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Music, Identity and Consumerism

Reading popular music in the context of merchandising raises questions about the intersection of music, identity and consumerism. Popular music today cannot be easily separated from the process of commercialisation, and t-shirts, posters and collectible trinkets are as much a part of music as the music itself. In this environment, it is thus not surprising that many choose to ‘display’ their musical preferences (or ‘loyalties’) through material exhibition. We can understand this process to be a form of identity construction. But the question we have to ask is, “who’s doing the constructing?”


Is the market shaping or conditioning its audience to think that that they are a certain kind of fan? If so, what tools are available to the music industry to achieve this?  You might like to think about how people construct and express a sense of their self through their consumption of merchandise that marks them as fans of a certain artist, band or music genre. How might we read, for instance, the willingness of people to buy and wear ‘band’ t-shirts? Does this choice render them hapless consumers – walking billboards, if you like – who are simply ‘buying into’ an image that has been produced (and reproduced endlessly) through magazines, fanzines, web-pages, videos and TV shows? Or does this signal a conscious form of identity-construction?


Language plays a vital role in shaping identities. A particular society’s expectations of how and what language should operate is just as important as an individual’s ability to speak one or more languages. The choice of English as the primary medium of communication in Australia appears to be a logical one – part historical accident, part economic pragmatism in light of the widespread use of English in international trade today. Perhaps more controversially however, English is widely considered to be the language of unity, of ‘Australianness’. The debate over whether or not migrants must be able to speak English revolved around concerns that a non English-speaking migrant would not understand or adopt ‘Australian values’.


But what are these ‘Australian values’? Are they genuinely specific to English-speaking Australians only? Does language itself bring with it an inherent value system? Can a migrant who cannot speak English ever be considered to be a ‘Dinky-di Aussie’?


The popular media can be a major influence on self-identity. Celebrity role models, advertising, and advice columns send obvious, if often contradictory, messages about ‘the self’, while other cultural sites, such as TV shows and films, offer a range of identity images that viewers may or may not identify with. In what ways does the popular media represent/misrepresent you? How are these images constructed? While some people might say that the popular media imposes images on us, others see the audience as more active, with individuals or groups generating their own meanings out of popular culture. How do these theories fit with your own experiences?


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