Pseudo-Context and Music’s (Ir)relevance

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman described the idea of a pseudo-context: “a structure invented to give fragmented and irrelevant information a seeming use. But the use the pseudo-context provides is not action, or problem solving, or change. It is the only use left for information with no genuine connection to our lives”. Entertainment, then, is the only objective for a pseudo-context. Postman listed crossword puzzles and trivia games as examples.

Music today thrives on fragmented variety. Programs are thrown together mixing Debussy with Mozart. Radio shows have hip hop and hard rock playing consecutively. Bands throw a funk song in their alternative set. The reason for these fragmentations? “Just because”. And with music being put in forms that drains context and content, what could these mediums be used for? Soley entertainment.

The fear here is that music events might become psuedo-contexts. That is, if they aren’t already.

To restore a sense of meaning and relevance with the music we present, to create sincere contexts where music can affect people’s lives intellectually and emotionally for the better: that is how we pry music from pseudo-context’s clutches.

Easier said than done. And even said it’s still vague in what’s to be done. Yet the discussion is as important as what is being done. We need to ask ourselves how music is being presented and how it is treated because of it.


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