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Crisis and Music

In: Film and Music

Submitted By jessicabaca
Words 2336
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Introduction
In this course, we learned many different ways in how trauma can affect people and how trauma can shape the music around us. In this paper, I will reflect on what trauma is and how it can affect people. I will then describe three events that occurred in The United States that had a significant impact on how music changes during periods of trauma. I will first inform you about the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway and how it created Hip Hop culture. I will then look at what ideologies were promoted within country music after 9/11. Lastly, I will look at how Hip Hop artists utilized Hurricane Katrina to point out social injustices that remain in our country.
What is Trauma?
My definition of trauma is that it is a painful event that creates a lasting effect on someone. It can be physical, mental or emotional. The painful event can be either man-made or natural. An example of a man-made traumatic event would be the attack on 9/11 which killed thousands of people. An example of a natural, traumatic event would be Hurricane Katrina, which also killed many people and displaced thousands from their homes. Even though not all traumatic experiences result in death, death seems to be a consistent outcome from both man-made and natural traumatic events.
Trauma and death can affect people differently. The difference can occur on a cultural level, community level, family level, individual level, even a generational level. Many cultures will deal with death differently. Western societies will usually try to distance itself from death. These societies also work really hard to shield their children from death because of the fear that they will be traumatized. Once a person dies, the deceased is then “handed off” to others until they have either been buried or cremated, so that the family will not have to be involved. For other societies, “the disposal of the dead and the accompanying mourning then becomes a social, if not public affair.” (Conclusions I: Implications for practice and policy, Laungani & Young, page 218). They make death more of a community event with families dealing directly with the deceased. Individuals from an entire community will come together for the funeral to pay their respects. “Each generation and each society has come up with its own solutions to the problem of death and has enshrined them in a complex web of beliefs and customs which, at first glance, seem so diverse as to be impossible to digest.” (Death and Bereavement Across Cultures, Parkes, Laungani, & Young, page 4). Individuals also can expect to deal with death differently. The differences from individuals can arise from either how the deceased died, the relation to the deceased, or if the individual has experienced loss before.
Recovery is an important aspect of dealing with a traumatic experience. Depending on the traumatic experience, recovery can occur on a cultural level, community level, family level, and an individual level. Cultures are very different with how they view recovery. The Western societies have had to go through the medicalization of trauma where it has been made into a diagnosable illness. The recovery process for Western societies usually involves seeing a medical doctor and receiving prescription medication to deal with loss. The problem that arises with this, is that this doesn’t allow an individual to go through the time it takes to grieve and work out their feelings. It masks it, and the pain is still there. The recovery for other societies is different because they view death differently than Western societies. Hindu and Buddhists believe in a living/dying cycle that keeps being repeated until they reach peace. Communities can come together to help others in need during traumatic events, which is important to the recovering community that went through a painful experience. Family values also help shape how individuals can recover. For death, some families like to have an open-casket at the funeral. This is to help detach individuals from the deceased, and to see death for what it really is. Individuals may seek others for comfort during traumatic experiences, some may wish to be left alone.
It is important to state again that not all traumatic experiences result in death. It is often that individuals get post-traumatic stress after being in a car accident. Debilitating injuries from anything can also cause post-traumatic stress. When the world in which one may know as “normal” changes, there is no telling in how someone may react to the traumatic event.
Hip Hop in the South Bronx
A significant event that many people do not know about is the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway. This was a traumatic event for many because it displaced hundreds upon hundreds of low income families. The event of this construction of the expressway and this location inside New York is said to be the birth place of hip hop.
The history of the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway is interesting. The construction builder was Robert Moses, and he had built over 600 roads in and around New York City. He was deemed the “master” builder of his time and he played a huge role in the physical shaping of New York City. The big controversy over this expressway is that it was built through an entire neighborhood and it consequently displaced many families from their homes. Robert Caro even argues that Robert Moses intentionally built the expressway through this particular neighborhood, even though there was a more practical option only one block south. Caro states, “If the bulge in the expressway was puzzling to anyone studying it, it was tragic to those who didn’t have to study it, to the people who lived in or near that right-of-way. For to these people, the fifty-four apartment buildings that would have to be destroyed were not just buildings but homes.” (The Power Broker, Caro, page 851).
After the families received their 90 day notice to vacate their homes, another huge problem arose, where were these 1,500 families going to relocate to? “Many had no choice but to come to the places like east Brooklyn and the South Bronx, where public housing was booming but jobs had already fled.” (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Chang, page 11). The stagnant economy and the high unemployment rate created an attraction for criminals. Landlords were anxious about the incoming tenants and sold their properties to slum lords. The slum lords took advantage of a bad situation and started burning these buildings down in order to collect on insurance money because of the dramatic decreases to the property values. Many of these slum lords did not provide water or heat for their tenants which increased the severity of the tenant’s poverty. “The disastrous effects of these city policies went relatively unnoticed in the media until 1977, when two critical events fixed New York and the South Bronx as national symbols of ruin and isolation.” (Black Noise, Rose, page 33). The first event occurred in July of 1977, and has been called the New York City Blackout of 1977. This blackout was caused by a lightning strike during an extremely hot July day. Looting, vandalism, and arson were widespread and the hardest hit areas were the poorest. The second event occurred later in 1977 during a Yankee World Series game and is attributed to the phrase, “The Bronx is burning” (Mahler), where a shot of the exterior of Yankee Stadium is shown and an uncontrollable fire could be seen in the background.
Hip hop culture emerged from all of this poverty and wreckage as a way for the community to deal with their frustrations. Hip hop culture is comprised of many different elements. The first is a “crew” or “posse” that you can identify with, either by ethnicity, language, or where you lived/came from. Graffiti artists that use transit systems as their canvas. Rappers and DJs who relied on recorded sound because instruments were hard to come by. Another element is dancing, or breakdancing which were performed on the streets. Street competitions became very popular between all of these hip hop culture elements and created rivalries between different “crews” or “posses”.
Country Music and 9/11
The ideologies that country music promoted after 9/11 are worldviews that are politically and socially conservative. After 9/11, country music contained a lot of Patriotism and support for the war on terrorism. “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” was a song that was written and recorded by Toby Keith. The song was inspired by Toby Keith’s father who was a veteran, as well as the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The song was a great example of how many Americans felt during the grieving process. Not only did the song help describe how many people were feeling at the time, but it also boosted the morale of the American people and most importantly the troops who were going into war. Toby Keith states in one of the verses, “My daddy served in the army where he lost his right eye, but he flew a flag out in our yard ‘til the day that he died”, which shows how much Patriotism runs through not only his family but through his songs. Another verse, “Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage. This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage. An’ you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. ‘Cos we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” This verse shows the support for the war, which helped pump up the military personnel morale.
Country music is an ideal vehicle for promoting these ideologies because it is known as the “story-telling” music genre. Country music is a very popular genre. They have their own radio stations (94.1 KMPS) and their own television channel (CMT). Country songs are even played on radio stations and television channels. Because country music has such a huge platform, people are easily able to access it and listen to it. Since a lot of country songs are stories, many people can relate to the lyrics. This genre is known to be patriotic and after the attacks on 9/11 happened, a lot of people needed to feel more patriotism. Alan Jackson wrote a great song after 9/11 that everyone could relate to, “Where were you (when the world stopped turning)”. Alan Jackson’s first verse goes, “where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? Were you in the yard with your wife and children or working some stage in L.A.? Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke risin’ against that blue sky? Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor or did you just sit down and cry?” When you listen to the song, you think about where you were and how you felt on September 11, 2001.
Hip Hop after Katrina
In 2005, New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the city was flooded and thousands of homes were swept away with the water. Only the residents who had enough money to leave were able to evacuate before the hurricane hit. The residents who could not afford to leave, or did not have the transportation, were left in the city with no resources. The film, Trouble the Water, gave a documented look at how one couple survived being left in city.
The social injustices that occurred during this tragic event cast a dark shadow over America. This was made apparent by Kanye West, who appeared on television to help raise money for the Hurricane Katrina Relief. Kanye stated, “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re looking for food.” Followed by, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” This infamous statement paved the way for many hip hop artists to voice their frustrations through their music about how the situation was handled by the government. “The reaction of the hip-hop community in wake of Hurricane Katrina offered a reminder of the history, power and potential of hip-hop as a source of commentary, unity and empowerment.” (George Bush Doesn’t Care about Black People: Hip-Hop and the Struggle for Katrina Justice, Leonard, page 264).
Conclusion
Music can change the way people look at the world, which is why it is so important for the grieving process. It can help you move forward from the loss that you experience and help you remember events that happened. A lot of homes and lives were lost during the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. It is also important to note that many kinds of music, from country to hip hop, help not only individuals move forward with their lives but our country be able to move forward.

Works Cited

Caro, Robert. "One Mile." The Power Broker. New York: Knopf, 1974. 851. Print.

Chang, Jeff. "Necropolis." Can't Stop Won't Stop. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005. 11. Print.

Laungani, Pittu, and Bill Young. "Conclusions I: Implications for Practice and Policy." Death and Bereavement Across Cultures. London: Routledge, 1997. 218. Print.

Leonard, David . "George Bush Does Not Care About Black People: Hip-Hop and the Struggle for Katrina Justice." Through the Eye of Katrina. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2007. 264. Print.

Parkes, Colin , Pittu Laungani, and Bill Young. "Introduction." Death and Bereavement Across Cultures. London: Routledge, 1997. 4. Print.

Roberts, Kimberly R, Scott Roberts, Tia Lessin, Carl Deal, Joslyn Barnes, Danny Glover, Todd Olson, David Alcaro, T W. Richman, Amir Bar-Lev, and P J. Raval. Trouble the Water. New York, N.Y: Zeitgeist Films, 2009.

Rose, Tricia. "All Aboard the Night Train."Black Noise. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1994. 33. Print.

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