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English language article: Let's not compare apples to oranges

Over the last few years, I've seen more and more articles on facebook that claim to prove modern music is weaker and much poorer from a lyrics point of view that music from the era of our parents / our grandparents / that chubby woman what had the fish shop - you Do remember her ! / Mozart etc. - and it's getting on my wick a little bit.

Of course I have nothing against these authors' right to uphold an opinion on the matter of musical richness, what I don't like is sloppy science and poor proof. I deeply dislike thinly veiled attempts to manipulate our way of thinking until we believe something that is not at all proven by the author of the article.

Let me explain what I mean. The articles in question usually put two extracts of song lyrics side by side - the first being from a bygone era of wonderful magic and marshmallows and the second being a piece of shit rap from now. A famous example was the 'Who Run the World' vs 'Bohemian Rhapsody' debacle and here's my current favorite (by 'favorite' I mean 'the one that makes me want to poke my own eyes out and run howling through the streets'):

Led Zeplin (1974)

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
Kind woman I give you my all, kind woman, nothing more.

Nicki minaj (2012)
You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe, you a stupid hoe (yeah).

"Look, see!" says the author smugly "I have provided you with incontestable proof that music is getting poorer with the years. I have done your thinking for you, like, so don't go checking my facts or poking about in my process though, yeah?" (a particularly nasty version of this kind of article currently claims that because of NLP, the simple and evil messages of modern music are nefarious for our young... what is wrong with you? Why don't you want to protect the babies? OMG. Are you Hitler?!!!)

Of course, when we look at the example above, we cannot dispute that the older song has a richer lyric than its newer counterpart. That's not what bothers me here. What bothers me is the attempt to make us believe that this is the same thing as 'music is getting a bit shit as the years go by' - which I do not believe to be the case.

All that is proven by the author's juxtaposition of lyrics is that a song that he deliberately chose for its lovely rich lyrics has richer lyrics than one he deliberately chose to be poorer than the rich one. Let's make it into a simple equation:

Rich song a (from year x) is richer than poor song b (from year y)

That is not the same thing as:

All songs from year x are richer than all songs from year y

This is called a logical fallacy and they are often used by mistake (people mistakenly parrot an opinion they heard and thought was cool without thinking it through - otherwise known as 'if I put this on my status for an hour, people will think I'm well deep, like') but sometimes it's done on purpose as a blatant attempt to manipulate the way people think and the conclusions they reach.

This particular example is called a composition fallacy ) it just means 'pretending that because something is true of part of a whole, it must also be true of all the other parts' - for example, my neighbour was from Scotland and he never put his hand in his pocket, so you know... (clever manipulation attempt : all Scottish people are mean) - now re-read that statement and replace 'Scottish' with 'Asian' and 'mean' with 'untrustworthy' and you'll see why I'm so strongly against this kind of manipulation tactic.

Let's get back to our Led Zep and Nicki Minaj comparison, what has actually been shown is:

an element of group a ('songs of 1974') is richer than en element of group b ('songs of 2012')

BUT what the author (and unwittingly all those who share it without thinking on facebook) are trying to make us believe has been proven is:

all elements of group a are richer than all elements of group b

Which of course would suit the author because it upholds his basic premise that music is getting poorer with time (in actual fact, even if he had demonstrated that group a was richer than group b - it still wouldn't prove that music is getting poorer). We could very easily find many counter examples, but they wouldn't prove anything either. Here's one anyway, just for a laugh:

Ringo Starr (1974)
oh my my, oh my my, can you boogie, can you slide?
Oh my my, oh my my, you can boogie if you try.
Oh my my, oh my my, it's guaranteed to keep you alive.

Gavin degraw (2012)
If you ask me how I'm doing
I would say I'm doing just fine
I would lie and say that you're not on my mind
But I go out and I sit down at a table set for two
And finally I'm forced to face the truth,
No matter what I say I'm not over you, not over you

Did I just prove that 70's music is poorer than music from 2012? Of course not! I compared two songs that I chose on purpose to prove what I had decided I wanted to prove before even going on google. This is not proof of anything, it doesn't respect scientific process and it's not playing nice when it comes to presenting your arguments - quite frankly, it's taking your reader / listener for a bit of a thicko and hoping you can get one by him whilst he's studying the fluff in his belly button.

I don't really have a conclusion to this (rather shouty...) article - I think it's just a call to reason, really. Let us compare the comparable, let us stop manipulating data to 'prove' whatever we choose and let us stop sharing things on facebook without thinking because we think they make us look, like, totally deep and stuff - at least without stopping for a minute to see if we truly agree with the sentiment expressed. (If I receive one more picture of a sunset with a Native American proverb or other deep quote on it, or powerpoints of kittens and dolphins doing kitten and dolphin stuff so I too can learn to be a kitten and a dolphin and stop world pollution and stuff - the previously mentioned howling through the streets incident may actually happen !)*

My opinion on all of this is (and I'm saying my opinion to avoid being guilty of a fallacy myself!): Music is fine in 2014, just as it was in 1974.






* or that bloody letter from Brad Pitt to his Wife...