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The power of music is not fully appreciated. For hundreds of years, the art of music has evolved from modest one note beats to complex layers of multiple notes. Music might have started simply as a form of audible entertainment. But, since then, it has also become a tool for propaganda and a powerful instrument to influence people.
Music has inspired great artists and philosophers and, in some cases, the great artists and philosophers have served as the muses for some of the rich, multisensory music we know and admire today. This is true when one compares and analyzes the philosophy of Karl Marx to musician John Lennon’s composition entitled Imagine.
In 1971, John Lennon released his popular single Imagine. At present, Imagine is still very popular. The lyrics provide topics for discussion that are still relevant today. The song Imagine is a dream. It is an idea that living in a utopian world is possible. It can be argued that Karl Marx’s ideas influenced the creation of the said song. The proponent of this paper will defend this assertion by analyzing both the lyrics to the song and the idea of Karl Marx.
At the same time, the following question will be answered: 1) Why has this song become so popular and why does it have a great appeal on listeners?; 2) Is it possible to build and live in a utopian world based on the ideas of Karl Marx?; and 3) With regards to the interpretation of the lyrics and the interpretation of Marx’s ideas, how was it applied in a real world setting?
The popularity of John Lennon’s Imagine never waned from its release in 1971 to the present day. There are only a few songs that endured the test of time. Songs that remained relevant are not ordinary songs but works of art that are meaningful and evoke a great deal of emotions from its listeners.
It is important to determine the popularity of the song before it can be connected to Karl Marx. The simplest explanation with regards to its popularity is the Beatles phenomenon of the 1960s. If John Lennon’s band, the Beatles, was very popular in the 1960s, then, the name Lennon is easily recognizable a decade later.
It can be argued that there were numerous fans of the Beatles that were still interested in the lives of the former band members. Therefore, when it was announced that John Lennon’s produced a new album and that one of the songs in that album is a composition entitled Imagine, it was easy to understand why a horde of loyal fans will buy the album. However, to attribute the popularity of the song to the Beatles phenomenon is not entirely correct because many year later, people continue to listen to the said composition.
Another possible explanation is the charisma and talent of John Lennon himself. It is important to point out that even without the Beatles, Lennon can easily become an influential and popular artist. According to one historian, “he was a mass-mediated star, a creation of his time, a construction who was discussed and debated in public and given meanings by other people” (Makela 236).
Lennon’s legendary status in the music industry is a valid explanation for the popularity of the song. But there were other artists who were accorded the same status as Lennon and yet some of their songs are not as popular anymore. Therefore, the popularity of the song Imagine must also be attributed to the song itself. A very good explanation can be seen through the following commentary:
The genius of this composition is the marriage of Lennon’s controversial lyrics, that is, imagination of a world without religion or civil states among other things, with instrumental music that could very well have accompanied the sentimental, melodramatic compositions of the pre-rock era. The tension in this song is created by the juxtapositions of a pretty and understated melody with a radical message (Bielen 90).
In other words, this song is well-crafted work of art. It was not done haphazardly. There was a clear purpose in the mind of the composer and lyricist. There was a reason why a particular melody was used. More importantly, the words were not chosen in random. This particular song is an anthem. It is a declaration that emanated from the heart of Lennon. Thus, this song was not created for entertainment purposes only. It was created to influence people.
The popularity of the song is not just due to the appeal of Lennon and the beauty of the melody. The song continues to be popular because of the radical message it contains. Consider the first few lines of the song. It provides a suggestion to the listener and invites him to imagine that there is no heaven.
The impact of the first salvo was cushioned by the assuring words that it is not difficult. It went on to suggest that there is no hell and ends with an equally radical assertion that there is nothing above but only sky. If taken together the song challenges the normal conventions of society.
Lennon made the declaration that there is no God. The end result, according to Lennon, is a mindset that is only preoccupied with the present (Wesson 21). One can just imagine the impact of these lyrics to those who were brought up in a religious manner. Consider the reaction of church leaders who can easily characterize the song as sacrilegious. But Lennon was just warming up.
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Lennon did not spare the politicians and the leaders of civil society. The song’s second stanza provided another set of radical messages. The composer suggested that there is no such thing as a geopolitical state. Lennon believed that politics and obsession with nationalities and ethnicities are the major causes of conflict. Lennon made the declaration that if nations eradicate the concept of a national state, then, those who believe will experience life in peace (
In the first three stanzas, Lennon made the suggestion to eradicate the concept of religion and nationality in order to live in the moment and to live a life of peace. But, in the process, Lennon did not only suggest the destruction of social institutions. Lennon also challenged the root cause of inequality.
In his mind, poverty is the result of greed. If people learn how to live every moment as if it was there last, then, they have understood the essence of the song. However, it is imperative that Lennon must provide an alternative scenario if national governments are no longer functional.
In the latter part of the song, Lennon offered a solution. He said that people should have no possession. It must be clarified that the alternative solution to the problem is to establish a utopian society wherein the citizens are prevent from acquiring non-essentials. In other words, Lennon wanted to remove these vices because these are not pre-requisites. These factors continue to influence thinkers and philosophers alike.
It can be argued that John Lennon was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx (Elster 12). The lyrics found in the latter part of the song suggest a utopian world, a world that can be created using the ideas found in Karl Marx’s work. It was Marx who provided a clear understanding of social forces that shaped the modern world.
He traced the root cause of the problem to conflict between different groups of people in a particular society. At the latter part of the discussion, more people became aware of the futility of traditional social conventions. Marx was a German philosopher who lived in London. He was convinced that at the core of the problem is the struggle between social classes (Williams 25).
Marx philosophy was a byproduct of his time. He was deeply affected by the circumstances that surrounded him. For example, he saw the impact of urban sprawl as well as the contentious relationships between an employer and employee (Popkin & Stroll 16). Marx said that social stratification is not practical and effective. Marx also suggested that it in order to experience a radical transformation it is important to remove all social institutions that are supposed to help people but in reality caused them pain.
The primary goal, therefore, is to eradicate these social institutions and replace it with a utopian community based on the ideas of Karl Marx (Gillham 34).
A Marxist form of utopia was expected because of the removal of social norms that was believed to be the root cause of the problem. But when applied in a real world setting, the experiment in the former Soviet Union and Cambodia failed. Consider, for instance, the impact of Marxism in the former Soviet Union and their failed attempt to develop a utopian society:
Seven decades have passed since the Bolsheviks came to power, but Soviet society is still poorer than the capitalist West and not very egalitarian, either. Alas, much of the history of the USSR may be thought of in terms of social catastrophe – war, famine, poverty, heartless administration, and militaristic expansion. Only after the death of Stalin in 1953 did a more humanitarian spirit prevail and the well-being of the people received due attention (Matthews, 1989).
In the case of Cambodia, the revolution was led by a mad man called Pol Pot. He too wanted to build a utopian society. Pol Pot believed that it is only possible to build a Marxist utopian world through the total eradication of social classes. He incorporated Marxism into his mental framework.
But Pol Pot went further and did not only develop a political party to support his views; he also initiated the mass murder of intellectuals, the professionals and the middle-class of Cambodia. During that time period Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and their bodies were dumped in what will be known all over the world as the killing fields (Pouvatchy 440).
When Pol Pot secured his political and military power, he went on to build a utopian society free from the social stratification found in most countries. He envisioned a society without professional titles and without a hierarchy (Zacek 21). Everyone was supposed to have equal stats. More importantly, he abhorred technology and ostentatious display of wealth.
Pol Pot did not succeed in the creation of a utopian society. In fact, he subjected Cambodia to terror. There was no happiness and there was no peace. When social conventions were removed a utopian society was not immediately created afterwards. But instead of creating a blissful community, the absence of social conventions resulted in chaos, poverty and violence (Gamble 1993).
In the case of the former Soviet Union and Pol Pot’s Cambodia, there were deliberate steps made to ensure that there should be no dominant social class. The Soviets boasted of a centralized government because they believed that a government must serve its people and not the other way around. But, instead of the creation of a utopian society, the centralized governance of the Soviet Union created problems for the people.
In the struggle for equality, the Soviets inadvertently proved that there is no such a thing as a utopian society that can be built on the basis of principles gleaned from the study of Marxism. But it was able to prove that coercion and manipulation cannot be sustained in the long run. It is much better to govern people without the need to intimidate and coerce. Another major realization is that it is impossible to build a utopian society where people do not work. The dreamy existence that Lennon envisioned is impossible to accomplish.
It is interesting to note that although Pol Pot did not hear the song composed by John Lennon, Pol Pot successfully developed a way to apply the principles seen in the song. Pol Pot did not believe in God as well as heaven and hell but Pol Pot made the attempt to personally apply ideas that he believed will lead to the creation of a utopian society. But he was wrong and as a result, the whole nation suffered due to various unintended consequences.
It can be argued that in order to establish a utopian society, the primary requirement is revolution. In the case of Pol Pot realized that a utopian society is only possible if he can turn Cambodia upside-down. But Pol Pot’s major miscalculation is the need for many people to die.
Lennon’s goal was three-fold. He wanted people to live in the moment. Lennon dreamed of a society where people are not forced to work like those workers in the factory. But, in the case of Cambodia and Pol Pot, the people had to work as farmers. They had to perform back-breaking labor in order to support the community. The same thing can be said about the inefficient production models of the former Soviet Union.
John Lennon had another dream. He wanted people to live in peace. But the application of Marxism in countries like Cambodia, China, Russia and North Korea produced a great deal of conflict within their respective societies. In a godless state like North Korea and the former Soviet Union, it required heavy military presence in order for people to behave in a certain way. John Lennon had another dream. He wanted a brotherhood of man. But, so far, there was no evidence that the application of Marxism had created such a community.
John Lennon’s song entitled Imagine is very popular because of its radical message. Lennon wanted to apply Marxism in order to develop a utopian society. But it can be easily ascertained that there was no successful experiment that was reported in history. Tyrants like Pol Pot saw an opportunity to build a utopian society but failed. The absence of religion and other social conventions can cause confusion, panic and great harm to society.
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