Brendan O'Neill is the editor of Spiked
and is a regular contributor at reason.com.
recent years Britain has become the Willy Wonka of social control,
churning out increasingly creepy, bizarre, and fantastic methods
for policing the populace. But our weaponization of classical
music -- where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been
turned into tools of state repression -- marks a new low.
already the kings of CCTV (closed-circuit TV). An estimated
20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras are in the UK,
a remarkable achievement for an island that occupies only 0.2
per cent of the world’s inhabitable landmass.
years ago local authorities introduced the Mosquito, a gadget
that emits a noise that sounds like a faint buzz to people over
the age of 20, but which is so high-pitched, so piercing and
so unbearable to the delicate ear drums of anyone under 20 that
they cannot remain in earshot. It’s designed to drive
away unruly youth from public spaces, yet is so brutally indiscriminate
that it also drives away good kids, terrifies toddlers and wakes
in the West of England recently started using super bright halogen
lights to temporarily blind misbehaving youngsters. From helicopters,
the cops beam the spotlights at youths drinking or loitering
in parks, in the hope that they will become so bamboozled that
(when they recover their eyesight) they will stagger home.
recently police in Liverpool boasted about making Britain’s
first-ever arrest by unmanned flying drone. Inspired, it seems,
by Britain and America’s robot planes in Afghanistan,
the Liverpool cops used a remote control helicopter fitted with
CCTV (of course) to catch a car thief.
might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening
to, but are we not world-beaters when it comes to tyranny? And
now classical music, which was once taught to young people as
a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is
being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behaviour.
January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the
midlands of England, was subjecting badly behaved children to
Mozart et al. In special detentions, the children are
forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant
(the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent
against future bad behaviour (apparently the number of disruptive
pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced).
news report says some of the children who have endured this
Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable.
As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go
into adulthood associating great music -- the most bewitchingly
lovely sounds on Earth -- with a punitive slap on the chops.”
This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching
kids to think Danger whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem
or some other work of musical genius.
classical music detentions at West Park School are only the
latest experiment in using and abusing some of humanity’s
greatest cultural achievements to reprimand youth.
the UK, local councils and other public institutions now play
recorded classical music through speakers at bus stops, in parking
lots, outside department stores and elsewhere. No, not because
they think the public will appreciate these sweet sounds (they
think we are uncultured grunts), but because they hope it will
make naughty youngsters flee.
and Wear in the north of England was one of the first in the
UK to weaponize classical music. In the early 2000s, the local
railway company decided to do something about the problem of
youths hanging around its train stations. "The young people
were not getting up to criminal activities,” admitted
Tyne and Wear Metro, but they were “swearing, smoking
at stations and harassing passengers.” So the railway
company unleashed blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.
it was a roaring success. The youth fled. “They seem to
loathe (the music),” said the proud railway guy. “It’s
pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart
is playing.” He said the most successful deterrent music
included Symphony No. 6 (The Pastoral) by Beethoven,
Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto
No. 2 by Shostakovich. (That last one I can kind of understand).
Yorkshire in the north of England, the local council has started
playing classical music through vandal-proof speakers at “troublesome
bus stops” between 7:30 PM and 11:30 PM. Shops in Worcester,
Bristol and North Wales have also taken to “firing out”
bursts of classical music to ward of feckless youngsters.
Holywood (in County Down in Northern Ireland, not to be confused
with Hollywood in California), local business people encouraged
the council to pipe classical music as a way of getting rid
of youngsters who were spitting in the street and doing graffiti.
And apparently classical music defeats street art: The graffiti
Burgess’s nightmare vision of an elite using high culture
as a “punitive slap on the chops” for low youth
has come true. In Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel, A
Clockwork Orange, famously filmed by Stanley Kubrick in
1971, the unruly youngster Alex is subjected to the 'Ludovico
Technique' by the crazed authorities. Forced to take drugs that
induce nausea and to watch graphically violent movies for two
weeks, while simultaneously listening to Beethoven, Alex is
slowly rewired and remoulded. But he rebels, especially against
the use of classical music as punishment.
with his therapists to turn the music off, he tells them that
Ludwig van did nothing wrong, he “only made music.”
He tells the doctors it’s a sin to turn him against Beethoven
and take away his love of music. But they ignore him. At the
end of it all, Alex is no longer able to listen to his favourite
music without feeling distressed. A bit like that schoolboy
in Derby who now sticks his fingers in his ears when he hears
weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British
elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re
so desperate to control youth -- but from a distance, without
actually having to engage with them -- that they will film their
every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights
in their eyes and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so
little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities,
in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s
highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart
and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
dangerous message being sent to young people is clear: 1) you
are scum 2) classical music is not a wonder of the human world
but a repellent against mildly anti-social behaviour.