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The Inclusive Vision

Essays in Honor of Larry Gross

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Edited By Paul Messaris and David W. Park

Larry Gross is one of the most influential figures in the history of media studies. In this collection of original essays, his former students reflect on his groundbreaking contributions to three major developments: the emergence of visual studies as a distinct field of media theory and research; the analysis of media fiction as a symbol of power structures and a perpetuator of social inequalities; and the growing scholarly attention to the relationships between mass media and sexual minorities.

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8. The ‘Thing’ About Music: Hearing Power at the Nexus of Technology, Property, and Culture (Aram Sinnreich)

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8. The ‘Thing’ About Music: Hearing Power at the Nexus of Technology, Property, and Culture1

ARAM SINNREICH

One of the more pernicious myths of our times is that music is a thing. This assertion, though easy enough to refute, is reinforced regularly by a broad variety of interests that are invested, for an equally broad variety of reasons, on insisting upon its thing-ness.

The most obvious example is the role of music as a commodity in the contemporary “music industry.”2 Producers, printers, recorders, sellers, licensors and distributors of musical scores and records have a longstanding economic interest in the thing-ness of music for the obvious reason that a thing can be manufactured, bought and sold. Of course, in order to achieve these economic ends, a social intervention is first required: A bait-and-switch operation in which the commodity is effectively substituted for the ineffable and very non-thinglike thing it commodifies, thus transforming the nebulous participants in the musical process into starkly opposed producers (those within the music industry’s castle walls) and consumers (the vast majority of us who now find ourselves locked outside).

This process, in turn, requires that we justify the erection of such walls through the normalization of the concept that music is a special aspect of human culture, divorced from its other, more mundane aspects (e.g. eating lunch, taking a shower); that musicians are a special type of human uniquely suited to...

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