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  • The year is 2050 and a homeless man comes skipping past you whistling an unfathomable tune, and your first reaction is “Wow, is that guy on music or something?” In this future world, music has been heaped into the same grubby pile as drugs and prostitution. Maybe this future is not too far away.

    After all, a drug could be described as substance that, when consumed by a person, alters their state of mind as a result of the effect of that substance on the brain or nervous system. This is, to a certain degree, exactly the effect that music has on the average individual. And when someone is addicted to a substance they have a compulsive need to continue using it, regardless of the negative consequences of doing so. Again, the ambiguity of the above statement is very evident. Sure, music is not strictly ‘addictive’, but it can certainly evoke psychological dependence.

    "I do it before a fight… to get me pumped up."
    Ricky, (32) Amateur Kickboxer

    Drugs also cop the blame for many violent crimes. The flow-chart would go something like: substance abuse, addiction followed by subsequent crimes to fulfil that addiction. Similarly, heavy metal bands are deemed responsible for violent acts such as school shootings. For example, if one remembers the infamous Columbine High School killings in the April of 1999, you will see that the press places much blame on the heavy metal music the two antagonists listened to. The press even went as far as naming the bands they allegedly enjoyed, as if they were directly responsible for the shootings.

    Keeping with the heavy metal theme, this genre even affects the pattern of a spider spinning a web. Yes, you read that correctly. Fricken spider webs. In fact, scientific studies revealed that spiders spinning webs while under the influence of the hallucinogenic drug, LSD, actually spin similar webs to those listening to heavy metal music. Yet one of these is an illegal substance and the other is defined as a past-time. Of course, a spider cannot tell the difference, but that is not the point. Why is everyone choosing to play dumb, as if music has no effect? Is someone pulling the wool over our eyes?

    It was not too long ago when smoking was considered trendy, stylish and was largely unregulated by governments. Influential tobacco companies campaigned hard to make sure their product was on the end of everyone’s lips. Iconic actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean puffed away vigorously, securing countless new customers in doing so. In fact, the tobacco companies exercised so much power over the masses that in 2002, the United States government filed a case against a leading tobacco company accusing them of, amongst other things, “a criminal conspiracy that sought to cover up the dangers of smoking; misleading the public on the dangers of second-hand smoke; covering up the addictiveness of nicotine; deceptively marketing “light” cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes; deliberately targeting young people to recruit new smokers; and deliberately refraining from producing safer, less addictive cigarettes...” The success of the cigarette lasted for decades then it finally dawned on health departments the world over that sucking smoke into your lungs was a health risk, which created the stigma smoking now has and contributed to its demise in popular culture.

    "It just makes me feel so good, I wish I could do it all the time."
    Xavier, (22) IT Developer

    Could this be compared to the music companies of today and how they influence us? According to, the big four music labels (Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI) account for 70% of music sales worldwide and 85% of music sales in the U.S. Yup, that’s four companies controlling 70% of what we listen to. Despite the rather clean cut image mainstream music has today, let us not forget the explosive start that the rock ‘n roll genre had. Within months of its birth, the genre was deemed too aggressive and supposedly incited rebellion and angst amongst its listeners. There was a concern whether it was ‘safe’ or not to listen to rock ‘n roll. Decades later, the genre is still surviving, if not thriving with the help of the new MTV generation. The original furore and ruckus it caused has subsided and music has retained its safe unassuming image without too many negative connotations.

    Yet another correlation between drugs and music comes to light in the Opium Wars of the 1800’s between the Chinese Qing dynasty and trading companies of Britain and America. Simply put, these companies, under instruction from their governments, were illegally exporting (read: smuggling) large amounts of opium to China in hope of disrupting their nation. Needles to say, a population under the influence of drugs is difficult to control. In addition, the British and American government, through their control of the opium supply, were exercising a measure of power over China’s inhabitants and therefore her government.

    "It helps me stop thinking about all the shit in my life... it helps me escape."
    Amanda, (35) Unemployed

    This can be compared to the current void between the Islamic world and the Western world. In an attempt to preserve their culture, many Islamic countries resist Western music as well as the culture and values (or lack thereof) that are associated with it. Here, we could view the West as the ‘opium exporter’ and the Middle-East as the unwilling recipient of a western musical smorgasbord complete with cultural references and mini-skirts. Additionally, with music being available so freely nowadays, the Middle-Eastern governments are fairly powerless to stop the influx. There is evidence of this cultural hegemony across the globe as western music infiltrates virtually everyone consuming mass-media.

    So, it would seem that music shares many characteristics of substance abuse. Why is this? Why does something so powerfully mind-altering not have any negative undertones attached to it? Why is it not even partially regulated like so many other mind-altering things in modern society? Time can only answer such questions.
    Thanks to Christopher de Beer for the idea =)
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