Friday, 12 June 2009

A note about popular culture

Following on from yesterday’s no doubt insufferably elitist post (although it was pretty democratic to have been at the gym in the first place,) here are some words from a professional theologian and, by all accounts, a considerably talented amateur musician, on the subject of music in general, and of music in the service of the Church in particular:
‘Mass culture is thus geared to quantity, production, and success. It is a culture of the measurable and the marketable. Pop music joins up with this culture. As described by Calvin M. Johansson, it is the reflection of what this society is, the musical embodiment of kitsch……
Popular in the sense of pop music turns into something for which there is demand. Pop music is manufactured in industrial mass production like technical goods, in a totally inhuman and dictatorial system, as Paul Hindemith says. For melody, harmony, orchestration, and the like, there are specialists at one’s disposal who assemble the whole thing according to the laws of the market. Adorno commented: “The fundamental characteristic of popular music is standardisation.” And Artur Korb, whose book How to Write Songs That Sell is already a telltale sign, quite candidly makes the point: popular music “is written and produced primarily to make money.”
For this reason one has to offer something that does not anger or make profound demands on anyone according to the motto: Give me what I want now – no costs, no work, no effort. Paul Hindemith therefore used the term brainwashing for the constant presence of this kind of noise, which can hardly be called music any more. Johansson adds that it gradually makes us incapable of listening attentively, of hearing; “we become musically comatose.”
We still have to show in detail that this fundamental approach is incompatible with the culture of the Gospels, which seek to take us out of the dictatorship of money, of making, of mediocrity, and bring us to the discipline of truth, which is precisely what pop music eschews. Is it a pastoral success when we are capable of following the trend of mass culture and thus share the blame for its making people immature or irresponsible? The medium of communication and the communicated message must stand in a meaningful relationship to each other. As Johansson once again notes, this medium “kills the message.” Trivialising faith is not a new inculturation, but a denial of its culture and prostitution with the nonculture.’

from A New Song for the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI

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