Music Invokes Societal Change

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“The societal issues of hunger, wellbeing, peace, and equality have been fundamental to the world since the inception of humanity. Although events such as the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development have offered possible solutions to invoke positive change in these areas, countries have failed to fully implement and modify these policies as needed. (United Nations 2019?) In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that lay out the plan for action “for people, planet and prosperity” (United Nations 2019?). Despite the fact that international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and World Health Organization (WHO) (United States Institute of Peace 2017), work solely to address world issues, getting representatives from a plethora of nations to agree on a solution, let alone gathering them in the same place at the same time, takes years if not decades. This method of global, peaceful problem solving may be effective, however not as efficient as necessary when considering that these societal issues are worsening daily. By design, humans are not the most patient species. This lack of patience along with the non-efficient way global issues are handled by higher-ups in international organizations leads mankind to take matters into their own hands…with protest. The word ‘protest’ has a very negative connotation and often when this word is used in the news people associate it with riots, revolts, and largescale objection.

While this violent aspect of protest is valid, the opposite side, nonviolent protest, must be addressed as well. As Mahatma Gandhi once said in his autobiography/biography “Ghandi’s Experiments with Truth: Essential Writings by and about Mahatma Ghandi”, “…without a direct-action expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, is meaningless” (Ghandi & Johnson 2006). Building on, nonviolent protest is “neither a passive acceptance of oppression, nor a violent opposition to it,” but a very active concept as defined by the nongovernmental organization The Fellowship of Reconciliation Peace Presence (FORPP), an organization dedicated to encouraging countries to embrace nonviolent ways to promote their human rights, peace and overall justice (FORPP 2019). Furthermore, nonviolent action uses acts of protest, boycotts, and strikes to resist violent or unjust forces that have been imposed on a group of people and encourage a change in society (FORPP 2019). More modernly, this pacifist approach to invoke change has taken the form of advocacy, speech movements, and even social media movements. While many of these acts are known to make major differences in issues our society faces, they all often escalate to violence. However, one form of nonviolent protest that many people would not think to be arguably the most effective is music. Bob Dylan’s musical composition “Blowin’ In the Wind” is the perfect example of this concept. Bob Dylan is one of the most well-respected artists of the 60’s/70’s who has created timeless music that is relevant to society in many morphing forms throughout the years. In fact, he was even awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama on April 26, 2012.

This honor was given to him directly from his efforts through his music such as “Blowin’ In the Wind” that invoked social change and called upon society to make a true difference for the bettering of their human experience as addressed on the National Public Radio in a segment shared by analyst Brain Naylor. This song, recorded in May of 1962, addresses “three themes to the song: war, freedom, and peace” which give extremely important and strong meaning to the ongoing Vietnam War and overall social movements ensuing, as interpreted by lyrical interpreter and analysist Jason Anshutz. This song became the political anthem for protesters from the civil rights movement to anti-war activities and events, namely Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the march from Selma to Montgomery (National Public Radio 2000). Naylor looked back on the introduction of this song to society saying “it was topical, it was political and it was completely unlike anything else on the radio, which at the time was dominated by highly produced pop songs: Stevie Wonder’s “”Fingertips, Part 2,”” “”Judy’s Turn To Cry,”” by Lesley Gore, and The Four Seasons’ “”Candy Girl.”” (National Public Radio 2000). Music proves to be the most effective means of nonviolent protest because it has the ability to tap into one’s subconscious mind in an emotionally receptive way and has the capability to reach large numbers of people through technology and social media.

Music dates to prehistoric ages though the music of that time period consisted mainly of incoherent grunting and banging on objects. Music has evolved throughout time with instruments and forms of cultural and ethnic song being formed. The more westernized music we know today can be found as early as the year 1000 AD. It is in this era where we see the introduction of notes and methodical works to true musical compositions as explained by Jay Shulkin, Research Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University (Shulkin, et al. 2014). In more recent decades, the effects of music on humans and their minds have been studied extensively by professionals in the field of psychology. In one experiment, the research staff at Harvard Medical School discovered the power of music on numerous health benefits including, but not limited to, increased cognitive performance and efficiency, decreased levels of stress and anxiety, exemplified by an average overall blood pressure decrease up to 30 mm Hg. Additionally, music sedates the body and acts as a curing agent or medicinal aid, and improves overall mood, quality of life and behaviors amongst people (Harvard Health Publishing 2011). In fact, a study conducted in New York investigated how effective music is in decreasing stress in some of the most crucial and pressure filled circumstances, like surgery. Scientists observed forty geriatric patients, with the average age of the patient being 74, who were going to be receiving cataract surgery, which is a very tedious and nerve-wracking surgery.

The experiment included “Half [of the cataract surgery patients who] were randomly assigned to receive ordinary care; while the others got the same care but also listened to music of their choice through headphones before, during, and immediately after the operations” (Harvard Health Publishing 2011). Prior to, during, and post-surgery the patients blood pressures were measured and prior to the surgery the patients all had relatively the same blood pressure averaging at 129/82 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and then 159/92 just before entering the surgery. However, the patients’ blood pressures proved to hold a significant difference when looking at their blood pressures post-surgery, dependent upon the type of treatment they incurred: listening to their favorite music prior to, during, and post-surgery or having complete silence before, during, and after surgery. As the doctors had hypothesized, the results proved a significant decrease in blood pressure levels, a direct correlation to overall wellbeing and anxiety levels. The average reduction “was an impressive 35 mm Hg systolic (the top number) and 24 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number)” (Harvard Health Publishing 2011). Although not a part of the exact study and topic the doctors were researching, they also concluded in other studies that the doctors, surgeons, nurses, and staff showed improved signs of calmness and reduction in blood pressure. Therefore, anxiety as well could also contribute to the patient’s calm behavior and mindset because naturally, a confident, calm, cool, and collected surgeon and staff would have residual nerve-calming effects on the patients. While it is true that by nature music has a very calming and soothing effect on the human brain and body as seen in the study described above, scientists have reason to believe that it is brainwashing our society.

The research staff of the Department of Neuroscience at Pennsylvania State University specifically reported on hip-hop music, the genre “responsible for 25.1% of all music consumption in the U.S.” as of 2017 according to Nielsen’s annual report, and discussed how the genre’s catchy beats and lyrics make it extremely easy to miss the shallow, degrading words and meanings to what is actually being said (PSU 2013). Mariyam Saigal, content writer for YourQuote and feminist pursuing a degree in psychology, further expresses this idea as she claims that, “Violent songs [provide an] increase in aggressive thoughts and feelings [and] have implications for real world violence.” She describes how lead researcher Craig A. Anderson, PhD studied how hearing negative, violent words consistently begin to chemically change your brain to rewire into a more maniacal version of itself (Saigal ?). Although music can physically change one’s brain for the worse, it is not an overnight change and even listening to aggressive songs hundreds of times have not proven to directly correlate to a more aggressive person. One must be submerged in the culture of the song to truly experience the effects from it. Other media, including violent video games and watching war or murder documentaries are more likely to have a larger impact on one’s wiring. Subsequently, songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” not only have a calm aspect to them but additionally have positive, call-to-action lyrics. The “brainwashing nature” of music is not necessarily as negative as it may sound but rather with catchy songs like these, people become more thoughtful and introspective when being fed the message of peace and action and positive change in a way that will directly affect their brain. Associating stress-free music with positive words encourages the brain to act on the words it is constantly hearing thereby creating a more peaceful society all through the non-violent message of music.

In an additional point of view, music is the most effective means of nonviolent protest because it has the capacity to reach extensive numbers of people especially due to technology and social media. Music streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and YouTube truly put this into clearer perspective. According to Craig Smith of DMR (?), Spotify has 207 million active users with 96 million being paid subscribers to Spotify Premium (DMR 2019). Additionally, Spotify has over 40 million songs and 2 billion playlists that can be listened to at any time, no cost involved (DMR 2019). With Apple Music being a leader over Spotify, and not forgetting or underestimating the effects of the television or radio still to this day, it is clear how easily accessible music is to whoever wants to listen to it. In January 2018, Nielsen provided statistics looking into the radio listener demographic and found that 22.6% of all Americans listened to the radio on a regular basis throughout the past year proving the radio’s modern relevance despite social media and music streaming websites and apps taking over the market one song a time (Nielsen 2018). Some activists believe that just because music is reaching many people doesn’t necessarily mean that every song is inspiring people to make a change in society.

While this is a valid point, it is important to address that protests such as those against the Travel Ban and the Women’s March “Since January 20, 2017…[have] recorded about 4,296 protests with over 5,402,011 attendees” (Caruso 2017). Although the five million people that protests involve is a significant amount, it is not as noteworthy as the 68.8 million users Pandora has who have the potential of being influenced by music to invoke change (Smith 2019). The large amount of people music has the ability to reach is truly one of its most advantageous qualities. With technology and social media, anyone can access music through streaming sites such as Apple Music and Spotify at the blink of an eye. Despite all music not being protest music and about social change, people have access to this type of music at any time and can experience the true power of song which is stronger than what a few thousand people at a local rally or protest would experience.

All in all, music proves to be the most effective means of nonviolent protest because it can reach one’s subconscious mind emotionally and has the capability to reach a large population through technology and social media. International organizations have appeared to be a potential answer to social problems however, this method of global problem solving is not as efficient as necessary. In a world where violence exists more and more every day, growing just as fast as our problems do, nonviolent action is more necessary than ever, and music is most definitely the way we can conquer social problems and invoke positive social change. Although this is all true, in modern times, humans have become much more ego-centric and self-important leading many artists to only care about making influential, problem solving music if it will boost their own career. Because of this, they run the risk of skepticism from their listeners about the true nature of the artists intent. Artists must look after artists from before them, such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and U2, and stay true to their music in order to be taken serious as artists with a purpose.”

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Music Invokes Societal Change. (2021, Apr 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/music-invokes-societal-change/

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