Over the course of two weeks, Alex's aversion therapy consists of being strapped into a chair and forced to watch violent imagery while being administered a drug that induces extreme nausea and distress. The goal is to curb all of Alex's violent tendencies and thoughts. During the process, Alex becomes aware that Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is being played during the sessions. He loves classical music, one of his few redeeming qualities, and he begs and pleads for the doctors to shut it off. They refuse and tell him it will just be part of the treatment and his punishment.
In 2002, the United States government began using a portion of GuantÃ¡namo Bay to detain individuals who were believed to be linked to and/or active participants in acts of terrorism. The stories of torture and the treatment and conditions of the detainees have prompted the European Union, the United Nations, Amnesty International and many other human rights organizations to request the closure of the GuantÃ¡namo Prison. President Barack Obama spoke of a closure in 2009 as one of his promises during his campaign for presidency.
But what was striking to me was one of the torture methods that had come to light. Music was used to distress detainees during interrogations and also in a method called the "futility technique". Its goal is to make the individual feel trapped, hopeless and demoralized. Music was turned up to a volume just below shattering the eardrum and played non-stop for 72 hours at a time.
When I first heard of this form of torture and the many musicians who banded together and filed a lawsuit to pressure then President George W. Bush to close GuantÃ¡namo Prison, I felt that sense of outrage and anger that someone's music was being used to cause excruciating pain. To be an unknowing and unwilling participant in a heinous act is beyond horrific.
But then so was the music.
The artists whose work was used... Dr. Dre, Lil Kim, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, Marilyn Manson, Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC, Britney Spears... was a list of music that makes be feel a tinge of vomit in my mouth at this very moment while I write the names. I don't even have to hear it that loud and it's torture. A mere 12 hours of non-stop Marilyn Manson or Eminem would have me on my knees begging for mercy. The list is pure unadulterated drivel, packaged as music, and spewed into the world and minds of the masses.
The obnoxious sub-woofers that many Americans put in their cars so they can boost the bass to their Rap music has never rattled through my closed car windows with the sounds of Beethoven or anything that resembles a piece of real music. Just the same old "Crap" music, as I like to call it.
In 2007, while attending the Coachella Music Festival in California, I had to suffer sharing the same space with rabid fans who were not interested in Crowded House, the band on stage, but were chomping at the bit for the arrival of Rage Against the Machine. The level of screeching and inability to understand one word, couldn't keep me standing there past the first song of what promised to be a permanent path to hearing impairment.
I am not condoning the "futility technique." I am a complete supporter of all of the above mentioned artists, because even though I don't enjoy their music, I believe that what was done to them, and more importantly, the detainees, was wrong.
But I can't help but feel the irony in using music that offends me, tortures me and rapes my ears every time I am forced to hear it at a red light or at a party or an event. I value my ears. I am sensitive to sound. And I am vexed over the demise of the quality of music education in the average listener. If Ludwig were alive today, he'd be thankful he was deaf.
In Burgess' fictional "Ludivico technique", the tragedy was in the torture masked as reprogramming as a way of reform and using beautiful music as a backdrop to disturbing imagery. In the very real "futility technique", the tragedy is in the torture and the artists being unwitting accomplices to it. But the real music is anything but beautiful.
I don't believe in censorship, but maybe a whole new generation of listeners can be reprogrammed and reformed to embrace something other than loud volumes, screeching, cursing and the monotonous repetition of beats tacked onto samples of other people's music.
Perhaps we shall start this education with a little Beethoven. Ninth Symphony, anyone?