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The View of a Marginal Sociologist: The Culture Industry and Music in the Age of One-Dimensional Thought . . . And Mark Hoppus is a Chelsea Fan?!

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In class this morning our professor kindly gave us a respite from our discussions of criminological theory and instead had us watch the 2002 film Gangs of New York. It was, in itself, an exercise in theory building. The film itself touches on many topics which are pertinent to the modern world, such as immigration: While some interpretations focus on the elements of nativism in American society which were prevalent in the mid 1800s, resistant to increasing immigration from Ireland, other elements within the film show the tendency of American politicians to use gangs in order to exploit immigration in order to garner votes for their cause. Needless to say, the film provided a useful opportunity to debate both sides of the current state of American society.

And when I got home, I researched the film further—and that’s what provided me another opportunity to tie the film to current American society. Apparently, Gangs of New York’s star actress Cameron Diaz is now married to Good Charlotte band member Benji Madden; apparently she was introduced by her (now) sister-in-law Nicole Richie, who is married to another Good Charlotte member, Joel Madden. As someone who grew up in the late 1990s in the United States, I am very familiar with Good Charlotte—in fact, I listened to them.

Now, almost two decades later, these (former?) rockers show just how the culture industry (to borrow from Theodor Adorno) perpetuates itself in American society, despite its contradictory messages. It is a perfect example of Herbert Marcuse’s theory of “repressive tolerance”; that which is critical of capitalism is turned around to perpetuate capitalism.

Fans of Good Charlotte will remember them for their songs critical of America’s capitalist society. “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” (2002) had the lyrics “Lifestyles of the rich and the famous/They’re always complainin’/Always complainin’/If money is such a problem/Well, they got mansions/Think we should rob them” [Emphasis mine]. The band’s first major hit “The Little Things” (2001) opened with the following call to the marginalized:

Yeah, This song is dedicated (This is Good Charlotte)/To every kid who ever got picked last in gym class (You know what I’m saying, this is for you)/To every kid who never had a date to no school dance (Run to your mother)/To every one who’s ever been called a freak This is for you.

That these lyrics seem to be the antithesis of the lives that the band members of Good Charlotte now live—married to members of the Hollywood elite—should not be surprising. Yet, what is surprising is that most Youtube comments on the aforementioned songs are nostalgic for this music; even I must admit that this kind of music is missing on current American airwaves. Indeed, some might even go so far as to say that rock is dead—the kids have smartphones and social media to amuse themselves with, they no longer need this aspect of the culture industry. And here we also see that the culture industry, in the early 2000s, sent us messages against the proverbial “man”, only for those same messengers—who were artists—to become the proverbial “man”. This is how the culture industry tends to perpetuate our own continued subordination to the system.

 

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From Punk Rock . . . Image Courtesy of: https://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/music/patient-wait-good-charlotte-fans

 

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. . . To Hollywood Elite. Image Courtesy of: http://www.instyle.co.uk/celebrity/madden-brothers-benji-joel-bond-missing-wives-cameron-diaz-nicole-richie

 

This should not be seen as a criticism of the marriages of these individuals, everyone is free to marry whomever they choose and indeed I wish nothing but happiness to both couples; rather this is a criticism of the culture industry itself. Purveyors of the culture industry send us political messages without actually believing it themselves; this is why—in the age of extreme capitalism—even art has become a tool of mass culture indoctrination. It sells us things in the name of “resistance” without actually carrying any substance. And this is very real problem. Not only has “art” been co-opted–and the “distance” between “artist” and “viewer” widened–but it has been co-opted in a bid to influence our very thought. Yet, this is a culture industry that a generation of Americans grew up on; it sent messages of victimhood (“to every kid that never had a date to no school dance) that tie into psychologist Jordan Peterson’s (astute) critique of men who have become “adrift, arrogant, hostile and vengeful” (among other things) in the modern era.

Another band from the late 1990s that I (still) enjoy is Blink-182, and I was surprised to learn that (co)-lead man Mark Hoppus had become a Chelsea fan since moving to London. For me, it was interesting that Mr. Hoppus would become . . . a Chelsea fan; after all, it is the team that embodies the trends of industrial football: foreign ownership, distance from local fan communities, etc . . . yet it is a team that also embodies the “success” and “greed” that extreme capitalist society encourages, so I suppose it is not surprising.

But it is also indicative of something larger. This is how the culture industry sustains itself. It sells us the messages we want to hear without actually following the meanings behind these messages. It is empty. For instance, as a football fan and with all due respect to Mr. Hoppus whose music I enjoy (and not that I would ever tell someone what team to support), it seems to me that it would make more sense for a “punk” rocker to support, say, West Ham United than Chelsea (even if the latter is his “hometown” team due to proximity). But such is the culture industry; it is—for all its “reality”—all too fake. That said, judging by a graffito I saw on a wall in Istanbul, it is clear that the influence of the culture industry (and Blink-182) is still alive and well in 2018. Given that the messages of popular culture are so prevalent in our societies, it is worthwhile that we parse out what these messages really mean so as to become more than mere passive receivers of “culture” itself. In this Brave New World, culture itself is more politicized than ever.

 

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Above is the Hashtag #Hayir, in Reference to Last Spring’s Referendum. Below it is a Love Note to Mr. Hoppus’s Band-Mate, Tom Delonge. Here, the Culture Industry Meets Politics on the Streets of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of the Author.
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A Marginal Sociologist’s Musical Perspective on Humanism Vs. Rationalism: The Sad State of American Education That Has Failed To Separate The Two

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As a mobile marginal sociologist who likes to engage in conversation with anyone willing, I have more than a few adventures. As one great Sociology Professor at my university once told me, “to be a good sociologist you have to actually like people”. I take this advice to heart inside—and outside—of the classroom, and the last few days were no exception. In a few conversations with individuals involved in higher education in the United States I learned that higher education is not really education at all. Rather, it is a form of indoctrination. After all, how can an individual with a Master’s Degree not know who Nietzsche is? And how can someone receiving a liberal arts degree not know the distinction between humanism and rationalism? It is not because these people are dumb; quite contrary, they are intelligent people who are seeking to learn about a world that the educational system has—unfortunately—left behind. One reason may be that the educational system—in following the modern trend of rationalization that Sociologist Max Weber warned against—has failed to separate rationalism from humanism.

Since humans are not rational, humanism is not compatible with rationalism. The famous Turkish rock group MFÖ makes this point clear in the popular song “Ali Desidero”. While the video is an amusing throwback to mid-nineties Turkish pop, the lyrics are certainly prescient in that they show the odd form of confusion that defines the thoughts of the modern generation.

In the song the young man falls in love with a young lady in his neighborhood. The only issue is that the young man and the young lady come from different worlds: the young man is a self professed “simple man” hanging out at the coffee house watching football, while the young lady is a bit of an intellectual. Since the lyrics are clever (pointing out that the young man thinks Machiavelli is a footballer), they also point out the contradictions in the young lady’s intellectual thought:

Elbetteki feminist bir kız
Metafiziğe de inanmakta

Bir kusuru var yalnız kızın
Biraz entel takılmakta
Optimizt hem de pesimist biraz
idealizme de savunmakta
Ali Desidero Ali Desidero

Teoride desen zehir gibi
Pratik dersen sallanmakta
Bazen ben hümanistim diyor
Bazen rastyonalist oluyor
Değişik bir psikoloji
Bir felsefe idiotloji
İdiot idiot idiotloji

(Turkish Lyrics Courtesy Of: http://sarkisozuceviri.com/mfo-ali-desidero-sarki-sozleri/ )

 

Of course the girl is a feminist

She also believes in metaphysics

There is just one flaw with the girl

Shes a bit of an intellectual

She is an optimist, sometimes a pessimist

And defends idealism
Ali Desidero Ali Desidero

In terms of theory she’s got it down

In terms of the practical she’s a little shaky

Sometimes she says “I’m a humanist”

Other times she becomes a rationalist

It’s a different type of psychology

A philosophy, idiotology

Idiot idiot idiotology

(Author’s Translation. An alternative translation—which I did not enjoy—is available at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/ali-desidero-ali-desidero.html )

 

The kind of confusion that MFÖ sing about is not inherent to Turkish culture, it is a confusion that plagues much of the West (and yes, Turkey is part of the West in terms of its acceptance of globalized culture).  In the United States—and, arguably, most of the West—the education system is skewed to the political “Left”. Thus, it pushes a “humanist” idea while simultaneously pushing rationalization; it is characterized by a social science dominated by numbers. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was the first to point out the flaws of this kind of thought system in his famous work The Sociological Imagination by focusing on the academic field of Sociology:

…[S]ociology has lost its reforming push, its tendencies toward fragmentary problems and scattered causation have been conservatively turned to the use of corporation, army, and state . . . To make the worker happy, efficient, and co-operative we need only make the managers intelligent, rational, knowledgable (Mills, 1959: 92).

Here, Mills points out that socioligists began to serve the goals of the wider power elite in society—the corporations, the army, and the government—by pushing “rationalism”.  This has meant that:

[T]he human relations experts have extended the general tendency for modern society to be rationalized in an intelligent way and in the service of a managerial elite. The new practicality leads to new images of social science—and of social scientists. New institutions have arisen in which this illiberal practicality is installed: industrial relations centers, research bureaus of universities, new research branches of Corporation, air force and government. They are not concerned with the battered human beings living at the bottom of society—the bad boy, the loose woman, the migrant worker, the un-Americanized immigrant. On the contrary, they are connected, in fact and in fantasy, with the top levels of society. (Mills, 1959: 95).

From this quote we see that the “rationalization” of society has come at the expense of what Mills calls “the battered human beings living at the bottom of society”; this is—quite clearly—far from humanist.  In fact, to Mills, the political philosphy of those subscribing to this mode of thought is “contained in the simple view that if only The Methods of Science, by which man now has come to control the atom, were employed to ‘control social behavior,’ the problems of mankind would soon be solved, and peace and plenty assured for all” (Mills, 1959: 113). The problem with the mode of thought that Mills criticizes is, of course, the fact that human beings are not atoms. Since human beings have a minds of their own, no type of scientific rationalization can control them; to do so would mean to treat all human beings as if they were all uniform (like the aforementioned atom). This negates the diversity of humanity, and understanding this simple fact means understanding humanism; it also means that humanism is not compatible with—nor analogous with—rationalism.

A recent news story shows the problems with confusing humanism and rationalism. On 4 July 2017 The Canadian government agreed to pay a Canadian national—who admitted to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan—the whopping sum of 10 million US dollars. According to a CBC editorial, Omar Khadr deserved this payday—despite being a murderer and a terrorist—because he was mistreated as a Candian citizen. According to Amnesty International, Mr. Khadr’s “rights were violated” (despite the fact that he admitted to killing another human being). Although those who approve of the Candian government’s settlement may see the decision as a rational, one (since Mr. Khadr’s human rights were violated) as well as a humanist one (since he was a child soldier at the time of the murder), they miss the absurdity of a terrorist being paid over ten (10!) million dollars after killing someone. This is not rational, nor is it humanist (especially if we take into account the feelings of the family members of the man Mr. Khadr killed!), and that is why this one case serves as a perfect example of the risks inherent in conflating humanism with rationalism.

To continue with the musical theme, I will offer another small example from American country music. While writing I was listening to Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours” on Youtube and—like any good sociologist—I perused the comments section. In it, I came across a gem where a user asks “Is it wrong If [sic] I like this kind of music and am black?”. Of course, fellow Youtube users responded in the right way: You can like any kind of music regardless of your skin color! Thats the point of a free—and humanistic—society. However, one reason this type of comment may have been posted, is that the rationalists (due to their obsession with the classifcation of human beings) like to believe that  “rap music is for black people” and “country music is for white people”. This is, of course, absurd, yet (sadly) there are many sociology articles out there that deride country music as being “white” music and for not being “inclusive” enough.

 

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Without digging into the academic works, this blog will serve as a useful example of this type of misinformed thought. The author complains that African-American country artist Darius Rucker’s songs“contain the same themes of family, whiskey drinking, heartbreak, and Southern culture (such as the food, chivalry, clothes) and the same avoidance of touchy subjects as those of any white artist”. That Mr. Rucker is not fitting into his racial stereotype—by avoiding racial topics in his songs—is apparently offensive to the blog’s author. It is just one more sad example of the toxicity of rationalization at work, since the blogger assumes that a black singer needs to sing about “black” topics to fit into his “category” as a black country music artist. With all due respect to the sociologists, I prefer a humanistic approach—not confused with rationaliztion—which allows singers to sing about whatever they please, regardless of their race. And yes, us listeners can listen to whtatever we like, regardless of our race as well. Such is the beauty of a humanist perspective; it is a perspective that unifies unlike the divisive perspectives of rationalism.