Essay: Music in conveying Southern Gothic aspects

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published on: March 23, 2018
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What does one typically think of when they hear the word, “Gothic?” Usually, the picture is dominated by the color black. One may even go as far as Satan, metal spikes, or an abundance of piercings. However, despite the existence of people who considered Goth, there are actually many different definitions. The definition of what is considered to be Southern Gothic Fiction has stemmed from European influences, where there was a great fear of rationalism and radicalism. Since then, its parent genre, Gothic Fiction, has grown to include representations of extreme circumstances of terror, oppression and persecution, darkness and obscurity of setting, and betrayal of innocence. Southern Gothic Fiction builds on that to include representations of unrequited love, repressed feeling and desires, exaggeration, and mental instability. The knowledge of many of these topics would benefit readers in how they go about their lives. Knowing about the negativity of oppression and persecution has allowed society to grow into a more accepting atmosphere. Although the knowledge about these subjects lie simply in a Southern Gothic novel, today’s generations are pulling further and further away from literature and are becoming more knowledgeable about society’s music. This regression suggests that Southern Gothic music is more effective than Southern Gothic literature in conveying the Southern Gothic aspects to modern day generations through music’s ability to reach large groups of people, its conveniency, and its ability to set a framework of emotion.

From stadiums to concerts to radio stations, music has always been a key part of each medium. The song by Queen, “We Will Rock You” is a tradition to any spirited sports game that gets each opposing team and fans to shake their bodies. Concerts are held for rock music, rap, pop, classical, metal, and even underwater instrument playing. Radio stations make a living off of playing the latest top hits to entertain those that listen. What most don’t know about what they listen to is that some of the classics are actually considered to be Southern Gothic music because they cover themes of love, grotesques, exaggerations, unrequited love and more. Artists such as Johnny Cash, Hozier, Darius Rucker, Dan Tyminski, and The Band Perry’s have all created songs that fall into the Southern Gothic genre. Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” is probably the more commonly heard out of these artists. Lyrics such as “A fresh poison each week” and “Offer me that deathless death” and “She’s the giggle at a funeral” depict Southern Gothic aspects of grotesques, love, and oppositions. This song was originally recorded in 2013 but was released in 2014 and became so popular that it was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2015 Grammys. On YouTube, the song is up to 189 million views. All those people have now heard some of what the Southern Gothic genre has to offer and may have even gotten the song stuck in their heads for awhile.

Songs like this can be easily played over a speaker system to reach large groups of people. Communal activities almost always have some type of music playing. Whether it’s a party or a parade, songs are chosen to be played to entertain the attendees. A research report on millennials and live experiences conducted by Eventbrite discovered that 4 out of 5 (78%) of Americans, in just the last year, have attended a live event, from entertainment-focused experiences such as music concerts and beer festivals to marches and rallies. Each event features music as “background noise” or featured events. The reason, as research suggests, that millennials are so supportive of communal activities that play music is their strong desire to connect with people. Unlike literature, in which it takes more time to reach people and decreases the level of social interaction, music that is considered Southern Gothic has more of a chance to reach large groups of people in modern generations.

One could argue that literature in general, not just Southern Gothic, provides a more in-depth literary experience. Unlike music, literature has an indefinite amount of time to convey background knowledge and details. However, the price of this in-depth experience is what it does on the mind. For those with reading deficiencies, literature isn’t something wonderfully artistic, but something that is scary and stressful. Dyslexia is a common reading disorder in which the person has trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of those letters make. Unlike literature, music accounts for those reading disorders through the use of sound and bypasses the difficulties that surface. For those that don’t necessarily have reading disorders may relate more to a poor attention span. Reading puts a strain on the eyes as they move back and forth which invokes tiredness. When one tries to continue to read, words and pages start to blend together and hardly anything is comprehended. Music only relies on the ears, and/or sensation for those that are hard of hearing, which eliminates that tiredness feeling.

Another benefit of music in conveying Southern Gothic aspects, as well as any aspects, is its conveniency. The only thing that would inhibit someone from listening to music, other than personal preference, would be a complete isolated area in the middle of nowhere. When driving to work in the morning, songs are played on the radio all the way up until it is shut off. When watching videos on the internet, almost each one of them has some type of background music. For those that work-out or go to the gym, a pair of earbuds isn’t far away. Music has always been one of the most common pastime activities.

One extremely helpful phenomenon that music seems to have is an improvement in memory. Typically, short-term memory only lasts about 15-30 seconds and has an average retention rate of about 6 or 7 items. However, when music is played, memory seems to improve to remembering for a longer amount of time, as well as an overall increase in the amount of retained items. A study conducted by William Balch, Kelly Bowman, and Lauri Mohler studied the effect that music has on memory with undergraduate volunteers in 1990. These professors discovered that while hearing a piece of a particular background music while being given a word to remember had an significant effect on their ability to recall the word after a 48 hour period. Another study by Patricia Purnell-Webb and Craig Speelman on the Effects of Music on Memory for Test found similar results. They examined the effect of repetition of a melody across verses, familiarity with the melody, rhythm, and other structural processing hypotheses to explain this phenomenon. They discovered an increase in the number of verbatim words recalled and the number of lines produced with correct syllabic structure. There are many more studies like these that support the effect that music has on memory and stretch from something as simple as cramming for a test to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

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