Rafael Calvo

As metal shutters
rattle around him,
a whisp-haired man

with yellow fingers
and grey,
cracked teeth,

trudges towards
his corner stand,
his spot for thirty years,

where he shrouds
himself in clouds of smoke
and waits,

with the sound of bells
ringing in the distance.

The Great Gatsby

For generations of young (especially Ivy League) Americans, Gatsby and the whole Fitzgerald myth has had the same destructive effect as Brideshead on a certain type of English youth. Nearly all countries have some national variant of this: novels that slipped their moorings and epitomised a certain aspiration. Read in the right — or rather the wrong — way they may be the epitome of style. But how strange it is that so many books that should be read as a warning get read as a yearning. Gatsbyinvites us to wallow. Doubtless in the coming weeks we will again. But we ought not to‘.

The not so great Gatsby‘ by Douglas Murray for The Spectator 

Too much is enough, Tulisa

Bono, the lead singer of Dublin-based rock band U2, asserts that ‘music can change the world because it can change people,’ and indeed it does – both positively and negatively. Commanding the potential to transcend all boundaries of communication, it is one of the world’s most influential cultural forces. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow states, music is the ‘universal language of mankind.’ Those that can successfully harness its power can influence the beliefs of individuals significantly as a result, and there is one group of individuals that is often affected in particular: adolescents. Helping them to ‘create a personal identity’ as they provide ‘information about society, social and gender roles, and expected behaviour’ in their work, musicians can become a young person’s role model. On the website LAyouth, 18 year-old Nancy Berabe writes that Bob Marley’s reggae music is what she looks for ‘every time I need some uplifting,’ motivating her ‘to overcome the tough times I encounter each day.’ After being reprimanded for not attending school once when she was 13, Nancy says that it was Marley’s lyrics: ‘There you are crying again / But your loveliness won’t cover your shame’ that made her ‘reflect’ on her actions and thus ‘encouraged’ her to attend classes each day. Music has had a profound affect on 17 year-old Mark Riviera, too: ‘popular opinion controlled my ideas,’ he says, ‘until I heard Bob Dylan sing, “Gonna change my way of thinking/ Make myself a different set of rules.” The lyrics inspired him ‘to see the real world,’ taught him ‘to appreciate life’ and thus helped him to become ‘a real person,’ – ‘the person,’ Mark says, ‘that I am today.’

Music, then, is a changeable force for young people in the modern world, and the significant impact musicians can have over adolescents subsequently brings about a degree of responsibility in regard to what message(s) they communicate through their lyrics and music videos. However, rather than embracing their influence over them, some musicians in the UK’s pop music industry abuse the power their music has granted them – musicians such as Tulisa Contostavlos. Regardless of whether she does so intentionally or not, Tulisa promotes binge drinking – one of the UK’s most dangerous (and common) nightlife activities – in the second single taken from her debut album, ‘Live It Up’. By definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, binge drinking is ‘the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.’ Consequently, there is an unequivocal correlation between the definition of binge drinking and some of the song’s lyrics and video content. Throughout the song, Tulisa, a 24 year-old singer-songwriter who originally found fame with the Camden-based hip-hop group N-Dubz, sings on three occasions: ‘put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough,’ a lyric that, along with the song’s opening line: ‘We should pop more champagne this year,’ firmly suggests alcohol is something that can be consumed excessively. The image of a young woman being held upside down as she drinks from the spear of a beer keg then provides evidence of alcohol being consumed in a short period of time. The Urban Dictionary defines this stunt as a Keg Stand: ‘the act of guzzling alcohol in an inverted position in massive quantities, with onlookers cheering.’ It also explains why the young girl, who does indeed appear to be surrounded by cheering onlookers, is upturned in the video: ‘there is a common myth that by being positioned upside-down during the consumption of beer, the alcohol will reach the brain more quickly.’ This romanticized portrayal of binge drinking is dangerous: there is no hint of the violence, unprotected sex and vomiting that it can often instigate in reality. If they watch this video and listen to its lyrics, adolescents in the UK, who already have ‘some of the highest levels of teenage binge drinking, drunkenness and alcohol related problems in Europe, may subsequently assume that alcohol is a harmless substance and that binge drinking is socially acceptable. However, with one mother writing on Tulisa’s Facebook page (without any hint of irony): ‘she is such a great role model for young girls,’ it seems that some parents are worryingly oblivious to this notion.

In April 2011, Ofcom, the UK’s regulatory authority, deemed the lyric: ‘You want some more baby? I love the way you do it cos you do it so crazy’ as ‘unsuitable’ due to its breaching of rule 1.3  – even though ‘it does not contain an explicit sexual reference, it ‘is ambiguous in its meaning, and is unlikely to be understood by children as specifically referring to sex’. In ‘Live It Up,’ though, there is no ambiguity in its lyrics: ‘Put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough.’ It is an explicit reference to drinking alcohol excessively, thereby promoting a substance that is considered to be the ‘most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin’ – even ‘more harmful than heroin or crack’. Therefore, when it surpasses the standards of what regulatory authorities regard as inappropriate in other contentious issues, how is ‘Live It Up’ not also considered to be the same? By portraying alcohol as something harmless that is fun to consume excessively, she contributes towards the ‘culture of intoxication’ that has recently emerged among the UK’s adolescents. However, perhaps a more perturbing notion to consider is: what motivates Tulisa to advocate binge drinking to her audience? Though she obviously does not advocate it with the specific intention of causing harm to them, Tulisa, a self-proclaimed’ inspiration for broken Britain’ sings about binge drinking deliberately; she knows the subject of alcohol will appeal to her audience. In the article ‘Why Do Students Love Booze,’ for instance, one university student in the UK says: ‘alcohol is seamlessly ingrained into the majority of most students’ lifestyles,’ whilst another describes how they go out clubbing ‘several times a week,‘ an activity that has also become increasingly popular among party-going under-18s with the introduction of ‘kids’ events at nightclubs. Of course, Tulisa, who was recently described by one teenage fan as ‘an inspiration to all the young,’ is not the first pop musician to publicise subjects that will appeal to their listeners. However, she is one of the first musicians to promote such dangerous activities as binge drinking to an audience that includes adolescents and children. In future, then, perhaps Tulisa should use her power over adolescents in the same way we are all encouraged to drink alcohol: responsibly.

This article is compiled from edited sections of ‘Music: how does it effect today’s youth?

Published on The Student Journals.