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Exploring Music’s Power: Navigating ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ Through Melodies

By Timothy L. Fort, PhD, JD, Eveleigh Professor of Business Ethics, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

Join Professor Tim Fort in an engaging podcast series as he explores the profound influence of music on our perception of “us” versus “them.” Uncover how music serves as a transformative tool, igniting competition, celebrating alliances, and fostering unity. Delve into the intricate dynamics of various genres, lyrics, and their remarkable impact on our sense of identity.

In the ‘Nudges and Bridges’ podcast series hosted by Professor Tim Fort, the Eveleigh Chair in Business Ethics at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, we embark on a journey exploring the role of music as a nudge and a bridge. Over the next few months, we will delve into the world of music, examining how it can shape our perception of “us” and “them.”

Professor Fort assigned his undergraduate students the task of identifying a song that puts them in a frame of mind contemplating the concept of “us” versus “them.” The goal was not to find a song that universally represents this distinction, but rather to discover tunes that personally resonate with each individual student, reflecting their unique experiences and perspectives.

The students’ responses revealed three categories that shed light on the diverse ways music can evoke feelings of “us” versus “them.” The first category, oppositional songs that dehumanize or demonize the other side, was not explored to avoid fuelling negativity. Instead, Professor Fort focused on the other two categories that celebrate competitive spirit and alliances.

The second category explores songs that ignite a competitive mindset, inspiring individuals to embrace challenges and overcome obstacles. Examples such as Eminem’s “Not Afraid” and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” highlight the importance of competition while maintaining respect and dignity towards opponents.

In the third category, the focus shifts to celebrating alliances and achievements. Queen’s iconic anthem, “We Are the Champions,” consistently stood out as a representation of victory, unity, and collective efforts towards a common goal.

Throughout the series, Professor Fort encourages listeners to create their own playlists based on the explored categories. For the initial exercise, he invites us to identify three songs that align with the oppositional, competitive, and celebratory themes. This exercise prompts self-reflection and recognition of our own positioning within these dynamics.

Discover the transformative potential of music as a nudge and a bridge. Join Tim Fort and his students in this captivating journey through melodies and emotions as he unravels the complex interplay between “us” and “them” in the realm of music. Every couple of weeks we will be adding a new podcast episode where we will delve deeper into the nuances of different musical genres, lyrical compositions, and the remarkable ways they influence our perception of the world.

Episode 12

The Music of Us/Them

Episode 12 kicks of a seven-part series where we’ll look specifically at music as a nudge in psychologically orienting ourselves to a certain way of looking at things. This seven-part series is designed to be short-and-sweet, with the message in five minutes or less. In each one, I’ll remind the view of the model, talk a bit about the stage in question, and then share some examples of that today’s college students have shared with me of music that puts them in that particular state of mind. These are just examples to spur what comes next: which is an assignment for you, the viewer, to come up with your own songs that put you in this state of mind.

In particular, Episode 12 looks at the Us and Them and Us vs Them orientation.

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