th, 2015 (1:00 pm) by Matt Felten
The High Life
Image by Calvina Photography
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Turn on almost any music radio station and you will undoubtedly hear songs from that weeks Top 40 list. And guess what else; they’ll be playing in your head for the rest of the day. This is not as harmless as you might think. It has been scientifically proven that Popular music and the messages it conveys are detrimental to individuals and collectively, our society. We soak up these messages, baked into processed and artificially preserved but deliciously catchy tunes, often not even aware of the influence it has on our behaviors.

Humans respond to repetition. Top 40 music is so catchy because we’re drawn to what we can recognize easily, and it’s written to be simple enough to remember. It is literally researched in labs in order to most effectively stimulate specific pleasure centers in the brain and get you hooked to certain patterns of musical frequencies. Yes, pretty much like a drug, only the delivery method is through your ears. The scientists of music found the magic formula, and it’s working. This in itself isn’t the worst thing in the world, but the messages attached to a lot of mainstream music can be dangerous to us. We may not even realize they are there, but they are detrimental, and are reinforced again and again with every regurgitated, recooked, and repackaged hit song that comes out of mainstream music.

Juliet Schor wrote a book called “The Overspent American”. In it she outlines how as a result of middle and lower class people being constantly exposed to how the upper class lives (or how we imagine they live because of their representation in music and television), our “Reference groups” (those we compare our own lives to) have moved far beyond the neighbor next door who has a slightly nicer car. People are comparing themselves to those much higher above them on the economic ladder, and as a result they think they should, and do spend far more than they should on a lifestyle that they just can’t afford or sustain. Schor research and book also outlines tha this is also part of the reason that consumer debt is at an all time high ($3.2 trillion), because people are borrowing more and more to attempt to emulate this unrealistic lifestyle.

I’m not necessarily saying that being exposed to Popular music and the messages that revolve around it (sex, alcohol, drugs, constant pleasure etc.) is always a bad thing, at least in moderation (like all things). You have every right to like whatever music you like. But be aware, hearing about these subjects constantly can skew your perception of reality. When you’re constantly being told that you should be living a certain way and there’s no other reference points from real life telling you otherwise, you start to subconsciously and/or consciously start to believe it. Of course you should be as happy as you can be, but it’s unrealistic to be happy all the time, and trying to do so and failing can be incredibly stressful to a person. Drinking, partying, sex, and spending money carelessly are all fun, but it’s completely unhealthy (physically and mentally) to make these things your main goal in life. This is exactly the lifestyle that popular music glorifies and perpetually tells you is the best way to live. These messages stick with people, and it’s negatively affecting many. Take this study for example: “Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Dartmouth College surveyed our lyric-based stance on substances. They found that the average youth listens to 2.5 hours of popular music a day, and in that window, they’re hit with eight mentions of alcohol brands. In a second survey, they found subjects between 15 and 23 years of age who liked songs with alcohol mentions were three times more likely to have binged, compared to participants who didn’t like those songs.”

While these messages perpetuate consumerism, create fantastical perceptions of reality, and affect people’s behavior in ways that can be physically, mentally, and financially damaging, I believe the biggest problem is that they point listeners towards solely personal gain and selfishness. They point towards attaining individual pleasure, towards money and fame, towards self-minded agendas, and towards destructive lifestyles.

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