I’m a little late to this party, but I wanted to say a few words about the Chrissie Hynde brouhaha:
…Chrissie Hynde has waded into another contentious area – the overly sexualised nature of modern pop music.
In an obvious reference to scantily-clad stars such as Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, the former Pretenders lead singer branded them ‘sex workers’ for selling music by ‘bumping and grinding’ in their underwear. The 64-year-old also accused them of doing ‘a great deal of damage’ to women with their risque performances…
Miss Hynde added: ‘I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, I think it’s very much it’s all around us now.
‘It’s provoked by this pornography culture, it’s provoked by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes – but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos.
‘That’s a kind of feminism – but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are.’
There are two messages here. One is that today’s female pop stars go so far in their sexual come-ons, and their scanty dress, that they effectively are porn stars of the soft-core variety. The second is that this behavior creates an atmosphere that provokes and increases sexual assault.
I pretty much agree with the first. I’m not at all sure about the second, and it’s a subject so vast (what encourages sexual assaults and what decreases them, and also how broadly one should define the term “sexual assault) that I’m going to shelve it for now and concentrate instead on the first.
Over the years I’ve watched pop music degrade to the point that it’s so sexually explicit as to be virtually indistinguishable from what was considered to be soft-porn entertainment in my youth. That sort of thing is now mainstream, accepted, and even considered by many feminists to be empowering. Who was the entertainer who made it that way—Madonna (whom I’ve always found coldly repellent—but then again, I’m neither a heterosexual male nor a lesbian woman, nor even a gay guy)? Whoever it was, it’s in full flower now, and even pre-pubescents get to watch, right in the comfort of their own homes.
When I read what Hynde had said, I immediately thought of Allan Bloom’s 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind (not necessarily an obvious segue, I know). The book has long been one of my favorites, and I’ve written about it and recommended it many times, usually in the context of a discussion of education (especially colleges) and PC thought, and the takeover of the university by special interest groups.
Bloom’s book was focused on the university and its effect on our society. In fact, it’s subtitle was “How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students.” You can see the emphasis on colleges, but what is sometimes lost is the second half of the subtitle, the part about impoverishing the souls. In the service of that idea, Bloom mounted an attack on rock and roll music, a critique I thought odd at the time I first read it, and which I haven’t discussed much on this blog when I’ve written about him because it hasn’t been relevant. Now I look back on it and I think I understand better what he was getting at:
Civilization…is the taming or domestication of the soul’s raw passions—not suppressing or excising them, which would deprive the soul of its energy—but forming and informing them as art…Music, or poetry…always involves a delicate balance between passion and reason, and even in its highest and most developed forms—religious, warlike, and erotic—that balance is always tipped, if ever so slightly, towards the passionate. Music, as everyone experiences, provides an unquestionable justification and a fulfilling pleasure for the activities it accompanies: the soldier who hears the marching band is enthralled and reassured; the religious man is exalted in his prayer by the sound of the organ in the church; and the lover is carried away and his conscience stilled by the romantic guiter. Armed with music, man can damn rational doubt. Out of the music emerge the gods that suit it, and they educate men by their example and their commandments….
[Rock music] has risen to its current heights in the education of the young on the ashes of classical music, and in an atmosphere in which there is no intellectual resistance to attempts to tap the rawest passions…[R]ock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire—not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children’s emerging sexuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimizing them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing. Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later…
…[A]n enormous industry cultivates the taste for the orgiastic state of feeling connected with sex, providing a constant flow of fresh material for voracious appetites…
I could go on and on and on quoting Bloom, but I’ll stop there and just say you should read the book, or reread it (Bloom has a whole chapter entitled “Music,” from which I got those quotes). He further ties the sexuality fostered by rock music, and the rebellion against parents and authority that it both reflects and engenders, as generalizing to a more blanket condemnation of parents, authority, tradition, and society, and also to the embrace of leftism: “From love comes hate, masquerading as social reform…In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.”
Bloom’s book was published in 1987, and it was based on his lectures and notes that in some cases were even older. The rock music of that time was chaste compared to that of today (and much of the music was better, too, IMHO). Going back even further, the rock music of my 50s/60s youth was, comparatively speaking, a celebration of puppy love (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”). And yet it contained the seeds of the blatant and loveless sexuality we see today.
I like quite a bit of pop music, especially the music of my youth. However, I find today’s explicit and coarse sexuality in music, that Hynde deplores and blames—and that Bloom already seemed to foresee, although I wonder whether even he would have been stunned by how far it’s come so fast—deplorable. But I’m not the demographic it’s appealing to, and that demographic celebrates and is affected, influenced, and shaped by it.
[NOTE: And yes, the left intends these developments, which suit their purposes admirably.]
ADDENDUM: Here’s one of my favorite rock songs and rock performances. And yes, it’s very orgasmic, but in a different way from what Hynde is describing (and there are no women, except in the audience). I love Mark Knopfler and I love Dire Straits, and this performance occurred in the summer of 1983, a bit before the years in which Bloom wrote his book but roughly during the same era.
Here the sexuality is inherent in the music itself, although there are also some suggestive moves by the performers (not so much Knopfler, who has a cooler quality, but mostly the other guitarists). The “orgasm” part I’m talking about starts at around 7:26 and goes till the end: