Music #1

As an undergrad, I was a DJ for my college radio station, which maybe sounds more impressive than it was (or maybe not) since the station's signal barely reached the ~400 souls that made up the entire student body. If I remember correctly, I scheduled my show for Sunday nights at around 10pm and played for two hours. I don't know how the kids do it now, but this was before digital files really took off, and even burning a CD was a chore, so I pretty much played the same stuff every week, all from my collection. I'd load up a bunch of CDs into a duffel bag, and haul 'em up three flights of stairs to the little studio at the top of the same building that housed the post office, dining hall, nurse's office, and more.

I thought of my radio show recently, in thinking about sensitivity and language, as one of the primary reasons (at least, it seems to me) that so many Americans voted for President Elect Ozymandias, was backlash at so-called political correctness. There was a strong desire to reward someone who felt free to say whatever they wanted, however uniformed or horrible or hurtful, without consequence. Because although we have freedom of speech in the United States, we are not free from social disapproval. And it seems a lot of people conflate social disapproval with state-sponsored censorship. All of this is exasperating on any number of levels, but I think it's worth pointing out that we all say, privately or semi-privately or publicly from time to time, some pretty unsavory things, and sometimes without realizing it. And to me, part of maturing as both an adult and a citizen, has been to reflect on how what I say and do affects other people for better or worse, and to try and minimize the worse.

I named my radio "Welfare Music," after a song by the alt-country band The Bottle Rockets. Among other reasons, I liked the way it looked on the posters I made, and I thought it made a statement about the type of music I was playing, from the less commercial corners of folk, country, and rock. I remember someone calling me out on this. I don't remember who did, or even if they called me out directly. But I heard that someone or maybe a few people were upset about it. I didn't fully understand why, but I didn't change it, not out of spite, but because I didn't understand it. And it may go without saying that I didn't know anything about welfare, its history, its connotations, its necessity, or the feelings of people who rely on it. The Bottle Rockets probably did, and they turned it into a song, but I was just using it casually, as shorthand, to brand this little thing I was doing, at an expensive liberal arts college in Vermont.

Guilt is not a good word to describe how I feel about it. Shame, maybe. Regret, definitely, that I wasn't mature enough to take seriously the feedback I received, or investigate the gesture I was making, however small in the grand scheme of things. Political correctness, and I think Internet technology makes this effect worse, is interpreted by some as a tool of shame, when it can really be a way of getting people to think harder, think slower, and learn more about their world. To take other people's lives seriously, and with dignity, and not just something to play with without care or heed.