All is Full of Love (Part 2) – Popular Culture

Popular Culture

  1. Work, Routine, and Reward

In regards to the connection between love and psychedelia, a suggestion can be made into the role that both concepts may play within contemporary culture. While I don’t directly feel like a participant in what is considered the paradigm of normality in the context in which I am situated (working-class, North-East UK), it is unavoidable to come into contact with contemporary culture. Town centres holding retailers, cafes, and restaurants that embody their brand identities through different design methods is one example. Another may be the popular method of enjoying recreational time for many adults – pubs, clubs, parties etc. All of which involve listening to music, drinking depressants, and conversation. The activities of popular culture are often powered by the fulfilling of desire and reaching for that which is desirable – experiences of liberation from our repetitive, 9-5 lives. Frequently however, it appears that our sources of liberation from such monotony are similar to that of an anti-depressant for a sufferer of depression – it treats the symptoms, but doesn’t have any long standing benefit.

After we perform mechanistic actions for around 40 – 45 hours a week, we feel over-worked and under-stimulated. For a lot of us, we perform actions that have no real meaning to us, as a means to earn a salary that is far less than required to live comfortably independently, so we can survive. This mode is existence is in huge contrast to human existence in pre-agricultural times, where our working week would be roughly 20 hours, spent sourcing food, looking after our offspring, and spending time doing community activates, and generally being integrated with the environment, rather than being stuck in a magnolia cube staring at artificial lights that seem to absorb and be powered by our enthusiasm. Naturally, we feel we deserve a treat every now and then, a connection to something more interesting than our ordinary waking states – a sensory liberation.

Conspicuous consumption has been on the rise since the industrial revolution, with the messages coming into mainstream western culture from the mid 1900’s that happiness can essentially be bought, and encouragement to do so from government. Rather than desire what will satisfy our needs, we are encouraged to desire what is above our needs and of material desire. We learn to regard material possessions as the embodiment of happiness, even if just for the moment.  Every weekend, town centres are full of consumers wanting to buy new things so that they feel justified in having to go against the satisfaction grain on a day to day basis. Our culture is one in which we require tangible symbolism of our efforts, with it being uncommon to be in a fortunate enough positon where your day job is a reward in itself.

Those who are in a positon to claim that they ‘love their job’, may mean that they are able to achieve happiness through the activity of the job in itself. Getting into the headspace where they are entirely focussed on the ‘flow state’ while performing their activity, or in spiritual terminology – presence. The same experience of presence is what is accessed through meditation, i.e. concentrating on only one thing, allowing everything else in the background of the mind to arise and pass without attention or resistance. When we say we ‘love our job’ we simply experience love through the activity that allows us to experience it.

2. Anticipated Liberty and Projected Illuminations

Unfortunately for the majority of us, our day jobs are a means to gain enough symbolic numeric figures to assure our survival in moderate comfort – with the occasional material purchase to alleviate our suffocation and despair. Our weekend recreational activities (accumulating resources, drinking alcohol, eating take-aways etc.) are actually absent from the etymological of the term, ‘recreation’, which is to ‘re-create ones-self’. Activates  of this type serve to distract us from our working lives and focus of the temporary alleviation of the pain caused by contemporary culture, rather than helping us recreate ourselves as more fulfilled and satisfied bio-computers experiencing life. To quote Terrence McKenna; “culture is not your friend”.

We strive for a more fulfilling, rewarding, and liberating sense of life. While performing jobs we might find tedious we mentally structure our time spent after work or at the weekend. This time is almost considered ‘real time’, if our working environment provides little human interaction or intellectual satisfaction. We spend the weeks leading up to the summer in anticipation of an annual summer holiday, where we get to experience having no responsibilities and feel like we have escaped the culture to which we are ingrained. These same aspirations are made present in media, such as the lyrics of popular music and from a more abstract perspective, the accompanying videos.

It is not a new observation that much popular music deals with the theme of love; most commonly the Greek notion of ‘Eros’, or ‘romantic love’. When popular music deals with love in this way it appears to be referring to a singular understanding of it. More a feeling than a force. Whether the lyrical content is dealing with unrequited feelings, bitterness and jealousy, or intense passion, the overall theme of much contemporary music is love. This is not a new phenomenon; from the medieval and renaissance period, through the 20thcentury, and until present, love has been a major theme in some way or another. When it comes to popular western music however, it could be argued that these theme of love is expressed in other more subtle ways.

3. Manifestations in Media

With the invention of the ‘music video’, artists where able to accompany their audio material with visual matter in order to amplify the message or expression of the song. Music videos are now customary to a commercial single release. Those who spend some time in an environment where music television channels are on may recognise occurring themes in the material that is shown. My observation comes from the standpoint of a rowing machine in the gym that I attend, or in the communal lunch room at my work, where observing such media is unavoidable.

Many videos appear to depict couples, friends, and others in idyllic beach locations, surrounded by natural beauty and integrating with it; surfing, climbing, playing with each other etc. The videos depict a lifestyle that many of us aspire to, where we spend our feeling enthused by what surrounds us instead of burdened by the weight of our everyday existence. This depiction of such aspirational lifestyles in music videos is what I believe could be understood as a representation of love being lived. Complete presence with activates that are grounded in freedom, liberty, connection, creativity, and play. When we watch the video we recognise it as a situation better than our own, almost as a higher power, and to the advantage of the artist we feel more connected to the song because of it. Or at least that appears to be the intention.

While this notion is purely speculative and based entirely on personal and subjective analysis, it appears to make sense when considered. Edward Bernays, the nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (the man responsible for the theory of the Oedipus complex) invented the notion of ‘PR’, and in his 1928 book ‘Propoganda’, wrote “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it” (p.71). Bernays understood how distribution of information through popular media can lead to group adherence to conventions that are set by those responsible for said information. He is responsible for the sudden increase of women smokers in the early 20th century, by depicting imagery of women with cigarettes in advertisements, with the suggestion of empowerment and sensuality.

The knowledge of cultural adherence that was popularised by Bernays can be applied in this speculation. The creators of music videos will assumingly be aware of what appeals to desires of an audience; they can project a lifestyle using their material that resonates with the audience on a subconscious level. When depictions in music videos of activities that seem to have a semiotic attachment of what could be termed, ‘lifefullness’ (the notion of embracing and living life to its greatest extent), the audience perhaps subconsciously connect to the notions, and thus connect to the music. The aspirational content of the video plays its part in driving sales of the music, attributing to the commercialisation of the industry, and perhaps being partly responsible for formulaic music driven by profit rather than expression or joy of creation.

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