Poses big psy­cho­log­i­cal ques­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

lay terms, ear­worm ef­fect means the cease­less rep­e­ti­tion of a piece of mu­sic, of­ten the chorus of a song, in one’s mind. This recog­ni­tion phe­nom­e­non of the brain is the rea­son why some sim­ple pop songs “brain­wash” us into ac­cept­ing them as good pieces of mu­sic.

But the over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar­ity of a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non can­not be at­trib­uted only to a psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, pop cul­ture is char­ac­ter­ized by nov­elty, easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity and dif­fu­sion, and a large au­di­ence. The nov­elty of “brain­wash­ing pop songs” is that it is fast paced. Such songs, how­ever, are quite dif­fer­ent from each other in rhythm and form to suit au­di­ences’ de­mand for nov­elty. The In­ter­net helps spread these songs rapidly among a large num­ber of peo­ple in the short­est pos­si­ble time. And the songs’ sim­ple rhythm and lyrics guar­an­tee that they ap­peal to an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who lis­ten to them.

Pop cul­ture ex­presses (or re­flects) feel­ings com­mon to the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple and thus helps them feel re­lieved. More­over, many peo­ple be­lieve these songs’ catchy but mean­ing­less lyrics and pacey rhythm help them un­wind, in­creas­ing their pop­u­lar­ity.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that another psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, group psy­chol­ogy, too plays a vi­tal role in pop­u­lar­iz­ing “brain­wash­ing pop songs”.

As so­cial an­i­mals, hu­man be­ings tend to get recog­ni­tion and a sense of se­cu­rity from fel­low groups. In pur­suit of se­cu­rity and group iden­tity, peo­ple end up copy­ing oth­ers, a phe­nom­e­non that ex­tends to all walks of life, from food, clothes and cars to travel des­ti­na­tions, films and songs.

As to pop cul­ture, when a trend or phe­nom­e­non be­comes im­mensely pop­u­lar, it trig­gers a snow­ball ef­fect: the more pop­u­lar a trend is, the more eas­ily can it at­tract more peo­ple. This is why me­dia out­lets and even some of­fi­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions have fallen to the charms of Lit­tle Ap­ple— to at­tract more peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

Con­sid­er­ing these psy­cho­log­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics, the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of “brain­wash­ing pop songs” is not sur­pris­ing. “Brain­wash­ing” pop­u­lar trends, in dif­fer­ent forms, are as old as hu­man so­ci­ety. So­ci­ol­o­gist, philoso­pher and mu­si­col­o­gist Theodor Adorno has a pes­simistic view about such “brain­wash­ing” mu­sic. He says pop mu­sic is a stan­dard­ized, de-in­di­vid­u­al­ized (but iron­i­cally pub­li­ciz­ing in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion) prod­uct. The way the au­di­ence ac­cepts pop mu­sic is manda­tory and pas­sive: many peo­ple are brain­washed by such songs be­cause of so­cial con­form­ity pres­sure or the ear­worm ef­fect. He also says peo­ple’s aes­thet­ics will grad­u­ally de­gen­er­ate and be­come in­ac­ti­vate af­ter they are “brain­washed” into ac­cept­ing such mu­sic.

The ques­tion, there­fore, is: Can hu­man be­ings con­quer their psy­cho­log­i­cal in­er­tia, or will they sur­ren­der to it? This is hu­man be­ings’ eter­nal ri­valry with them­selves. The au­thor is a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sul­tant and com­men­ta­tor.

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