Monday, June 28, 2010

Russia, Music, and the Slavery of Consumers

While I was in Russia a couple weeks ago, one of the missionaries for whom we led worship told me a story that was much more meaningful than she imagined (and in a way she could not have imagined). She had been learning the language and got to talking with her language teacher about culture and music. She had noticed that she often heard American music playing over the radio when she was out in public places, shopping and such. Russia, she thought, has great traditional music. "Why is it" she asked her Russian teacher," that all I ever hear when I'm out in public is American music?"

Her teacher’s answer, in broken English and a strong accent, was more insightful than she perhaps realized: “American music good for shopping. Russian music good for funerals.” This simple statement could not help but remind me of a passage from Mark Anderson's Pure:

Sex, drugs, and rock & roll — and shopping. Consumerism is a natural adjunct of the pop-culture trinity. Each of these phenomena depends upon and promotes the liberation of unnecessary desires.

And this is especially true of the music that seems most to oppose consumerism. In reality, the supposed music of rebellion and anti-consumerism is usually a driving force behind consumerism. Anderson is again right on target:

The average adolescent insists that he disdains consumerism. He also has a tattoo, piercings, an iPod, and a joint, all of which he desires because of fads. But faddishness is the engine that powers consumerism.

Anderson sees and the Russian teacher glimpses what most of us hesitate to admit out loud: that the vast majority of popular music is designed primarily to manipulate and exploit the desires of people in order to sell them things.

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