AT THE CORNER of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.
Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. Outside the BART escalator, an encampment of grocery carts, sleeping bags, and plastic tarmacs had evolved into a sidewalk shantytown attracting throngs of squatters and street denizens. “There used to be a mob that would hang out there,” remarked local resident David Allen, “and now there may be just one or two people.” When I passed the corner, the only sign of life I found was a trembling woman crouched on the pavement, head in hand, as classical harpsichord besieged her ears.
Welcome to the world of “weaponized classical music”, where homeless people, thugs, dirtbags, and “teens” are actively repelled through the high-volume application of music that they don’t happen to like. It’s a tactic that is well over thirty years old, having been started with “Mozart At The 7-Eleven” in British Columbia back in ’85. In any era but this one, people would hear about this and chuckle. In $THE_CURRENT_YEAR, however, we must respond with everything from academic papers to the increasingly-shopworn boilerplate accusations of bigotry and racism. In the process of doing so, however, we will lay ourselves out to the possibility of deconstructive evisceration. Allow me to wield the knife. As Pusha-T said a few weeks ago, it’s going to be a surgical summer.
With this in mind, I examine in this article a recent trend in destructive uses of music: the use of classical music in the government and business sector to repel and control teens—their activities and accompanying noise—in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States. In these countries, various authorities employ classical music as a crime deterrent in order to reduce hooliganism and ward off undesirables, including, in some cases, the homeless. This represents a new chapter in the mass culture wars—one in which the elite exploit classical music to banish sound they deem unacceptable, including in some cases popular music.
Lily Hirsch of Cleveland State University — wait a minute, there’s a Cleveland State University? — wrote a seventeen-page paper attacking this “destructive use of music” for the Journal Of Popular Music Studies. Google tells me that it has been cited no fewer than twenty-eight times. It’s the first serious result you get for “weaponized classical music.” Alas, Mrs. Hirsch buries the lede about four pages down:
Figures from January 2005 showed that with the installment of transmitted classical music robberies in British subways were down by 33 percent, assaults on staff by 25 percent, and vandalism of trains and stations by 37 percent
And you thought playing Bach to your baby bump would change the world for the better! Turns out that you can play it after the kids are born and it also helps. Are you struggling to see the drawbacks of a practice that both exposes people to decent music and reduces crime? Don’t worry, the effortlessly superior mandarins of the self-appointed media elite are here to help you. From the New Yorker, which is currently thrashing wildly in a St. Vitus’ dance of Trump Derangement Syndrome, yet still had world enough and time to publish this:
To Hirsch, it’s no coincidence that 7-Eleven perfected its technique of musical cleansing while American forces were experimenting with musical harassment. Both reflect a strategy of “deterrence through music,” capitalizing on rage against the unwanted. The spread of portable digital technology, from CDs to the iPod and on to smartphones, means that it is easier than ever to impose music on a space and turn the psychological screws. The logical next step might be a Spotify algorithm that can discover what combination of songs is most likely to drive a given subject insane.
RAGE AGAINST THE UNWANTED! UHHHHH! KILLING IN THE NAME OF! SOME OF THOSE WHO LIKE MOZART / ARE THE SAME WHO BURN CROSSES! UHHHHH!
A quick check through about a dozen essays on “weaponized classical music” shows that they all eventually reach an identical conclusion: playing classical music is a hateful attempt to “reclaim space” that is rightfully occupied by criminals, thugs, homeless people, “teens”, and the unwanted. The subtle orchestration behind their perfectly common opinions would put Radical-Chic Bernstein to shame, but it just goes to show that if you make people read from the same musical chart for sixteen-plus years of indoctrination it should be no surprise when they sing in perfect harmony at the ten-year reunion. Back to Hirsch, singing the soprano part:
music is used as a marker of space, signaling inclusion to some and exclusion to others. For teens on the whole unfamiliar with music associated with a different class, the choice is clear; take their activities elsewhere. No one has to speak or to understand the position of the other. Music replaces war and silences. But does this measure raise some of the same ethical concerns as the use of music for torture?
Marie Thompson, alto:
…the organization of such tactics… can be thought of as a low-intensity form of warfare… in which the music of the elite is deployed against the young, the poor, and the bored.
I could go on. I could also go on about the astounding racism, bigotry, and ignorance shown in nearly every single piece written on this topic — most notably, the tacit assumption that black people are 100% unable to appreciate classical music, presumably because they have a longer tendon in their calves or some other Jimmy-The-Greek-style generalization — but what’s the point? There’s no crimethink when liberal writers make racist or bigoted assumptions. Racism, like classical music, is something that can only be weaponized against the undesirables across the aisle.
Instead of cutting deeper into that, I would like to completely and utterly surrender the point made by every single social-justice warrior, every cat-lady graduate student, every nu-male open-mouth-smiling writer for every left-leaning publication out there. To them, I say: I agree. You win. Weaponized classical music is a violent assault against the lovely people who want nothing more than to shit on the streets, shoot up and leave dirty needles in the gutter, rob people as they come out of the 7-Eleven, or rape customers of their local Burger King. The idea that we should even consider putting up the mildest sonic barrier to this behavior makes us horrible, terrible, no-good people. It is the fate of Heritage Americans and decent people everywhere to suffer under the unceasing assault of the Left’s astounding array of shock troops, whether those troops take the form of violent homeless people or Antifa or BLM or whatever socially-approved uber-group happens to spring up out of the ground next.
Music in public spaces is a weapon. Classical music in public spaces is a knowing, forthright assault on robbers, assailants, vandals, rapists, and murderers. To this day, I shudder when I think of that poor homeless woman in the paragraph that opens this story, shuddering under the assault of the harpsichord. Lady, I feel your pain. That’s why Cristofori or whatever his name was invented the pianoforte. Did you know that they used to FORCIBLY MURDER BIRDS AND STEAL THEIR FEATHERS that were then used in harpsichords to PLUCK THE INTESTINES OF MURDERED ANIMALS? It is cruelty all the way down with these people. Can’t you just see John Malkovich in a powdered wig plotting to assault the homeless with music?
If you accept my surrender, and you accept the fundamental correctness of the people, tracts, and publications that criticize this weaponized classical music, then it is only logical and correct that you accept the next premise: that all music in a public space must be judged by the same standards. And if you accept that premise, then you must accept that the high-volume ubiquity of modern pop music must, logically, speaking, have the same power over its listeners that weaponized classical music does.
In other words, if weaponized classical music is bad because it upsets thugs and vandals (not to be confused with Thuggees and Vandals, two undoubtedly fine groups of people whose primary presence in history consists of their presence in colloquial English) then it must surely follow that weaponized pop, R&B, and rap is bad because it upsets everybody but thugs and vandals.
If you read this blog on a frequent basis, you know that I’m an omnivorous consumer of garbage pop, from Guns N’ Roses to Pusha-T. But I don’t think that this music necessarily deserves room in the public space. I don’t like walking into a store and hearing the latest incoherent mumble-crap or nu-metal or boy-band junk. Yet this “invasion of the public space” is omnipresent. It blares from cars, cascades from open-air headphones, attacks you from all sides courtesy of weather-proofed Bose speakers. If you go to an amusement park you will be pummeled by it. If you attend an art festival downtown you’ll be forced to hear it.
By my rough and ready calculation, “weaponized pop music” is approximately one hundred thousand times as common as “weaponized classical music”. But we are expected to shut up and listen. To lyrics that degrade women, dehumanize men, deliberately destroy public morality. It is the music of our times, and it is everywhere, and it is garbage. If you think it doesn’t affect people, you’re wrong. Young people take their cues from popular music. It teaches them morals. It shows them how to behave. It communicates the code of modern society in-between the Roland 808 beats or the shimmering synths.
Oh, and it’s aimed at children. How about the decision to put “Desmond Is Amazing” on a giant video wall on Times Square? Desmond, in case you don’t know, is a young boy about my son’s age whose parents are eagerly monetizing as the “award-winning LGBTQ activist, drag artist, model, fashion icon, and voguer in NYC.” At all times night and day, videos of Desmond in makeup and clothing meant to simulate what adult women wear play while a rap song about “feminine and fierce” plays.
If you have a young son, and he is hearing this music, then, as TLP says, it’s for him.
Nobody is up in arms about this. Nobody is clutching their pearls about the blizzard of sexual messages we send to children through our public music and culture. Nobody is willing to intimate that perhaps 10-year-old boys don’t really need to choose a gender or an LGBTQ identity any more than they need to start reading Chauteau Heartiste and day-gaming their female friends at summer daycare. That would be racist. If you want to have any part in modern society, and that includes a job outside the construction field, you need to eagerly embrace the sexualization of children by any means necessary. Can you believe that I have never, not once, sat down with my son to explore his potential gay or trans identity? Can you believe that we don’t talk about sex at all? And him at the advanced age of nine! Why, I might as well be hitting him with a belt for not cleaning out the sump pump correctly every night. Not to worry. Desmond’s media machine will do my parenting for me, and the schools will help that process along.
It’s totally cool to fill our own heads with garbage. It’s even better to fill the heads of our children with garbage. But the use of classical music to keep people from stabbing the customers after they take a nice steaming dump in front of your restaurant door? By the blood of the risen Christ — THAT is where we draw the line. It is not acceptable. It is violent, it is elitist, it is evil. As for the other stuff? Well, you know what they say…
If it ain’t Baroque…
don’t fix it.