Social and Musical Norms

After focusing on The Stranger and then how various other works of writing and even films took inspiration from it, I began to think about music. If Meursault goes against social norms by doing things such as not participating in the systems of marriage, love and religion, what does music that doesn’t follow social (or musical) norms look like?

Music, like all things, has been put in a system, especially in the United States. Most ‘mainstream’ music sticks to a few keys, is played on certain instruments and due to other musical laws, has a certain sound. Therefore, bands that do not do these things stick out in a very unique way. One band that stuck out to me was the Dirty Projectors. On their early albums, the Dirty Projectors fight against many musical norms. Strange harmonies, instruments that don’t seem to go together and weird lyrics. Many found the music annoying , jarring and hard to follow. The truth is, by breaking many laws of mainstream music, the Dirty Projectors were bound to offend many listeners. Just as Meursault was driven out of society, seemingly inevitably, music that doesn’t fit the norm is hated on to an extreme.

The Elephant in the Room: Social Norms and Negative Feedback Loops

In “The Elephant Vanishes”, the elephant is able to disrupt society by simply disappearing. With media coverage, police investigations and the main character’s obsessive thoughts, the disappearance is the center of the story and causes a lot of excitement.

The elephant, by simply existing, shook up the lives of the town. The social ‘norm’ was a town that didn’t own an elephant. However, when every zoo refused to take it, they were almost forced into it. The main character’s entire life was also changed when this elephant disappeared. His daily routine shifted and he nearly got a girlfriend, something that was definitely not in his plan for the future.

However, as the story continues, these shifts are corrected, like a negative feedback loop. The big change of the elephant was fixed by its disappearance, and the town was happy to return to normal. They quickly began to forget about the entire event, bringing everything back to the normal baseline.

The main character also returned to normal, deciding not to ask the woman on a date and filling his time with work and ‘normal’ activities, without the elephant.

This entire story felt like it was exposing how difficult it is to truly breakout of a social mold and do something that is different. The people around you and even your inner self will do everything in their power to force you back into whatever societal expectation you have gone against, no matter how small.

Mutual Recognition and Capitalism in America

The entire time I read Benjamin’s theory, my mind strayed to the capitalistic system within the United States, and how it might fit into her theory that both sides have to participate in order for a binary to exist. At first, I questioned if this system even had participation on both sides. How were lower or working class people supporting the system? Why were the supporting the system? Were they even aware of it, and if they were aware, why would they willingly support something that kept them financially oppressed?

I began to think about the history of the United States. Our entire country was built around an idea of independence, especially financial. For years, this idea developed and deepened until it became the backbone of the Republican party. On the surface, it makes sense. Keeping the majority of your hard earned money for yourself, by lowering taxes and putting personal gain ahead of community growth, a person should theoretically be able to achieve the ‘American Dream’ and become very rich. In actuality, this practice has protected the upper class, keeping them rich, while portraying themselves as people who worked a little harder to make a little more.

This is where the bonds of love come into play. By fighting for lower taxes, a working class person might believe they are on track to achieving the ‘American Dream’. The upper class, however, continues to prosper and get further ahead, deepening the wealth divides, often while encouraging lower economic class people to support this system. Both sides contribute and keep this system in place, creating an endless cycle of wealth disparity with no end in sight.