To understand the immense power of music on girls and all of us,
it is important to explore the history of emotions surrounding musical
performance (Gencarelli, 1993). Music is clearly connected to our
feelings and emotions. Music has been perceived as a threat since
Plato and Hsun Tzu wrote about humanity being overcome by emotion
when hearing music. It was then feared that one's emotional response
would cause rationale and logic to suffer. Music is a tonal analogue
of emotive life. Music appeals to our feelings because it presents
symbolic "forms" of feeling. They [symbolic forms] are
experienced and processed holistically (Langer, cited in Gencarelli,
1993). Music evokes an emotional response in a listener and we "know
it when we feel it." Currently, we as a society, continue to
possess an incredible fear of music due to its unexplainable connection
to our feelings and emotions.
Paradoxically, despite some parental and societal fear of music,
popular music has served the important purpose of helping many pre-adolescent
and adolescent girls to uncover different aspects of their identity,
as well as to form relationships with one another through their
music usage. For example, pop music by 1960s girl groups spoke to
young girls powerfully because it gave voice to the contradictory
selves in girls struggling through crushing insecurity to forge
a coherent identity (Douglas, 1995).
Girl groups in the 1960s, and most all musical artists and bands
throughout the last 40 years are produced and managed by men. Despite
their control, female artists' pop songs present contradictory messages
about female sexuality and rebelliousness that are often poignantly
and authentically expressed. Pop music was and still is simultaneously,
deeply personal and highly public. There is a significant camaraderie
that exists for females in their cultural experience of pop music.
Douglas (1995) said: "Music exerts a powerful influence on
us, one that we may barely have recognized, because of a process
of identification. By superimposing our own dramas, from our own
lives, onto each song, each of us could assume an active role in
shaping the song's meaning. Songs that were hits around the country
had very particular associations and meanings for each listener,
and although they were mass-produced they were individually interpreted.
The songs were ours, but they were also everyone else's. We were
all alone, but we were not really alone at all. In this music, we
found solidarity as girls." The meanings one negotiates from
a media text (popular song) differs for each individual person.
This is an important aspect of media literacy that, viewers/users
negotiate or individually construct meaning (Aufderheide, 1997;
Considine, 1995; Hobbs, 1998). Yet, together people can socially
construct their reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1967).
Music is a communication that need not be limited to analysis of
lyrics, but music, style and context, as well. Musical work can
not be separated out from its performance. Audiences experience
music, for the most part, in performance. An artist(s)' distinctive
sound also includes a mediated, visual image or actual physical
presence that accompanies it, except in radio listening. Where or
how one receives the lyrics, music, style or accompanying persona
of a performer create the context of the musical experience (Gencarelli,
1993; Goodwin, 1993).
Music videos are used, in part, to construct identity, both for
the performers and the viewer (Jhally, 1990; Cole, 1998). As a genre,
music video has adopted mass media images of women that often use
pornographic ideology and conventions. Music videos send explicit
messages that reinforce female gender identity as overtly sexualized.
The number of objectified representations of women partially defines
for the music video viewers and the larger culture what gender roles
are acceptable in our society. Women are subordinated and their
sexuality is exploited. The eroticization of female submission and
male dominance is commonplace. As offensive as this image of women
is, this medium has great cultural currency among many adolescents.
As girls look for information to help inform them of how to create
their sense of self, they often spend considerable hours in contact
with music television. Repeated viewing of music videos can contribute
to girls' constructing their social reality.
Social reality is not a given or fixed construct. The media are
crucial symbolic vehicles for the construction of meaning in girls'
everyday lives. Audience analyses that have been undertaken with
adolescent girls reveal that they struggle with media representations,
but are ill equipped to critically analyze or resist them (Durham,
1999). Peer group activity and social context affect adolescent
girls' interaction with mass media, especially in terms of their
dealings with issues of gender and sexuality. There is a shift from
thinking of youth as objects of adult practices to active participants
in the process of interpreting and framing their own social realities,
in the context of large and small social structures (Durham, 1999).
We know little about the influence of the mass media in girls' or
boys' construction of gender and sexuality and need more study.
Music videos contribute to young girls defining themselves and
one another by the standards put forth in soft pornography, as a
sexual object or commodity. Some female viewers may interpret video
images of what women "should be" by mass media's patriarchal
standards. Music videos' influence needs to be weighed and situated
in the larger context of information that young women, and specifically
my subjects, are using to conceive of their sense of self (Cole,
1998; Jhally, 199O).