Several days ago, a friend of mine was reminiscing about how he had sung Ladino courtship songs to girls of his acquaintance, to great effect. From that we moved on to the topic of courtship songs in general. (By "courtship song" I mean a song used by the man to declare his love for a woman, and convince her of the ardor of his love, when the two were not previously involved.) We agreed that courtship as an idea had more or less disappeared from modern music. Its replacements are: pining away from unrequited love (or attraction at any rate), rhapsodizing over a love already established, or focusing on the physical act of sex directly.
(Oddly enough, the one modern music genre where courtship survives is in country-western; and the subjects are usually already married, and seeking to restore a lost love. This stretches my definition, but given the paucity of competition, I'll take it.)
Meanwhile, I went with some friends down to a dance club in the Village. This was a classy place with a cover charge and lavish facilities; the local rock station was doing a live broadcast of the main DJ. Beers were $7; bottles of water were $5. I say this only to make the point that this was not exactly a lower-class establishment, nor should it be written off as an expression of low culture, as opposed to a "real" culture that "average" people have.
The first thing I noticed is that the music was very, very loud. It seemed expressly designed to make conversation impossible. Even if you are in the next room, you cannot hold a conversation without shouting. If speech is no longer available as a means of communication, what is left is physical interaction. In other words, the dancing itself becomes the only real form of communication between strangers.
A word on the dancing. I use the term with some hesitation; several members of my family are dance teachers, and the "bump-and-grind" style now popular does not easily fit into traditional models of dance. My brother describes it, aptly enough, as "sex with clothes on." Generally, the man stands behind the woman or faces her directly. They then press their hips against each other and, well, bump and grind.
One might wonder how it is that complete strangers will become such intimate dance partners, especially when there can be no speaking beforehand. Generally, the man must make an approach and initiate the dance, usually by physical contact. The woman then evaluates the man by his appearance, apparent skill, and the manner of his approach. This can be neither too aggressive, too direct, or too hesitant; it seemed that a casual style was most successful. If the woman finds the man acceptable, she will dance with him. If not, she will turn away or give some other physical cue to get the point across. The whole process is remarkably quick: a man can make an approach, be shot down, and move on to the next prospect within two seconds.
The sexual nature of the encounter is emphasized by the hip-hop lyrics to which people dance. When Allan Bloom was describing rock music as "having one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire," he hadn't seen nuthin' yet. Modern hip-hop lyrics specifically direct dancers to sleep with each other. I mean this literally.
In summary: whereas before people were governed by rules of courtship, which kept the initial stages in the realm of language, nowadays many people want to skip straight to the physical.
What does this mean? I don't know, but I doubt it means anything good. In a time when people are feeling increasingly alienated and isolated, to take refuge in cheap physicality by excluding communication seems only to exacerbate a fundamental problem.