[Just a note: have you ever noticed how every single cause chosen by the social justice warriors has two components: it contributes to the decline of Western civilization AND it is either irrelevant, as this one is, to our Islamic opponents, or, as in the case of the treatment of women, the situation in their societies is hypocritically ignored.]
But let's get to the article. The title is "Music as a torture weapon: exploring the dark side." The article is a short and rather uninformative one, seemingly content, once it has convicted the West of Doing Something Bad, to stop there. But it has some illuminating links. This one goes to an essay by musicologist Suzanne G. Cusick of New York University:
Here are the tell-tale elements. First of all it assumes a moral equivalency: these prisoners are just innocent bystanders so any unusual treatment of them is cruel. It might "undermine a prisoner’s ability to sustain somatic practices of prayer" not to mention bombard them with acoustical energy. But it is the next paragraph that is particularly ingenious in its simultaneous elevating and discounting our notions of music as art. First of all, she sets up "music" as "an acoustical medium that expresses the human creativity, intelligence and emotional depth" and something "to which we attribute moral and ethical value". Ironically, it is the standard practice of the new musicologists, of which Cusick is one, to discount all of this. In a different context, I suspect she would be the first to deny that music has moral content. But here it is useful for her to construct a straw man for her argument. Because of this temporary and provisional elevation of music into a medium for Western values, she can exhibit horror that it would be used to soften up prisoners prior to interrogation.First, it is not at all clear that the music aimed at prisoners in detention camps has functioned as music. Rather, it has more often functioned as sheer sound with which to assault a prisoner’s sense of hearing; to ‘mask’ or disrupt a prisoner’s capacity to sustain an independent thought; to disrupt a prisoner’s sense of temporality (both in terms of how much time had passed and in terms of the predictability of temporal units); to undermine a prisoner’s ability to sustain somatic practices of prayer (both through behaviour at the hours of prayer and through abstinence from musical experiences considered sinful); and to bombard the prisoner’s body (skin, nerves and bones) with acoustical energy.Yet, whether the sounds used in detentions camps functioned as music or not, among the most horrifying aspects of these practices is the degradation of the thing we call ‘music’. We in the so-called West have long since come to mean by the word ‘music’ an acoustical medium that expresses the human creativity, intelligence and emotional depth that, we think, almost lifts our animal selves to equality with the gods. When we contemplate how ‘music’ has been used in the detention camps of contemporary wars, we find this meaning stripped away. We are forced, instead, to contemplate ‘music’ as an acoustical medium for evil. The thing we have revered for an ineffability to which we attribute moral and ethical value is revealed as morally and ethically neutral – as just another tool in human beings’ blood-stained hands. This feels like the stripping away of a soul from a body, and therefore like some kind of violent, violating death. It is, therefore, as horrifying for us as it is for its obviously intended victims (though not as painful), tearing away parts of the collective subjectivity – the culture – we have for so long taken for granted, and subsumed under the heading of ‘Western values’.
By the way, she avoids any mention of exactly what music we are talking about, probably because identifying any particular artist might make a reader think, hmm, well, I subjected myself to pretty much exactly that when I went to the dance club last night: pop music played extremely loud. The closest she gets to telling us what the subject of her essay is, is this quote from a prisoner:
[…] after a while you don’t hear the lyrics, all you hear is heavy, heavy banging, that’s all you hear. Um, you can’t concentrate on the drums, or what the person’s saying, all you hear is just loud shouting, loud banging, like metal clashing against metal. That’s all it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like music at all. (italics added)This resembles very closely Kingsley Amis' description of pop music he heard at a college dance in his novel Lucky Jim. Indeed, as soon as you mention a particular song, the whole argument collapses into a bad joke, which is probably why Cusick quickly wanders far off topic into areas I lost interest in almost immediately. Here is a sample:
If the reparative is a reconstruction of shattered objects so that they can bring us pleasure, and if the reparative’s affect is love – then a reparative musicology (a post-Obama musicology?) would restore love for music; would reconstruct musical experiences so that we could love them (which is more than to appreciate them, more than to understand their functions, more than to feel their performative power or their saturation, with social, political, economic forces.) This was, I think, the work toward which several alternative musicologies (especially queer ones) aspired in the last decade.The first mention I can find of the use of music to soften up the enemy was in the US invasion of Panama in 1990 where
Noriega remained at large for several days, but realizing he had few options in the face of a massive manhunt and a $1 million reward for his capture, he obtained refuge in the Vatican diplomatic mission in Panama City. The U.S. military's psychological pressure on him and diplomatic pressure on the Vatican mission, however, was relentless, as was the playing of loud rock-and-roll music day and night in a densely populated area. The report of the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff maintains that the music was used principally to prevent parabolic microphones from being used to eavesdrop on negotiations, and not as a psychological weapon based around Noriega's supposed loathing of rock music.Aha, rock music! This is really the Unmentioned Element, isn't it? US soldiers, who mostly like rock music, sometimes use it to annoy their enemies/prisoners, who loathe it. They aren't playing Schubert lieder at loud volume! No, it is likely Guns n' Roses or maybe Lady Gaga (except of course, for the use of Wagner in Apocalypse Now). But mentioning that would have us ask, "so how is this different to the torture I am subjected to every time I go to a mall or certain restaurants, not to mention dance clubs?"
That the whole point of these sorts of campaigns is to deny tactics to the West while ignoring anything done by our opponents is revealed by this passage in the Guardian article:
"Value-neutral?" But wait, I thought Cusick was praising music for its moral and ethical values? Oh, right, but that was just to cobble together her straw-man argument, she didn't actually mean it. The West must never do anything that might be considered cruel by academics: like playing Guns n' Roses at loud volume. But wouldn't this also rule out nasty things like dropping bombs and shooting bullets at people as well? On the other hand, kidnapping children to be used as sex slaves and beheading every Christian they can find seems to be ok when the other guys do it. Those practices never seem to become the subject of a big crusade in the Guardian...As Grant and Cusick’s work confirms, music is value-neutral. It is what we make of it, and how we use it. Of course it can be used to heal, to comfort, to console, to offer existential transcendence and emotional escape, yet it can also be weaponised. One consequence of their work ought to be that the use of music in conflict situations should be recognised - and banned - when it is used in contexts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It’s disturbing reading, but this research – in all of these links – reveals a bleak phenomenon of musical history that needs to be faced up to, accounted for, and stopped.
Time for a musical envoi I think. At the risk of being accused of using music for torture, here is a little Guns n' Roses: