Thinking Out Loud

June 24, 2014

Radio is No Longer About the Music

When I was in the 6th grade, I had pretty well solidified my career goal: To work in the television industry. Not in front of the camera, or even operating a camera, but in the control room or behind the scenes. Later on, this objective widened to include radio; an industry where you were both host and producer of what people heard. I’ve been told many times I have a great face for radio.

I realize that in 2014 radio is not the primary delivery method by which people are exposed to new music. There is always someone who has heard of a new music channel available for phone or laptop. But I miss those old days, and I especially miss listening to the announcers talk — what was called patter — between songs. I still go on YouTube and look up airchecks some of the original rock stations that were part of my growing up, WLS-Chicago, WNBC-New York, WOWO-Fort Wayne, WLW-Charlotte, CKLW-Detroit/Windsor, WKBW-Buffalo, WCFL-Chicago, WABC-New York, WXYZ-Detroit and some of the stations in Miami and greater Los Angeles I got to know later on.

radio-towerI love listening to the DJs talk. The cadence, the rhythm, the emphasis, the seemingly endless passion. “Be the sixth caller when you hear the secret sound and you win one-hundred dollars.” My goodness. A hundred bucks. Just for calling in. (Later, I would be such a lucky caller, and won a small sailboat, but that’s another story.)

Back then, the deejays talked about the songs. The singers. The album the song was from. The studio it was recorded in. The fact they were touring and doing shows in Dayton and Cincinnati and Lansing and Bowling Green, Kentucky. I got out the atlas to find those cities. There was a song about Bowling Green and I loved the name and wanted to go there. My friends said I was a walking encyclopedia when it came to music, and much of what I knew, I knew from listening to the guys — and it was always guys back then — on the radio. Some announcers picked all their own music, too — it was the days before everything was formatted in a highrise in Nashville — and it helped that they had a love for what they were playing.

What sparked all these memories was something that happened a few days ago as we were driving home and had the radio on in the car. I realized that the DJ wasn’t talking about the albums, the songs, the music at all. One singer just got married. Another was divorcing. Two of the guys in this band were gay. Two of the girls in that band were living with two actors who were starring in a current film. Another singer is suing his neighbor. Yet another is involved in a custody suit with his ex-partner for custody of their child.

I recognize that people want their radio announcers to seem close to the stars; they want to feel that the guy playing the music is just two or three degrees of separation away from the artists he or she is playing; or that they actually met backstage at a concert or at an in-studio appearance at the station. People want to think they have a sense of intimacy to their music heroes, and today opportunities exist whereby you can, in fact, send a note to a celebrity and get an actual, personal reply. Not often but it happens.

As we kept driving, I tried to find some common interest in all the marriages and breakups and shacking up, but failed to see how this was anymore relevant to the music than the relationship status of the guy who had just changed the oil on the car, or the woman who had rung in our groceries. Just as sure as water seeks its lowest level, radio had succumbed and now could only reflect the shallowness of the broader culture. Studios? Songwriters? You’d have to read the credits, but they are buried in one-point type in the booklet that comes with the CD, if you ever actually see a physical disc for that artist at all.

Decades ago Time Magazine did a piece when “rock ‘n roll” was emerging and observed that while outwardly this was music that highlighted drums and guitars, it was more than that; it was about the clothing and the hairstyles and the attitudes. Rock culture was born. Teens put pictures of their idols on their bedroom walls. I realize that is a fact of life where music is concerned, but it strikes me that today’s kids are missing out if they listen to radio at all, or whatever is the modern equivalent for the distribution of information about the songs and the artists. It’s all about who is having sex with who.

In my younger days, I would watch Entertainment Tonight. The show was all about the movie, TV, music and publishing industries. They showed how the stunts happen, how the songs get recorded, how the contestants get on the game shows. Today, ET has morphed into a celebrity gossip show and spawned a host of imitators. Talent has been replaced by looking good.

Some parents point their kids toward Christian radio as an alternative. It’s supposed to be safe. But even there, many times the DJ patter is borrowed from Facebook and gets preoccupied with the relationships between the band members, or the number of awards that singer has received, or the fact she gets her clothing from the same designer who does more famous people. How about, “This song is based on a phrase that occurs in Psalms;” or “This group takes there name from a verse in Jeremiah;” or “This song is about a woman who was a faith hero from back in the middle ages.” Maybe those songs don’t exist anymore, either.

I have no conclusion here. Tag me under #lament. I just wish things were different both for Christian radio and the broader market, because last time I checked, radio is still out there, cars still come equipped with them, and satellite providers still include a cross-section of radio stations in their basic packages.

 

 

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July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


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