Thursday, March 17, 2011


IN DEPTH provides media analysis of selected media issues that has international relevance

Popular Music

The Popular music and Rave culture dominates the discourse on culture particularly the popular culture. Certain genres of popular music have flickered controversy and opposition and criticisms have been centred on them particularly of their influence on ‘youthful values, attitudes and behaviour through the music’s (perceived) sexuality and sexism, nihilism and violence, obscenity, black magic and anti-Christian nature.’ (Shuker, Roy, 2001) There are different notions of course regarding the increasing hostility to this genre of music and attempts to control and regulate popular music genres such as rock and rap are also regarded as plots of the ongoing contestation of cultural hegemony. The essay under review admits that popular culture in general has historically been the target of censure, condemnation and regulation.

The essay examines the relationship between youth, antisocial attitudes and behaviours and popular music considers culture as a political issue, the authors place their arguments logically and in a precise sequence examining the historic context of the anti rave legislations in Britain.

The first argument is that the attempts to control and regulate popular music through legislations over time in Britain are nothing but influence of Puritanism in the British political discourse.  Drawing upon the evolution of the ideology the authors substantiate that the notion of Puritan modernity which has taken birth as an ‘interaction of the long discourse of phallogocentric metaphysics with the bourgeois discourse of possessive individualism’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999) underlies this phenomenon. Throughout the nineteenth century, the ideology of ‘possessive individualism’ as called by political philosopher MacPherson, was the central modes of bourgeois discourse. The ‘notions of the autonomous individual and the sanctity of property’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999) were central to this stream of thought and naturally these notions became central to the ideology of capitalism. The earliest form of the possessive individualism was seen in the Protestant religion that stressed ‘the importance of an individual’s personal relationship to God’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999). Several other aspects of the new ideology such as the ‘model of the subject as an irreducible individual and the proprietor of its own capacities entering into discrete, almost contractual relationships with others (even God)’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999).

Thus the early Protestantism as a religio-cultural project and early capitalism as a politico-economic one are more or less indistinguishable. The stream of thought binding both of them was possessive individualism. From this early Protestantism evolved Puritanism or radical Protestantism, which clearly obliged to the older discourses of phallagocentric metaphysics. Thus Puritan idea was not just to purify Catholic Church; it acted as modernising project reshaping and reordering the political system, economic practices and relationship and even the everyday life of the English people. Thus since the Reformation, history records every efforts to regulate traditional popular festivities that caused the birth of a new culture which considered work above all other modes of experience and denounced sensual pleasure and later became hegemonic in the British society.

‘The main priorities of puritanical discourse have been a hostility to physical pleasure, intoxication, unregulated social gathering, music and dancing. Phallogocentric metaphysics’ belief in the rationally self-present subject converges with possessive individualism to produce a notion of the human subject as defined radically in terms of self-control, and hence a particular hostility to intoxicated and ecstatic states develops. That individualism leads this discourse on the human subject to be particularly hostile to forms of social pleasure.’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999).

The legislations which have been introduced over the years to regulate rave and dance cultures shows influence of the Puritan ideology in the British political and cultural spheres. The Lords Day Observance Act of 1780 that still technically prohibits selling of tickets for dancing on Sunday in UK, the 1990 legislation that clamps down commercial raves, the 1997 Public Entertainment Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill which gives police powers to shut down licensed establishments where they think illegal drugs are misused and finally the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act aimed to stop the unlicensed dance parties. The section of this Act pertaining to raves (Part V Public Order: Collective Tresspass or Nuissance on Land, Powers in relation to raves) gives powers to directly intervene with the popular culture.

The second argument is that the rave and its culture has been explicitly socialist formations, manifesting a utopian politics of community wherein being together was the central… (Gilbert, Pearson 1999).
The authors start from the introduction of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, to substantiate their arguments. The Act which empowered the government to directly intervene with the popular culture was passed by the Parliament without much opposition from the major political parties. As Gilbert says:
‘The very idea that human beings are hermetically sealed units, irreducible and unitary individuals, rational agents, is challenged by the ecstasy and collectivity of the dance. As Paul Spencer writes of dancers the world over, ‘In their ecstasy they literally stand outside’. Standing outside of oneself, especially when that means exposing one’s individuality to the being of others, is what that metaphysics of the subject which has dominated European culture at least since the seventeenth century simply cannot stand.’
It is perhaps this possible threat of ‘collectivity’ or ‘socialist formations’ that has prompted for an unanimous voice for the 1994 legislation. These free parties were not only a threat to the commercial leisure industries but also encouraged the collective gatherings. 

The final argument is the notion that women and non-whites are inferior to white men; remain central to the dominant discourses. 
The non-white immigration to Europe after the First World War created wide spread anxiety about imperial white identity and the mainstream political discourse spoke about eugenics – ‘a set of ideas and policies predicated on notions of racial superiority and of the need to protect the European ‘races’ from ‘degeneration’ or miscegenation. The earliest arguments in favour of drug prohibition focussed on ‘drugs’ precisely as potential causes of these two racial catastrophes. It is worth reflecting that in this sense, prohibition has its roots in the same moment and the same set of fears and ideas as fascism……the first anti-drug legislation to be passed in the UK was done so more than anything in response to a generalized fear that access to cocaine encouraged young white women to mix and have sex with black and ‘oriental’ men.’ (Gilbert, Pearson 1999).  Thus it is clear that UK licensing laws and the Dangerous Drugs Act (1924) had more racist and sexist connotations than mere prohibition.
Gilbert Jeremy continue to write:
‘Cocaine, opiates and cannabis were all banned not because of any serious concern for public heath, but because they were associated with the cultures of non-white immigrant communities and of groups of young women enjoying unprecedented (for at least a century) degrees of social, economic and sexual independence. …Women and nonwhites were regarded as less rational, less in control of themselves, less capable of hard work than white men. In other words, they were less capable of achieving the status of the bourgeois, Puritan, modern subject than white men. Anti-drugs discourse has been and remains largely couched in such Puritan terms.’
The issues represented by popular music and cultural politics are not tethered to Europe alone. New Zealand’s reaction to the rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s illustrates the ‘characteristic concerns displayed internationally towards the new form of popular music: antipathy towards it as music, the anti-social behaviour linked to concerts and rock movies, and, most importantly, the associations with juvenile delinquency.’  (Shuker, Roy, 2001)   
Rock ‘n’ roll originated in the mid-1950’s and was popularised with its sexual connotations in the music of the 1920s. It was popularised as a safety valve, and a passing craze which compels one to dance with hypnotic abandon and self-display.  The experience of New Zealand started with its first rock ‘n’ roll icon, John Devlin, emerging in 1957. ‘His first record, ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ became the most successful local single of the 1950s. Successful tours, including a hugely successful five-month national tour during 1958, saw sell-out houses, Devlin mobbed by screaming girls, and several incidents of damage to theatres and injuries to the police protecting the singer.’ (Shuker, Roy, 2001)  These hysteric fans really posed a social threat and even there was references by the media about a national bogey man and bodgie behaviour.

Another instance is the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colarado, on on 29 April 1999, that resulted in fifteen deaths and twenty-three injuries. The two students at the school who perpetrated the crime killed themselves at the end of their
bloody rampage. Speculation about its causes referred to the negative influence of violent media on youth, especially video games; neo-Nazi ideology; and rock music When it was revealed that the two boys who killed their classmates were Marilyn Manson fans, the band cancelled their American tour. For some commentators, Marilyn Manson became the ‘designated demon’ for the Columbine massacre.

Both these instances expatiates how unregulated popular rave and music cultures threatens the social cord in the community, creating hysteria and anti-social behaviour. It of course can be regulated with a political and ideological support

1. Adorno, T. (1990), 'On Popular Music' in Simon Frith & Andrew Goodwin
(eds.), On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word, London: Routledge

2. Cloonan, M. (1997), 'State of the Nation: "Englishness", pop and politics
in the mid 1990s', in Popular Music & Society, 21/2 , Bowling Green State University Press

3. Gauntlett, D. (2004), 'Madonna's Daughters: Girl Power and the Empowered
Girl-Pop Breakthrough' in S Fouz-Hernandez and F Jarman-Ivens (eds.)
Madonna's Drowned Worlds new approaches to her cultural transformations
1983-2003 , Aldershot: Ashgate

4. Gilbert, J. and Pearson, E. (1999), 'No Music, No Dancing: Capitalist Modernity and the Legacy of Puritanism' in Discographies: dance music, culture & the politics of sound, (London: Routledge)

5. Jones, S. and Featherly, K. (2002), 'Re-viewing Rock Writing: Narratives of
Popular Music Criticism', S. Jones (ed.), Pop Music & the Press, Philadelphia: Temple University Press

6. Shuker, Roy. (2001) Understanding Popular Music. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge

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