In 17 days, I will graduate from Goshen College. I feel like I have accomplished pretty much everything I came here to do and have learned pretty much everything I came here to learn, except for one thing that has haunted me, day in and day out:What the heck is “culturally progressive music”?
I’ve tried my very best to figure it out, I really have. I even took Introduction to Radio last semester and did weekly shifts on the radio. I spoke the words, “You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, your station for culturally progressive music” into the microphone multiple times an hour, and still, I don’t have the faintest idea what it means!
So with less than three weeks left in my college career, I have decided to get to the bottom of this — and I won’t be settling for a vague explanation about a mix of Americana and Triple-A music, because why are those genres more culturally progressive than others?
To begin, let’s unpack the phrase itself first, starting with some definitions. To understand what culturally progressive music is, we must have a common understanding of culture.
Sociologist Abraham M. Francis defines culture as “A total way of life of a social group, meaning everything they are, they do and they have. It is a complex system that consists of beliefs, values, standards, practices, language and technology shared by members of a social group.”
Let’s just sit with that definition for a second.
According to Francis, culture is a total way of life for a social group. What social group is the Globe referring to? Goshen College? Northern Indiana? College Radio fans? The United States? Dare I suggest that the culture of the Globe is more representative of a few individual music preferences than any larger cultural group?
And if culture is just a collection of “beliefs, values, standards, practices, language and technology” that a group possesses at a certain time, how can it be progressed? What even is progress? Doesn’t progress imply a destination, or maybe a higher ground that someone is searching for? But a higher ground in what respect? Musically? Morally? For culture to progress towards a higher ground, someone must serve as the judge, defining some cultures as better or worse. Who is judging the progression of the Globe’s culture?
And if the Globe is so concerned about progressing our culture, why is there such an emphasis on oldies? Does this mean that by the Globe’s standards, the past was actually more culturally progressive than the present? If we are concerned about our current culture and moving it towards some destination, shouldn’t we be focused on current music? The stuff that is making waves and actually shifting culture? Dare I suggest Beyonce, Taylor Swift, BTS or Bad Bunny? Instead, the Globe is playing songs like “The Cumberland and the Merrimac,” a five-minute song detailing a civil war naval battle. Who was the Civil War buff who decided that song is “culturally progressive?”
Writing this article has helped me reach the conclusion that “culturally progressive music” was most likely chosen as a slogan simply because it sounds cool and neatly relates to GC’s whole “culture for service” thing. And something about it has to be working because the Globe brings home loads of awards each year. Maybe, just maybe, the whole point of “culturally progressive music” is that nobody dares challenge it because it sounds so impressive.
Of course, I don’t want to just be a slogan critic without offering any alternatives. I admit that “culturally progressive music” has a nice ring to it that would be hard to replace. So I’ve taken the liberty of developing a few slogans of my own:
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, your oasis from those other radio stations”
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, the only radio station that will reliably play Girl Named Tom”
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe: learn about the Civil War via song!”
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, your spot for everything that isn’t pop, hip-hop and rap”
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, the place your ears enjoy”
“You’re listening to 91.1 The Globe, the best kind of music for an emergency”
You see, there are so many possibilities for future slogans! I won’t be around next year, but maybe the next time I visit Goshen I’ll turn the radio to 91.1 The Globe and hear a refreshing new slogan. That would be, in my opinion, a very culturally progressive thing to do.