If Composers Wore Capes

In his piece last week, Randy Nordschow made reference to a certain composer’s interest in professional wrestling. I’d heard about this before, through the grapevine, but until Randy (who can be considered an authority as far as I’m concerned) brought it up, I’d maintained my skepticism. However, a little thumbnail research has revealed that the noted semiotician Roland Barthes wrote on the subject; former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould, it seems, used to write WWE storylines. Maybe the real question is why more composers don’t throw some pizza bagel bites in the microwave and snag a spot on the couch for some Monday Night RAW. This was a weekly ritual during my undergraduate years, but I always assumed that I was the only composer pedestrian enough to enjoy such spectacle. Maybe there’s a thriving community of closet Stone Cold-aholics within the new music world.

I don’t know what Ferneyhough finds appealing about it, but for me, the appeal of pro wrestling for composers rests in the dramaturgy of the match. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider a wrestling match a form of guided improvisation: Although the eventual outcome and several teleological check-ins are prescribed, the flow of the match is extemporized around these landmarks. Within this structure, local events are characterized by the interaction of the performers’ physical vocabularies (the Rock’s is instantly recognizable), influenced by the audience’s reactions, and conditioned by our knowledge of the match’s circumstances within the persistent storyline. Thus abstracted to its experiential shape, the dynamics of a wrestling match are comparable to a piece of music’s. I saw a Goldberg-Lesnar match in 2004 that reminds me, in retrospect, of Nicolaus Huber’s work. HBK specializes in Beethovenian epics; Triple H is the Tchaikovsky of the WWE.

It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? There are dramas (or non-dramas) being presented all around us, even in the wrestling ring, that are cut from the same cloth as what we experience when we listen to music. Seeing past the “nouns” of pro wrestling to its “verbs”—its abstract transformations—may take a great deal of patience for machismo and spandex, but it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only composer who finds it worthwhile.

28 thoughts on “If Composers Wore Capes

  1. william

    For those interested in WWE as a cultural phenomonen, I recommend Sut Jhally’s documentary film “Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullying & Battering.” Here is an excerpt from the blurb about the film:

    “Drawing the connection between professional wrestling and the construction of contemporary masculinity, they show how so-called ‘entertainment’ is related to homophobia, sexual assault and relationship violence. They further argue that to not engage with wrestling in a serious manner allows cynical promoters of violence and sexism an uncontested role in the process by which boys become ‘men.’”

    WWE averages 4.5 million viewers weekly, and consistently has the highest ratings of any cable television program. The film questions why extremely violent bullying, violence against homosexuals, and enactments of rape are seen as entertainment. The sections of the film that show clips of the physical and psychological abuse of women, coupled with extreme sexual humiliation are especially informative. Why do we extol a program that plays an undeniable role in normalizing gender violence? Why do we formulate our masculinity in this way?

    It is probably an untenable idea, but I wonder if there might indeed be at least some distant relationships between WWE and the overtly masculinist character of modernism.

    You can read about the film and view a very informative trailer here:

    http://www.mediaed.org/videos/MediaGenderAndDiversity/WrestlingWithManhood/#

    William Osborne
    William@osborne-conant.org
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  2. jbunch

    gender-washing
    I don’t know, that’s only 2% of the population that watches WWE on a weekly basis. It’s hardly a convincing argument to me that WWE is setting the tone of American gender roles. Those roles are set by more impactful institutions (ie, religion, economy). And they were set a long, long, long time before professional fake wresting hit the stage. Of course, wrestling does feed on the insecurities of large groups of men, but it also plays on some of the fantasies of said men. Not sexual fantasies necessarily, but gender fantasies in terms of wanting to be strong, to be respected (or feared?), or maybe the desire for authority. Some people are like that. Maybe there are others who are drawn to the absurdity of the WWE. When you see somebody like the Undertaker (who has to be pushing 1,000 by now) – how can you think anything other than “absurd” ?

    If I had one complaint about the new music that I’ve heard here in the Midwest, it would be that it’s not absurd enough. It’s not dedicated to extremity enough (or to extreme subtlety), it just sounds like a glop of obedient little puppy dogs. The reason why I like composers like Ferneyhough, and Zorn, and Pateras, and Di Scipio is because they are composers whose music stakes a claim. They celebrate absurdity in their own ways. So did John Cage, and Beethoven, so does Eva Hesse, and Ad Rinehardt (sp?), and so does Gwar and Radiohead. I guess I don’t mean that everything has to fall into this one aesthetic – that all music must be bombastic. I mean that – like any good WWE wrestler, a piece of music should have a certain degree of self-assertion and total commitment to it’s own character, and that character should not be entirely derivative from someone else’s.

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  3. tbriggs

    Colin, I think you bring up some good points here (and frankly if I had a cape I would wear it every day, seriously). One thing that I immediately started thinking about was the performative aspect of professional wrestling vs. that of new music and the roles that their respective audiences play in those performances. For example, we might think of a WWE event as similar to a rock concert; the performers do their thing in the ring/stage, but they also actively engage with the audience (at least on a superficial level) by getting on the mic, hyping themselves up, and responding to boos, cheers, etc. The typical procedure for most new music events I’ve been to recently has been find a seat, read program notes, listen attentively, applaud, wait for next piece, etc. As an audience member, my role is much more circumscribed at a new music concert than at a WWE match; I applaud at certain times, I sit quietly, I refrain from talking, booing, cheering, laughing, crying, even coughing if I can help it. My ability to somehow participate in (contribute to?) the performance is limited by the norms of new music performance in contrast to those of something like the WWE (or many other forms of popular entertainment performance).

    What I’m trying to get at is that there is a very specific kind of audience for new music and that audience is willing to comport themselves within the norms of the concert hall. We don’t want our music to be presented in the same way that the WWE is, but I think that a lot can be learned from a model of performance where the audience is presented with more mobility and more expressive freedom. For example, some of the performances I was involved in as an undergrad were conducted in open spaces which forced the audience to move around the performance space. They had to choose where they wanted to be in the space and thus how they would experience the piece; this simple factor allowed the audience to really participate in shaping the performance (or at least their personal experience of it). We also talked with the audience after concerts to get a sense of what it was like for them; many people said that they really enjoyed being able to move around even though it meant that they wouldn’t be able to take in the whole piece. As the music changes, our centuries-old model of performance might also have to change; I think that incorporating the audience into performances of new music (even in small ways) could be a way of making new music ‘worthwhile’ for people or at least more relevant and meaningful to their personal experience of the work.

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  4. rfk

    composers who wear capes
    Well, he’s not exactly going to join the WWF circuit, but I have seen Richard Danielpour wear a cape!

    Reply
  5. william

    Someone writes about the 4.5 million weekly viewers of WWE: “I don’t know, that’s only 2% of the population that watches WWE on a weekly basis.”

    True for the country as a whole, but the demogrphic of young men who watch is much higher. WWE also creates cultural memes that spread far beyond those who actually watch the show. The images and modalities have become iconic.

    William Osborne

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  6. Colin Holter

    Listen, I’m not advocating professional wrestling as a means of socializing young men. I’ve read Jhally’s work on the subject, and I understand that it’s not OK for people to act like professional wrestlers. (For the record, it’s also not OK for people to act like certain characters in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.) I don’t think any of us are murky on that point.

    However, it’s not my problem. I’ll eat my hat if a nine-year-old reads NewMusicBox, watches SmackDown (eyes twinkling, brimming with childlike curiosity about dramaturgies and abstract narratives), and breaks his buddy’s arm in a backyard wrestling match (“I was pretending to be Randy Nordschow, and Billy was Frank J. Oteri, and the next thing we knew, there was blood everywhere!”). I’m not a kid, I don’t have kids, and I refuse to raise other peoples’ kids. Parents: Talk to your children about professional wrestling. Tell them it’s violent and misogynistic and homophobic. But tell them this in person; compiling your thoughts on the matter in the context of a contemporary music web site is actually not the most direct route to your sons’ and daughters’ fledgling consciences.

    I’d also add that although I’m a lifelong liberal democrat, I absolutely do not subscribe to the “Tipper Gore doctrine” that would have us collectively censor every scrap of media content our children are allowed to ingest.

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  7. william

    That’s quite true, Colin, we’re not discussing how to raise children, but rather how gender is formulated and expressed in contemporary music. Possible correlations between the masculinism of WWE and modernism are very interesting – a case in point being the film John Clare mentioned.

    Are there similar dramaturgical and metaphorical representations of misogyny in music, and especially 20th century music? What were the larger historical forces that created a trend toward masculinism in 20th century culture? Why has the mass media increasingly moved toward ever more brutal representations of masculinity? We might also note that historians are becoming increasingly aware that feminism is slowly creating a massive transformation of the arts and aesthetic philosophy. I think these ideas are worth some thought.

    William Osborne

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  8. william

    Torture, which is a large part of WWE, has been much in the news of late, first for its actual practice, and second, because graphic torture scenes are becoming much more common in the media – “24” being a well-known example.

    Why did the images from Abu Ghraib look so much like WWE?

    The CBC has an interesting article about torture scenes in video and film. Here is a summary from ArtsJournal.com:

    “Why are vicious scenes of torture in movies suddenly considered entertaining? How can anyone watch one human being torture another in hideously realistic fashion and not head straight for the exit? ‘The most troubling part of this wave is how brazenly torture is presented. Many of the depictions are gratuitous and exploitative; others are more restrained. But rarely is the subject dealt with critically, or as something more than a visual provocation.’”

    The whole article is here:

    http://www.cbc.ca/arts/film/torture.html

    In a similar vein, one might consider the motives for metaphorical representations of violence in modern music. To what extent have they been meaningful? To what extent are they gratuitous and exploitive?

    William Osborne

    Reply
  9. jbunch

    violent music
    What does it mean that one is metaphorically representing violence in new music? Is it too many sfp’s? Is it that the music is percussive rather than lyrical? How do you make the determination that what you are hearing is violence, or for that matter gender ? This is my difficulty with Foucault-ian interpretations of abstract music compositions. Do these readings actually account for the conscious intention of the composer? Should it matter? I think yes. You can judge a person guilty for a crime they didn’t commit. Also, as much as it is within our power, we should be embracing both the masculine and the feminine aspects of music (if such a distinction there be). Gender theory in it’s best sense corrects an imbalance in power and representation it doesn’t merely compensate by substituting one state of inequality for another. I think Colin’s post was designed to point out that the difference between the High/Low framework of – shall we say aesthetic – categories is not as structural as we might think. This post was about relaxing class categories in art and learning from one another. In terms of what we can learn from the WWE, perhaps it is a matter of personal aesthetic commitment (for instance my music is not entirely fixated upon narrative structures in the typical sense). But recognizing these similarities can – if nothing else – provide a few moments of light hearted amusement.

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  10. philmusic

    “That’s quite true, Colin, we’re not discussing how to raise children, but rather how gender is formulated and expressed in contemporary music.”

    Actually William, that was not what Colin was discussing at all- rather that was what you were stating.

    Phil’s Page

    Reply
  11. william

    Boys were mentioned in the blurb about the film I mentioned, but my comments were about adults, and about art. (See above.) Or at least that is my intention.

    And JBunch is right that there is a huge amount of irony and humor in WWE. Those characteristics become very interesting avenues for cultural analysis. Are absurd enactments of violence actually a way of removing ourselves from those impulses? Does WWE actually pillory our darker impulses, and thus process and disempower them?

    Sadly, irony and humor might not be the only effect. It is interesting to watch the reactions of some of the live audience members.

    I hope others will try to answer some of the interesting questions that JBunch raised. I have to fly to the States in the morning, so forgive me if I am unable to continue this interesting discussion. I fear I will miss some interesting Internet Slap-Downs. :-)

    William Osborne

    Reply
  12. marknowakowski

    Speaking of absurd, does this whole thread strike anybody as absurd? This is hands-down the most ridiculous conversation I have ever read concerning the topic of new music.

    To summarize:
    1.) The WWE is supposedly raising our children, causing everything from violence against women to homophobia (a loose term if ever I’ve seen one) to modernist composition.
    2.) Then comes the guy that randomly informs us that midwestern music isn’t “absurd” enough, as if that were a necessity for every composer.
    3.) The thread continues with an “absurd” conversation on absurdity and how the WWE is defining gender-roles in America, followed by a discussion of how gender-roles are formulated and appear in our music.

    I’m astonished. The only thing missing from this conversation would be a loony post from Susan McLeary telling us how Ferneyhough, like Beethoven, is a “trashing rapist.” (If you haven’t read that article, I suggest it highly for a good laugh.)

    WWE? Gender roles? Is it so hard to accept that men and women tend to approach music — like many other things in life — from somewhat different angles? Is this not something to be celebrated as an aspect of diversity? Are we still in “masculine-is-bad” land? My music happens to be very masculine, and I was raised to be a gentle person who respected women. Nor am I a fan of the WWE. Hmm…

    Even more importantly: is any of this actually going to help us to write better music, and get people in the seats to hear it?

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  13. marknowakowski

    I couldn’t resist a parting shot.

    William writes: “Why did the images from Abu Ghraib look so much like WWE?”

    Strangely enough, I don’t recall The Rock crashing down upon some poor terrorist with a cohort of buxom blondes behind him. Perhaps this comparison — as in this entire thread — is a bit absurd?

    moving on, William writes:
    In a similar vein, one might consider the motives for metaphorical representations of violence in modern music. To what extent have they been meaningful? To what extent are they gratuitous and exploitive?

    I actually thought long and hard about this one, and really couldn’t see where you are coming from. Are you suggesting I “take it easy” on my audience, just in case they make a connection between my fortissimo passage and the torture of a “poor” terrorist in Abu-Ghraib? Should “masculine” music come with a warning label, lest it lead to violations of the Geneva Convention?

    Lastly, William, on a political note, you should not be surprised that Americans tend not to flinch at the sight of a TV-torture-session inflicted on a character portraying a terrorist. Firstly, he had it coming. Secondly, is isn’t REAL, and most semi-intelligent people are capable of making that distinction. Third, if you let your ten-year old watch 24, then the fault is yours.

    Now if you excuse me, I feel a particularly violent pitch-set coming on…

    Reply
  14. philmusic

    Some of the absurdity of this thread is related to the lack of interest in the central question of why Mr. Ferneyhough, and other composers as well, love the WWE? Is it because deep down us esoteric composition types are just “men/women of the people”? Or is it because American culture at its worst is really at its best? Perhaps as composers we find some resonance with the rigged and choreographed pageantry of the WWE? Maybe we like cheep thrills-I know I do. A few years back some article on MENSA noted that many of its members were interested in GLOW -the gorgeous ladies of wrestling– that made the news for about a half a second. Shocked am I that no one took my interest in Roller Derby seriously. Anyway a thread becomes absurd when the topic is hijacked off the topic and into deep into realm of axe grinding.

    Me? Never!

    Phil’s Page

    Reply
  15. philmusic

    Some of the absurdity of this thread is related to the lack of interest in the central question of why Mr. Ferneyhough, and other composers as well, love the WWE? Is it because deep down us esoteric composition types are just “men/women of the people”? Or is it because American culture at its worst is really at its best? Perhaps as composers we find some resonance with the rigged and choreographed pageantry of the WWE? Maybe we like cheep thrills-I know I do. A few years back some article on MENSA noted that many of its members were interested in GLOW -the gorgeous ladies of wrestling– that made the news for about a half a second. Shocked am I that no one took my interest in Roller Derby seriously.

    Anyway a thread becomes absurd when the topic is hijacked off the topic and into the deep realm of axe grinding.

    Me? Never!

    Reply
  16. jbunch

    “I guess I don’t mean that everything has to fall into this one aesthetic – that all music must be bombastic. I mean that – like any good WWE wrestler, a piece of music should have a certain degree of self-assertion and total commitment to it’s own character, and that character should not be entirely derivative from someone else’s.”

    That’s how I ended my first post here. There was no attempt to say that everyone’s music had to *sound* absurd and over the top. One would only get that impression if they absolutely refused to think beyond the very surface of what I said.

    My comments were born out of the frustration of attending concert after concert after concert after concert of half-ass sounding music. I’m not talking about stylistic nonsense here, I’m talking about commitment to break the evenness and stoicism of just writing fantastic paradigm-loving examples of woodwind quartets and orchestra pieces and piano pieces and…….

    It’s hard to convey exactly what I mean – please forgive my ineptitude with words – but when you are being exposed to a piece of music and it makes you want to think about doing your laundry because you know you don’t have to keep an ear on it, I get a little bored. Absurdity to me is what the WWE specializes in, and while I wouldn’t typically choose the WWE as an analogy for myself, Colin put it out there, and as a pal, a real bossom buddy, I’m just going to go ahead and humor him.

    We’ve all heard by now about the tragic loss of Kurt Vonnegut that happened recently. There was a guy who new the value of absurdity. With him, it was more than a form of entertainment or “violence,” with him, the fact that the world is absurd was a mere statement about the dry facts of human existence. A refusal to recognize and embrace this basic absurdity prevents us from addressing it, from having the ability to cope. Can you find pristine reason operating anywhere? It was the absurdity of Vonnegut’s voice that drew me to his works. Absurd silence and fragility draws me to the music of Sciarrino or De Lio. Absurd Kitschiness draws some to Michael Daugherty. Absurd lyricism draws others to Kernis or Maw. Whatever the aspect, what is happening is that there is a refusal towards a respectable partiality. I would rather hear music that I absolutely am repulsed by than music that I don’t care about at all. That is what was meant. And if anything, that’s what the WWE could teach us.

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  17. marknowakowski

    If I’m your Marky-Mark, then you must be my funky “bunch”… ;)

    “If I had one complaint about the new music that I’ve heard here in the Midwest, it would be that it’s not absurd enough. It’s not dedicated to extremity enough (or to extreme subtlety), it just sounds like a glop of obedient little puppy dogs.”

    I understood the second half of your post perfectly. Well said, in fact. It’s the first statement that I took issue with. One could drop such over-generalizations on any geographic area associated with a particular “school.”

    I actually enjoyed Colin’s article very much — it’s the ridiculous (to borrow Phil’s phrase) political axe-grinding it lead to that got me going.

    Reply
  18. jbunch

    Right you are. I suppose I should have limited my comments to my own personal experiences – which coincidentally have occurred predominately in the Midwest – really Midwestern universities. Although as a side point, I completely agree with the idea that geography has an effect on creativity. In at least the basic case that one can find themselves in a city where the arts are more active. That’s why I have had teachers suggesting that I get out of here (go west, go east, go to Europe). Perhaps there is some mythical aspect of the way we talk about the coastal areas, as if just being in San Francisco will make your music eclectic and vivacious. However I must say that after living in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois for 26 of the 26 years of my life, I fricking hate the Midwest. I have to watch the nature channel to see an elevation above 2 feet, or a body of water larger than the wading pool at the student rec center.

    I freely admit this post has nearly nothing to do with the WWE. But I sometimes wonder if, in terms of geography, our music is very often a sonic mapping of the spirit of these Midwestern college towns. Suburban purgatories of featureless-ness teeming with middle-of-the-road sensibilities:

    “Hi how’s it going?”

    “Good. How are you?”

    “Good. Well, I’ll see you later.”

    “You bet. Later.”

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  19. JKG

    I swear, Colin…
    I think you MUST be baiting me on this topic. WWF is just about the most shallow and presumptuous form of “entertainment” ever produced on television, just one notch shy of soap operas. Equating new music with this genre does seem completely fitting, considering how folks have to lay hold of a disingenuous set of feelings to appreciate it to begin with. Doesn’t all that phoniness make professional wrestlers (and mannerist composers) feel all dirty inside? At least the wrestlers are laughing all the way to the bank.

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  20. jbunch

    Johnny…
    Didn’t you know? We mannerist composers *love* feeling dirty inside. I’m planning on dying of musico-erotic asphyxiation m’self.

    Reply
  21. william

    Some interesting comments here. I guess I will use my jetlag insomnia to comment, even if too late.

    It is interesting how often American’s advocate or rationalize torture, now even here on NMB. (“The terrorists had it coming.”) I used to think this was an anomaly of the “Praise-Jesus-And-Shoot-An-Arab” crowd, but it is much more wide-spread. The Commander of West Point, even met recently with the producers of “24” because he was concerned about how the torture scenes were affecting his student’s moral understanding and thus their professionalism.

    We should note that the US military and CIA have long used music as a form of torture. Deafeningly loud music played for days on end is often part of their processes of sensory bombardment and/or sensory deprivation. To its credit, the Society for Ethnomusicology has published an official statement of protest against our government’s use of music as torture. You can find SEM’s position statement here:

    http://webdb.iu.edu/sem/scripts/aboutus/aboutsem/positionstatements/position_statement_torture.cfm

    “The Nation” also commented on SEM’s principled stand here:

    http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion?pid=164432

    Thoughts about WWE, gender abuse, torture, and music are not far fetched.

    In fact, the use of music to assert power and to torture is nothing new. It was, for example, widely employed by the Nazis. Gabriele Knapp has studied this extensively in her book _Das Maedchen Orchester in Auschwitz_ (Hamburg: von Bockel 1996) Written as her doctoral dissertation, it is sober, cautious and scientific. The book specifically studies the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz. She interviewed seven members of the orchestra and drew from four other interviews available in Israel. Her goal was to determine the uses and function of music in the camps. She found that the Nazis deliberately used music as a form of torture and repression.

    Kanpp notes that music “was a part of the extermination apparatus” (particularly the marches;) that it was “coupled with excesses of
    violence and the killing of people;” that it was specifically used as an
    instrument of torture; and that it was used to reaffirm and assert status and power. She also notes that it added a “ceremonial framework to slavery” and deadened the perpetrators consciences–all themes in music (especially military music) uncomfortably familiar to those with the eyes to see.

    When discussing why music was used to accompany the selection of prisoners who would go to the gas chambers, she makes one of her most interesting statements:

    “My imagination meets its borders here, limits I neither can or want to cross. One can speculate why the SS needed music for the ‘Selektion.’ Such speculation quickly leads to regions of brutality and sadism, and its instructive worth is doubtable.”

    There seems to be at least some evidence to suggest that the musical sadism expressed in the camps was not a passing anomaly, but an inherent part of western art music, even if normally expressed on a much more sublimated level. If that is the case, the instructive value of examining the use of music in sadism and torture is very great.

    To begin, one might consider the growing autocracy of the 19th century conductor (which already had a feudalistic heritage). Orchestral musicians were increasingly objectified; they became functionaries, highly responsive instruments, embodiments of the conductor’s musical fantasies.

    At least on a subliminal level, a new aesthetic seemed to evolve, a
    megalomaniacal control of humans motivated by the combined unconscious sensualities of sadism and music (and specifically located in the context of cultural nationalism.) This might help us understand the work of conductors such as Toscanini, Rainer, and Stowkowski who joined musical transcendence with a tyrannical terrorization of their performers. Power and public subjugation, the whipping and slashing of the phallic baton, and the orgiastic build to climax under the watchful and authoritarian eye of the conductor are part of what patrons expect from symphony orchestras, and these expectations seem to contain vicarious satisfactions of sadism. (And once again, the correlations to WWE are oddly compelling.)

    Knapp found that the sadistic objectification conveyed by conductorial autocracy seemed especially appealing to the SS as embodied in the camp orchestras. It reduced both the victims and perpetrators to de-humanized functionaries, thus weakening the capacity for empathy and moral judgment.

    Seen from a larger perspective, the symphony orchestra’s autocracy, human objectification, and cultural nationalism ultimately allowed it to be appropriated as a general simulacrum of National Socialist (Nazi) ideology. Symphonic music became the most German of arts. People saw that through a symbolic claim to transcendental authority, both conductors and their Führer as artist-prophets rose above the mundane world to share their revelations and abuse with the less profound. They saw that transcendental élan and passion could justify and enforce the subjugation of others, while at the same time symbolizing cultural superiority. Thomas Mann was one of the first to recognize that Hitler, an itinerate painter from Vienna, presented himself to the people as a myth-making, transcendentally inspired artist-prophet.

    These cultural developments had huge socio-political implications. The larger design of Hitler’s ideology as an artist-prophet included the
    recreation of humanity according to a new aesthetic. From this perspective, the Holocaust was a work of art, a “purification” of culture, a “sculpting” of the human race. Aesthetic and political ideology synthesized into a single terrifying force. Human life became clay in the artist-prophet’s hands.

    We should never forget that objectification is the first step toward torture. Note, for example, how deeply the prisoners at Gitmo are objectified. They are intentionally made to feel that they are already dead, pieces of human meat. The staged polemics of WWE are often quite similar. And like music, the language is largely visceral and emotional. And like the authoritarian and hierarchical structures of the symphony orchestra, the dramaturgy plays to desires of control, power, and dominance.

    Of course, I know I am wasting my time trying to discuss complex ideas like these in a forum like this, but sometimes someone is out there who understands. Then it is worth it.

    William Osborne
    William@osborne-conant.org
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  22. marknowakowski

    I think your concerns are partially valid, but ultimately misplaced. First of all, I think a simple look around Western society would reveal that we are not capable of uniting pationately behind any such “great” cause, let alone to the tune of a symphony orchestra. If anything, I find our culture blase, passion-less, and more willing to unify in mediocrity behind some contrived pop-princess rather than Wagner.

    There is an entirely different angle to this argument, however: the study of aesthetics and the love of music should rather lead us to be horrified that mass-murderers could also find themselves listening to this most sublime sort of music.

    Lastly, I sense an innate distruct in you of anything patriotic, nationalistic, or overtly masculine. This sort of thinking links passion with violence, patriotism with genocide. It need not be true, and in most cases is not.

    I run a summer camp for kids age 7-15. It’s not Wanger, the WWE, or even 24 that affects them — in fact, it’s not even on their radar. These kids (from across the economic spectrum) take their cues from Britney and Eminem… in fact, the worst summer I had was when the show “jackass” was popular… you wouldn’t believe the stunts these kids tried to pull the second you turned your back. I ran a few experiments with music, even tried to get a few to “listen.” Overall, classical music, even the most aggressive and rhythmic, had little to no effect on them.

    You can write a symphonic march for any thought or occasion. It’s not the music that is at fault, but the basic cultural presumption. Hitler had written the script — he just needed the soundtrack.

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  23. william

    I very much appreciate your comments Mark. My thoughts weren’t directed toward children, but rather adults. And I am not thinking in simple linear terms where people might watch a program on television and then start acting out its themes. Television programs, such as WWE or 24, are only samples or small indicators of larger values.

    I am interested in cultural analysis that views long-term effects that accrue over decades and even centuries. For example, why has Western culture developed a more regimented form of music-making than any other? Why do the roots of this regimented music-making extend so far back in our history? Is it culturally isomorphic, for example, with our conception of the universe as a celestial clockwork – an idea that extends all the way back to the Greeks and has shaped our thinking for 2000 years? How has this shaped our cyborgian definition of the human, including our particular forms of militarism? Why is our music less improvisatory, more notated, more heirarchical, and more authoritarian than in almost all other cultures? What happens when racist conceptions of cultural nationalism combine with our sense of social regimentation as reflected in symphony orchestras? Do these characteristics of classical music help us understand why it remains so white, and in some cases, so male?

    William Osborne
    William@osborne-conant.org

    Reply

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