Going Viral: Modern music’s effect on our identity

By Samantha Apanasewicz
Pop Culture Columnist

It is a surprise to no one that the media we consume impacts our lives. Whether it influences our habits, mental health or subconscious tendencies, the music we listen to matters. This is why it should be no surprise that general family dysfunction runs rampant in the society of today.

Mary Eberstadt, author of “Primal Screams,” dedicates chapter two of the book to her theory of “The Great Scattering,” which attempts to explain how each level of biological identity has been stripped from society. Throughout one section entitled “Gone Child,” Eberstadt discusses how the themes of many Top-40 artists have reinforced and perpetuated the theme of family rupture.

“Broken homes have been raising fundamental questions of identity for a long time now,” said Eberstadt. “Family rupture, family anarchy, and family break-up had become the signature themes of Generation-X and Generation-Y pop music.” These are also the words cited from a 2004 essay called “Eminem is Right,” published by Policy Review.

Our generation and the generation before us are obsessed with the nostalgia of the early 2000’s. Among that nostalgia resides music produced by Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg and Eminem. All of these artists and more have created music with lyrics inspired by their experience growing up in family dysfunction, usually caused by fatherlessness.

“Today’s music is full of the theme of abandonment. It is insistent about exposing the damage done by broken homes, family dysfunction, and most especially absent fathers,” said Eberstadt.

The mistakes of these artists’ fathers are being perpetuated through society, subconsciously enforcing such behavior instead of looking to change it.

As far as how these aspects affect one’s identity, Eberstadt claims that “the effect of family decline on the sense of oneself was already being writ large across popular music.”

This effect on one’s identity manifests itself in a multitude of ways, including confusion, yearning and anger.

“For example, the confusion of not knowing whether one is the parent or the child could be expressed as an anger at parents for not being parents,” Eberstadt said.

This is often the case for children of separation and divorce; their situation forced them to mature quicker than is developmentally healthy, a feeling that is becoming more and more mainstream.

Eberstadt said that as a result of family dysfunction most often caused by fatherlessness in the early 2000’s, “many other pop songs from those years and beyond express longing for another, better life—one might say: another, better identity.”

It is only natural for children to learn their place, and therefore their identity, in relation to their father. As fatherlessness continues to wreak havoc on the nuclear family, children will continue to feel ungrounded as a result of an identity crisis.

I can see a pattern of circular causality here. The effect of fatherless homes molds the youth of the next generation with resentment. They, in turn, grow up, and their work reflects themes from their past, inadvertently recycling the normalization of that behavior back into society. History may not repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme.