It began with melodrama, and morphed to silent movies. In the absence of the spoken word, music has long created interest and drama for all manner of entertainments. The affected Big Emotion of the era before method acting took root was always greatly enhanced by a good score. Music started it – we could have an orchestra play music before we could record anything. Then we could take pictures but not do too much with sound.
And now we can do it all. Recording technology is now used to resolve the imperfections of the performers. So important is sound and music design to modern cinema that several Oscar categories exist to raise the bar. A good soundtrack is often mentioned before the screenwriting, in fact. The differences between an Philip Glass scored movie and a John Williams scored movie are appreciable to virtually anyone. While nobody buys screenplays, movie soundtracks have long been a robust area of sales for recording labels.
In the realm of the creative arts, I think it’s all wonderful. Drama and creating drama through music can greatly increase the emotional qualities of movies. They can help us fall into a story. Music is the ultimate mnemonic. What would Breakfast at Tiffany’s be without Moon River?
But in the realm of television, I fear we’ve gone off the rails. Not since childhood have I been a consumer of popular television – other interests consume me. I know I miss out on some quality stuff; people I know and trust tell me so. One exception to my non-viewing habits for much of my adult life was cable news. I was a veritable junkie for the stuff. At some point during the first Obama administration, I just unplugged from it entirely. I truly believe my newfound ignorance of that genre has made me a better person. The world is not the black and white place that Cable Television News needs it to be. The phony anchors in no way represent the reality they purport to explain. The whole enterprise is a laughable farce of capitalism.
But every once in a while something happens in the world and Cable News is there. I am forced by my principles to take some interest in the upcoming presidential election, for example. The battle for my side of the ballot (no national party is really on my side, so I have to just go with the most progressive of the two) is heating up, and CNN featured the first debate of the least dark-side-of-capitalism-owned candidates on Tuesday night.
About 10 seconds in, I was instantly reminded of the parlor trick of dramatic music to create effect and interest. About reality. People standing up there taking positions on things that matter is not enough, viewers’ brains and ears now get guided to what producers believe are the most important (read most sell-able) moments with swelling musical gestures. The music creates no meaning, adds nothing to any policy discussion, and is only meant to increase the entertainment value of a culture that already has, as a frontrunner for one of its major party tickets, a bankrupt casino magnate cum reality television star.
It’s all I can do to sit through cable news broadcasts anymore, but sometimes my duty as a citizen calls. I’m writing about it here because I find it a truly sad state of affairs when music helps to ruin something.
Thanks for reading.