The Destruction of the Western Canon: The Unnoticed Casualty of Progress

Modernity’s movement of inclusiveness is reversing monstrous injustices. Old, white, male intellectuals and artists are rightly downgraded in importance and their authoritativeness disavowed in the face of modern writers and artists from marginalized communities. Unfortunately, a consequence of this is the destruction of history. A thread of thoughts and a conversation can be stretched from Homer to Cicero to Pope to Orwell but then slowly is thinned into nonexistence. What happens when we no longer value the ideals and conversations that have formed Western Culture? The values of justice, individualism, freedom of thought, and political thought have all sprung from the Western Canon. Numerous individuals and artists were enriched from their participation and examination of those works. It is ironic that a white, Western, male-dominated strain of thought that centered on the superiority of logic and on the equality of mankind has undermined the august position of the progenitors of those ideals.

A sad fact is that minorities in Western society fundamentally lack power. Many gains made by minorities in the realms of social justice and equality are, in fact, granted by the majority. In much the same way, works reacting to the dominance of the white patriarchy are derivative of that same system of thought. If artists truly want to break from current power structures, radical, original art must be produced AND disseminated from sources that are entirely minority. Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” has generally been viewed as a pop-cultural piece rooted in minority experience, but it is promoted and released through corporate structures that are largely owned by white males.

If the Western Canon is to be disavowed, a new, radical minority-driven Canon should replace it with original thought and ideals, instead of being a reaction, there must be creation as well as destruction. If this does not occur then we will have abandoned the good of Western culture while disposing of the evil without actively replacing the missing virtues.

The New American Politics of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have harnessed something greater than demagoguery or populism and are truly our first millennial, tech-savvy presidential candidates. Obama’s campaign was renowned for its ground-game and use of data, but that allowed for targeted messaging to voters, and Bush’s team was known for using wedge-issues and ruthless branding to get out the vote and swing public opinion. Trump and Sanders have done something different, they have harnessed the splintered-media and the social virality of the internet.
Trump has dominated the attention of the media and has used the ubiquity of his presence to generate support and interest, not unlike, say, the Kardashians.
Sanders on the other hand has gotten millions of young people to act as his surrogates, by re-tweeting and posting about him on Facebook and other social media platforms. Sanders has made himself into a kind of social fad. If you are a millennial and you don’t support Sanders, than there is a good chance the wrath of social exclusion will fall on you.

This is a truly modern election cycle where the forces shaping our popular culture have come together to finally effect politics. 

The Fake Feminism of Meghan Trainor

Cynical exploitation of social movements is nothing new for pop artists, but few have done so as brazenly as recently popular female singers. Meghan Trainor, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry come to mind immediately.

First is Meghan Trainor, who’s song “All About that Bass” was a huge success and helped establish her as a positive voice for women pushing back against body-shaming. Unfortunately one of her follow-up singles exposed her cynical exploitation of a social movement for profit. “To my future husband” confirms negative stereotypes of women in relationships and continues to define women based on their relationships to men. This song includes lyrics that attempt to describe her as the necessary winner of every argument and withholding sex for proper treatment.

Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have both exploited the gay rights movement through lyrics that support positive views of homosexuality. In Katy Perry’s case it is especially cynical as she used to be a Christian singer. That is not to say that she can’t change her views, but without any activism or follow through there is a hollowness to professing positive views. The same can be said for Lady Gaga, for whom self-promotion is the only goal.

All of these singers are of course backed by large corporations who certainly (and rightly) only care about profits. It is therefore up to listeners to recognize that instead of a genuine attempt to stand up for women’s and LGBT rights this is a ploy to sell more records.

Thoughts on "The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory"

This timely and interesting book by author John Seabrook provides an often searing look at the high-end of celebrity pop music. All of those number 1 hits you hear on the radio are manufactured by one of several giant music conglomerates, and our dear celebrity pop artists are mere afterthoughts chosen for their unseemly desire for fame meshed with their physical beauty. Though it focuses on the brilliance of the handful of producers who create the vast majority of pop hits the book is truly about the power of large corporations in modern America. The promise of the internet to free entrepreneurs from corporate structures and to cut out middle men has proven to be only half true. What we can now see is that very few break into wealth, popularity, or, more broadly, success without the aid of some large corporation or other institutions that have existed before the creation of the Internet.

The entire wealth generated by the music industry is dependent on the handful of pop hits created by a handful of producers. These producers hand off their songs to interchangeable artists who are then branded and promoted, and then their songs are promoted in a form of collusion between the giant music corporations and the handful of gigantic radio corporations. The hits themselves are an example of the engineering of consumer products to best please the reward pathways of the brain. As in fast food manufacture, where food is laced with just the right combination of salt, fat and sugar to stimulate an addictive release of dopamine, the producers have stumbled upon the right melodies and harmonies and release of tension to create a rewarding “bliss point.”

It is the same in almost every major industry: from music, pharmaceuticals, and food to television, video games and your favorite social media apps. The music is forced on us in one other way that is specific to enormous corporations: you are bludgeoned with it relentlessly until you begin to enjoy it because of the familiarity with it, another psychological quirk that has been leveraged….

The problem with all of this is the fact that the reason corporations are so successful at creating and managing consumer products while masking the naked capitalism involved is because they are the only institutions with the resources to create, market, and make profitable these products, which are sold in a fundamentally dishonest way. I don’t think anything can truly be done to change the situation but the facts leave me feeling that we live in a controlled and sanitized reality, that doesn’t actually match the world. Perhaps the great sin of scientific progress has been to make the world fundamentally inauthentic, and maybe we need to find an antidote for that for our psychological well-being.