During last class we focused on the Great Migration and how that affected music preferences in America, and so this class we focused on white migration, namely during the early 1900’s and with a boom during the Great Depression. They moved into cities for better economic opportunities, and like with the Great Migration, brought with them a nostalgia for the positive elements of country life they had left behind. There were multiple levels of displacement with the style of Country music that evolved from this situation; first of all in the theme of some of our earlier discussions, records themselves were a displacement of time and space as pictures and railways were. When a record was recorded, it was a moment in time and space that would never happen again being preserved forever. Country music was understood at the time as Country people looking forward to the advantages of their new city lives, combined with a nostalgia for their old way of life, something that artists such as Hank Williams tapped into. Most of his songs were about people coming from a slower, country way of life dealing with situations they find themselves in while living in the city. Another slightly earlier artist named Jimmy Rogers, considered to be the first country music star, capitalized on this trend in a more obvious way; in his recorded performances he dressed up in rough country clothes with a country backdrop behind him. For country music stars of both that era and today, and really in any sort of music, there is a pressure to fit a certain image or idea that certain artists should dress a certain way, and if they don’t then they are not “authentic” enough for audiences.
One of the main points we talked about this class was The Great Migration, and how the changing social and racial structure of America changed and affected music in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Because of the influx of African Americans who had formerly lived in the country to major cities like Chicago, the style of music heard in those places changed. Unfortunately the Great Migration was a not a happy one, but was born out of a need for African American families to flee the south for their safety, and to escape monstrous injustices. Jim Crow laws disenfranchised and discriminated against African American people, starting mostly in the 1880’s and 90’s, and escalating quickly into violent lynchings and torture. One of the things that I found especially sick about the whole process is that postcards of the lynching were sold afterwards, and people who attended would send them to their family members like it was just a fun day out with the family. It honestly horrified me. And the fact that it only stopped when the NAACP started reprinting the postcards in their magazines and the audience changed from a white audience to an outraged African American audience is also extremely troubling. Anyway, the Great Migration lead to a nostalgia for the familiar country life in cities, and so country and folk artists came into demand. Sold as “Southern” records to both white and black people living in the cities, they were a way for artists to integrate behind the scenes without being in the public eye. I thought this was interesting, that black and white artists could collaborate on a record, but the same artist couldn’t perform together in public.
One of the big topics we started to get into this class is the relation between music and race relations in the US. The first thing we looked at was the difference between the beat structures of New World music with European origins, which emphasizes the 1 and 3 count, and Afro influenced music which emphasizes the 2 and 4 count. This was something I had never realized before, but could definitely recognize when I thought about it and watched the examples in class, and I had the same reaction when it was pointed out that songs by traditional black artists tend to have a lagging beat when compared to white artists. This lagging beat gives the song a more sensual, relaxed, and laid-back feel that a lot of white artists can’t achieve with their energetic, fast-paced leading beat. There was also a weird displacement thing going on between the entertainment production companies and black and white artists, for example Louis Prima was an Italian American man who grew up in New Orleans and was influenced by the music style of the predominantly black artists who lived there. He made a name for himself as a white artist who imitated “black style” and when Disney was producing their animated film
The Jungle Book, they cast Prima as a pseudo-Louis Armstrong character, King Louis the Ape. The association with a black artist being portrayed as an Ape in a popular and respected film of the time is bad enough, but the fact that it isn’t even a black artist playing the character is just an example of so many weird levels of displacement in the industry at the time, and the lingering white fascination for what they view as black culture.
This class we moved away from our previous discussions of computers and those sorts of technologies and started to focus more on the political and social implications of music. One of the main examples of this that we discussed were minstrel shows, and how they represented both blatant racism and a fascination for “black culture”. Humans have always been fascinated by what we deem as “boundary transgressing animals”, or people/creatures that do not fit into the categories that we as a society have come up with. One of the concepts that stuck with me this class is the idea that “pop culture is weird, politics is very segregated.” Which is something that I never realized, and I thought it was weird when it was first brought up, until I thought about it more and realized that in every example I can think of, political change has been brought about because of social change, not he other war around. Action happens in the political sphere because the citizens of the nation fight for it, I can’t think of any policy enacted that did not a first have a majority of the people behind it. Except maybe prohibition but we fixed that fairly quickly. The idea that the minstrel shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were anything but a racist caricature of black culture used to propagate negative stereotypes of the black community had never occurred to me. I mean they still are terrible racist caricatures, but the fact that in a historical sense, they illustrate a fascination with black people and black culture that I had never realized was in society at the time. That white people could make and pass laws limiting the basic human rights of black people, lynch them, and then the next day be entertained by a show claiming to portray black culture is fascinating in its hypocrisy to me.
The industrial production boom that started during WW2 gave us our first electric computer near the tail end of the war in 1944. Where we had had analog computer based on gears for years, this was the first example of a computing technology based on electric signals, and it was created for use by the military sector to help calculate missile trajectories. This was significant as it was the first large-scale use of the technology of converting numbers into electrical signals and vice versa, forever changing the computing industry and turning the process into one people couldn’t see, unlike with gears. And while WW2 may have sparked military computing interests, we can thank the Cold War for many of the modern innovations we take advantage of today when we use our personal computers. The internet, for example, was formed out of a need for physicists and scientists to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with one another when it came to developing weapons technology. I think its very interesting and even a little sad how much military spending influences our technology, I never knew that so much our daily technologies were brought about because we were afraid of what another country might do to us, which I think says a lot about us as people, that we really aren’t willing to invest a significant amount of resources into a project unless it has some sort of potential military benefit.
One of the main concepts we focused on this class is the signal to noise ratio. The definition of signal is “a gesture, action, or sound that is used to convey information or instructions, typically by prearrangement between the parties concerned.” and the definition of noise isa sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.” according to Merriam-Webster. Basically, signal is the meaning of what you want to hear in a message, and noise is anything you’re not intending to hear. It can be electrical interference in a message, ads on a website, the sound of children yelling or an annoying roommate talking too loudly on the phone. I’d never known those definitions of the words so I found that interesting, as well as our discussion on Claude Shannon. Even though I didn’t entirely understand everything going on during that discussion, I still found it fascinating and a little disturbing that Shannon’s assertion that all computing can be solved through a series of “yes or no” questions. It’s odd to think of all the complicated technology being as simple as that.
We started the class with the understanding that modern computing and computers arose from the technology created from the pressures of the Cold War. We spent a massive amount of military money at this time on manpower, new forms of weapons technology, and weapon systems, which had never been done before. I was surprised to learn that an important part of the US military history is that before WW2, the policy of the country was that there should be no standing army, and that in a time of war America would mobilize and demobilize its army quickly. Between the increased demand for military technology and the advanced information management systems that lead to modern computing, most of our current technology arose from systems and ideas created by men such as Meigs, Weber, and Babbage. This leads to a question we discussed when we read Carr’s book The Shallows, do our minds adapt to the new technology we create, or is this technology simply an outward expression of how our minds already work? I’m inclined to believe it’s a little bit of both. Carr laments the days when we weren’t on the internet or our phones all the time, complaining that it has made us unable to focus on one thing at once, bit since when has multitasking been a negative thing? Using myself as an example, I oftentimes do something productive, like knitting, while I catch up on my favorite shows, and I do believe because of the technology I grew up with I’m able to divide my attention this way. My mind would become bored with doing just the knitting, just as I would become bored trying to write an essay I wasn’t particularly interested in, and so I play some classical music so I can still concentrate on my task and my mind doesn’t wander. I believe instead of the simple answer of whether technology influences the mind or if the mind influences technology cannot really be answered, but it instead cyclical. Yes technology alters our minds as we grow, and then those people create new technologies when they are adults, which influences a new generation who goes on to create better and faster systems, and so on and so forth.
This class we discussed the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, I wasn’t in class for the discussion as I was sick, but I was intrigued by his thoughts and analysis of our media culture. He states that our consumption of technology and our access to vast amounts of knowledge through our connection to the internet is changing the way we think, how our brains work. As a nursing student, what I found most interesting about the book is his connection to synapses, part of the neural tissue and how our neurons communicate with one another. As we grow, so do our number of synapses, usually until some point during puberty when they are ‘pruned’, or in other words, the ones we don’t use are destroyed. Carr’s argument that we are becoming hyperactive and unable to give our full attention to one thing at a time is connected to synapses and this pruning process. He states that since we are no longer working as hard for the information we are getting, it is affecting the number of synapses that are formed and then pruned, we are literally killing our brain cells by looking at a screen.
This class we focused on the technological advances of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, and how they affected the perception of man’s place in time and space. There were more technological advances in the West during that time than in any other period of history before or since, so much so that people were afraid of the ‘annihilation of time and space’ through new inventions such as the telegraph and railroad. People could now communicate with technology over vast distances, and no longer were bound by the confines of horses, they could travel incredible distances in just one day. Where you lived no longer constrained you. This was the beginning of the change in man’s perception of the world, distance was becoming irrelevant, and with the first photograph in 1834, time was also changed. Photographs were different from portraits and anything else that had ever come before it; with a photograph the exact moment in time that is was taken was forever preserved, like a message from the past and that scared people. People’s sense of Time was also displaced through inventions such as the electric light and the standardization of American time, when before everyone had gone by the sun and every town had their own variation of when the day started, this was no longer feasible when people began to be able to travel longer distances in a shorter amount of time. This also worried people, because since they told time by their specific place in relation to the sun they were following the “natural” order of things, or “God’s” order, and by Man declaring their own time zones and standardization they were disrupting that order and placing themselves above God. it’s odd to think about how so many of the technologies and viewpoints we take advantage of today were so mindblowing less than 200 years ago. While I knew that the inventions themselves were revolutionary and scared some of the population, I had never thought of how they could affect people’s views of the world and their own place in it.
Today in class we focused on differences in perspective between modern day and in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s. We watched a short film in class that was made in 1903 I believe, called ‘Life of a Fireman”? “A Fireman’s Life”? Something about a Fireman. We analyzed how filming and storytelling style in the movie differs from our modern-day styles, and what this reveals about our differing cultural perspectives with the advent of technology. In the Fireman movie, the scenes are long, continuous, and extremely focused on narrative action, while the camera doesn’t pan around at all during or between the scenes. It stays completely still and in one perspective during each long scene of action. Why film this way? Why don’t we film professional movies this way anymore? And what does this tell us about differing mindsets between now and the time the film was shot? We contrasted this movie with a scene from a famously realistic movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, and found that the way in which the perspective in “Saving Private Ryan” jumps from flying in the air like a bird, to being Tom Hanks, to being Tom Hank’s friend, to being in the water itself is not actually as “realistic” as it claims to be. It does give a sense of realism, we have at least a few different shots from the view of the characters, but no real person who was watching the historical event the scene was based on could’ve jumped from all those different perspectives, and especially not in the span of a minute. While in the Fireman movie, our perspective was consistently that of a bystander to the action, an actually realistic perspective. So why do modern viewers see “Saving Private Ryan” as the more realistic movie, and the other one as dated and fake-looking? This illustrates one of Carr’s main points in The Shallows, have we simply adapted our minds to be more familiarized and used to the technology we’ve been exposed to? And what does that say about us as a society, that we view the impossible scenario as more realistic than the natural scenario? What does that say about the influence of technology?