Saturday, October 09, 2010

Back off, Jack...

I'm packing Elgar.

Classical music isn't just for listening to - it is a powerful people repellent.

The use of classical music in public places is increasingly common: in shopping malls, parking lots, and other places where crowds and loitering can be problems. The TTC is by no means the only transit service to use the technique: in 2005, after classical music was introduced into London’s Underground, there was a significant decrease in robberies, assaults and vandalism. Similar results have been noted from Finland to New Zealand. The idea may be a Canadian innovation: in 1985, a 7-Eleven store in Vancouver pioneered the technique, which was soon adopted elsewhere. Today, about 150 7-Elevens throughout North America play classical music outside their stores.
As a classical music lover, I’d like to believe that my favourite music has some kind of magical effect on people – that it soothes the savage breast in some unique way. I’d like to think that classical music somehow inspires nobler aspirations in the mind of the purse-snatcher, causing him to abandon his line of work for something more upstanding and socially beneficial.
But I know better. The hard, cold truth is that classical music in public places is often deliberately intended to make certain kinds of people feel unwelcome. Its use has been described as “musical bug spray,” and as the “weaponization” of classical music. At the Bathurst Street Subway Station, the choice of music conveys a clear message: “Move along quickly and peacefully, people; this is not your cultural space.”
Some sociologists have expressed concern that this particular use of classical music only serves to further divide society along lines of age, class and ethnicity. And, not surprisingly, some in the classical music community are offended by this new purpose for their art. The English music critic Norman Lebrecht has written that using classical music as a policing tool is “profoundly demeaning to one of the greater glories of civilization.”
However, it’s not really the fault of those concerned with public order and safety that many young people – especially those who come from economic and cultural backgrounds that have never embraced Western classical music – have an aversion to classical music. The managers who install the loudspeakers and switch on the music are pragmatists who are taking convenient advantage of a pre-existing socio-cultural state of affairs. To direct hostility against them, as Lebrecht has done, is to shoot the messenger. [More]
I think I have reached that point where old guys stop apologizing for unpopular beliefs or tastes. I have watched with quiet detachment as my own church embraces music that touches me not, and have dropped out of the popular music culture without a backward glance.

But just like the new politics, the triviality of contemporary music seems based too much on simple emotion and minimal intellectual effort. It is fast food for the ears.  And just like foodies swimming upstream in this current, I happily can choose to join that tiny minority with my listening tastes.

I do not begrudge others their their own joys, but suspect they will pall quickly because they are built to be ephemeral.  Like the incredibly uninformed political opinions (Cut taxes to fight the deficit!) rampant across the US, I don't have to argue against them, just wait.  Illogic collapses on its own.  So too will much of what passes for music, I would venture.

This all sounds terribly condescending, and I suppose it is, but our race to the bottom culturally, fed by economic bifurcation, will make such views more common coming from that tiny portion of us who are doing well in the US. We will simply have fewer things in common with the lower 99%. (Yeah- I'm in that bracket, and unlike many farmers I know, I at least admit it.)

The weird thing is that even though my attitudes irritate so many, those same folks are sacrificing their own futures to defend mine.  (Go ahead - cut my taxes.)

I seem to have wandered from the music intro, but perhaps classical music is a small window into the growing division between us.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. Net worth in the millions and upper 1 percentile incomes and yet the tax payer still pumps huge amounts of cash into all kinds of agricultural programs. This has gone on for several decades now and the public still has not caught on. Must be the result of a really effective propaganda campaign or a public that is really, really slow on the uptake. It is a mystery to me how ag keeps getting away with this. Does the bucolic ideal really have that much staying power?

Anonymous said...

To anonymous,

All you have to do to start rolling in the federal dollars is buy a farm, get some machinery and put in a crop. Why have you not done this? Those payments are available to who becomes a farmer, including you.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you misread. To answer your question, I have but it still makes no sense.

But as John mentioned, the taxpayer response is a mystery in logic.