Ragtime: A Reflection Of American Culture Essay

When the United States was founded in 1776, it was a nation of Christian individuals. According to One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society; “In 1776, every European American, with the exception of about 2,500 Jews, identified himself or herself as a Christian. Moreover, approximately 98 percent of the colonists were Protestants, with the remaining 1. 9 percent being Roman Catholics (Kosmin&Lachman). ” Although America was never established as an officially Christian nation, it is plain to see that the founding fathers and inhabitants intended for America to follow a code of morality found along the lines of the Bible.

Looking at America 200 years later, its people and their culture are not where they started. According to Anthony J. Marsella, Ph. D, “(American Culture is) an emerging cultural ideology that accepts as normative, violations of human decency and morality by promoting illicit behaviors (e. g. , violent murder, torture, rape, pedophilia, incest, pornography, substance abuse, sadomasochism) involving all ages. This is manifesting itself in literature, movies, music, and television”.

We can denote that American Culture is growing more secular and further away from the principles of its founders, which is reflected by the stark changes to its music industry from the late 1700’s compared to that spanning from the early 1900’s to the present day. During the 1700’s, America did not have the music industry that exists today, as there were no recording studios or radio stations. This did not prevent artists from creating musical works. Songs during this time were focused on more traditional concepts such as war and spirituality.

The main records of songs we have from the 1700’s are the Negro Spirituals which included African American hardships as well a call for God to deliver them. Tunes such as “Yankee Doodle” and “Johnny’s Gone for a Soldier” were popular during the late 1700’s and served as battle anthems intended to boost the morale of soldiers and their families. These songs reflected the culture of the time because the majority of people were focused on establishing their freedoms or fighting against their enemies (Songwriters Hall of Fame). America’s music industry as we know it began around the 1900’s.

As Americans were seeking to develop a culture strictly of their own, away from the British influence, ragtime style music entered the scene. Ragtime was a uniquely American style of music to reflect the growing patriotism of the culture. In 1897 ragtime was popularized by composers such as Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb, bringing about a marked end to music influenced by the British. It was around this time when American culture was expanding and evolving at a rapid rate. Cultural expansion led way to flappers as well as rampant alcoholism.

Flappers were women who promoted sexually promiscuous clothing and were a reflection of American culture beginning to loosen the reigns on morality. Americans were beginning to realize who they were as individuals. As a result, they began to branch out in new ways. In the early 1900’s, country, western, and riverboat music had its inception. These new genres of music defined the personal lives and culture in America. By the 1920’s, America’s culture had a greater sense of freedom and expression reflected in their music. The next major change in music reflecting American culture occurred during the 70’s.

Americans adopted softed senses of morality which was exhibited by the rampant adoption of the illegal use of marijuana. With this freedom and openness, people began to create new music. In 1978, the hip hop genre of music entered the scene. For almost the first time in music history, profanity was included in songs, a true sign of American culture’s turning towards secularism. In 1981, MTV made its debut on television. This new medium of music helped the industry to grow stronger. In 1982, Michael Jackson released his iconic “Thriller” music video including the concept of the living dead.

Groups such as Metallica and Nirvana also emerged. These bands continued to reflect the degradation of our culture as they began to write songs objectifying women as well as honoring Satan in such songs as “Devil’s Dance” by Metallica and “Come as You Are’ by Nirvana. Entering the 2000’s, America’s culture was on a downward slope. In the 2000’s less people attended church than ever before with only 37% of people describing themselves as born again Christians (abc news). Secular humanism is the number one belief held by the popular media. Instead of freedom of religion, there are organizations seeking freedom from religion.

Prayer is no longer allowed in schools, and if someone is a Christian, they are now considered a minority. Music from the present time is the antithesis of the music that started our nation. Lyrics today are filled with profanity and the “clean” versions of some songs by popular artists could more accurately be named an “instrumental” version. Beyond the actual profanities, the overall message of today’s popular songs has shifted even further away from God. The majority of music is now centered around sex in a way that sex outside of marriage is not only accepted, but it is glorified.

Women are objectified in many modern songs and are not described how one should describe a person created in the image of God. Americans have shifted away from God and their culture has followed suit. This shift in ideology has created the demand for songs with content that is being produced today. If the culture did not demand it, the music would not be produced. America has lost sight of its basics which is was founded on. It was started as a nation of Christian people, but now is a nation of people who have lost sight of where they started. America now embraces immorality as defined by the Bible.

In order to see a change in the content of our popular music, we must see a change in our culture. The decision is our’s, as stated by Barbara Kingsolver, “… It is only we, the people, who have the power to demolish our own ideas (p. 74). ” It isn’t our music that has shifted our culture, but rather our culture that has shifted our music. This nation’s shift towards immorality is clearly observable in the degradation of the content produced by our music industry. If we want to see a turn back to the song content of when our nation was founded, we must first change the moral standards of our culture back to how they used to be.