Monday, April 03, 2006

Music and Worldview Influence

This is a fascinating article detailing one community’s efforts to curb thuggery and gang-related behavior. In order to either calm down the thugs or get them to move off a piece of property, the store owners or city will pipe classical music through the sound system. From the article:

Research in the UK and America tells them that youths who congregate around precincts, upsetting traders and shoppers, can be calmed down by piped classical music.

Not only is this a great and unobtrusive way of dealing with unwanted elements, but it speaks to the worldview influences of music as well. Many argue on a casual level that music is “just” music and has no particular effect on people. Here in Colorado, many are especially sensitive to that argument as a result of the Columbine High School tragedy and the influence of Marilyn Manson’s music on the killers.

Another article out of the UK mentions a similar initiative in a train station. In this case the stated intent is not just to possibly calm the raucous element, but also to bore them out of the station. The article states:

Classical music will play in Walthamstow bus station to deter schoolchildren from hanging around upsetting the public.

The idea is not to soothe them but to bore them out of bad behaviour.

These articles simply mention almost in passing that classical music has one effect, but that thus conveys the other side of the coin, the obvious violence-inducing effect of other kinds of music.

Music conveys and encourages certain worldviews. When was the last time you watched a horror flick set to Vivaldi? (See possible exception below?) Horror movies, gang-related movies, and their ilk are intended to reflect a certain corrupted and debase view of reality, and the music that they are set to does the same.

In the formation of worldview, music is not an innocent bystander. Classical music requires attention, patience, work on the part of the listener, cannot always be easily memorized, and is often immensely complex in its layering. Rap “music” requires little to no attention, no reflection or analysis, no patience, and is often set to the same computer-generated music over and over and over. Classical music engenders a reflective attitude toward reality and promotes positive and constructive social interaction. Hip-hop “music” plays to the animalistic part of our natures and discourages contemplation, human flourishing, and positive social interaction.

Some will remark that there is much in Classical music that is “dark,” and they would be right. But there is still no comparison between Wagner and Ice Cube. When Wagner and others plumb the depths of human misery and evil, they do so with an elevated and developed sense of human dignity and potential; possibly even with remnants of Christian psychology in their pieces. When Ice Cube opines about evil, he is like a broken mirror with no depth or substance to his work. One reflection of evil and the “dark side” generates virtue, the other generates vice.

Possible Exception?
When I discussed this idea with my lovely and talented wife, Heather, she immediately thought of A Clockwork Orange. If you know the work, you know the protagonist is a sadistic killer who gathers inspiration and solace from Classical masterpieces. Is there a relationship here between Burgess’ message and the worldview analysis above?

As we talked it through, we decided there wasn’t a solid analogy between Burgess’ protagonist and your average gang member. If someone is a sadistic killer, they will likely find inspiration in any place, and it really may not say anything about the inspiration. It will say much more about the twisted reason of the killer. Your typical thug does not have a well-reasoned worldview, and they may not have the mental tools to analyze the worldview influence of the music they listen to. All they tend to know, as the second article above mentioned, is that Classical music is “boring.”

5 comments:

Small Group Guy said...

I have always told people that I truly believe that music has developed in all cultures because it has the effect of bypassing the consciousness. Think about when we praise and worship, it bypasses virtually anything I came into church with on my shoulders and gets me ready to read and learn in church.

If we allow music that speaks angrily, critically and with hostility, then you can expect an angry, hostile child. The coin also goes the other way.

I believe that part of proactive parenting is proactive discussions with children about what they hear, what they spend time with on the Ipod and making sure they understand what it does. You can be the greatest parent in the world, but if you allow to much music of an ungodly form into the house you could have an uphill battle.

Brian B said...

Another "bad guy" who was into classical music - Gary Oldman's character (the corrupted cop) in "The Professional." He had a penchant for Mozart for his "lighter work," and Beethoven for especially "difficult" (i.e. violent) jobs. I wonder if characters like his seem more sinister than a death-metal or gangsta-rap-listening one mainly because of the dissonance between what we expect of good classical music, on the one hand, and vicious behavior, on the other. "So, he likes classical music like Beethoven, and yet he's still sadistic and wicked? Good grief - this is one twisted cookie!" Who knows.

Beethoven once said "Music is higher revelation than philosophy." Even with my bias toward philosophy, I can empathize with his sentiment - music profoundly grips and affects one's core emotions.

Phil Steiger said...

I like that insight-that the bad guy who listens to and receives inspiration from classical music is more shocking to us because of the paradox we sense on almost a reflexive level.

You can always see trouble coming in a movie when the punk rocker shows up in the alley with thrash music. The cop in The Professional was much more disturbing because of the music associated with him.

R.I.C. said...

my first exception that came to mind was hannibal lecter from silence of the lamb.. that's actually where i picked up goldberg variation in the first place

Phil Steiger said...

I have to say, the readers of this blog are apparently pretty well read and enculturated (in the right kinds of ways).