Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Cultural Front In The Identity Wars

     “Shucks,” Duke told them, “didn’t you know? The boss likes statues.”
     “Really?” Jill answered. “I don’t see any sculpture around.”
     “The stuff he likes mostly isn’t for sale. He says the crud they make nowadays looks like disaster in a junk yard and any idiot with a blow torch and astigmatism calls himself a sculptor.”

     [Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land ]

     I listen to a great deal of music, from a wide variety of genres and styles. Many a Gentle Reader would find it odd that I enjoy Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Gershwin, Prokofiev’s concerti, Stravinski’s major works, the early Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Dave Grusin, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Rush, Loreena McKennitt, Andreas Vollenweider, Led Zeppelin, the Mothers of Invention, Glass Hammer, Donna Summer, modern “trance” – thanks a lot, Dystopic / Thales! — and 2Cellos’ and the Harp Twins’ covers of AC / DC and Guns’N’Roses hits. Still, that’s the reality. I have my favorites, of course, but I exclude very few musical genres as such.

     (Don’t mention Schönberg, Philip Glass, or John Cage if you want to stay friends. There are limits.)

     What I find most appealing in music is the sense of order it conveys. The composition itself needn’t be entirely pleasing to the ear as long as I can find order and thematic unity in it. Stravinski’s “Rite of Spring” is at many points dissonant, but it’s an exalting piece to listen to because of the conceptual unity it expresses. Classical music is almost entirely about the development of such order. Bach is probably the best known expositor of a meticulous, almost mathematical approach to such development, but it’s characteristic of all the great European composers of that era.

     Order and discipline are features of all the great art and artists of pre-World Wars Europe. Classical-era artists of every sort found the rules that defined their chosen art form a challenge to be met rather than fetters to be broken. The lawless, chaotic “art” that characterized the century behind us grew from the senselessness of its many internecine struggles: military, economic, cultural, and social.

     The decline of “artists” willing to accept the disciplines of classical art forms correlates well with the loss of other social norms such as public peace and civility. Cause or effect? Your Curmudgeon reports; you decide.

     Brett Stevens has an idea:

     It turns out that blasting classical music at outsiders alienates them and induces them to vacate the premises:
     Classical music is being played at Hull’s railway station in a bid to reduce anti-social behaviour. The company said that the same move at Cleethorpes station had seen “complaints of anti-social behaviour reduced by around 75%”. “We probably used to have about 20 to 25 youths on the station each night and now we’d be lucky to get two or three.”
They react to the strong signal of Western European style order and balance. It also makes it clear that this is not a space for them, but for us.

     Delightful! I had no idea it could be that simple. Of course, there was always the possibility that the miscreants would turn on the “offending” establishment and trash it, but apparently that hasn’t happened. And apparently – much to the displeasure of the multiculturalists – it also works here in the U.S.:

     Indeed, playing classical music to clear out public spaces is an act of supreme elitism: an attempt to “civilize” a space by making it unpleasant to people whose tastes differ from your own.

     Early attempts in this direction date to the mid-1980s, when a 7-Eleven began playing music in the parking lot as a deterrent to the crowds of teenagers congregating there. Plenty of stores continue to use the technique, and other examples have been cropping up sporadically ever since. In 2001, police in West Palm Beach, Fla., blasted Mozart and Beethoven on a crime-ridden street corner and saw incidents dwindle dramatically. In 2010, the transit authority in Portland, Ore., began playing classical music at light-rail stops, and calls to police dropped.

     I love it – and not just because of the music.

     I’m going to repeat a story you may have seen here before. It’s not about music but about order: the sense of a necessary pattern that must be observed for something to “make sense.”

     On the way back from another errand I’d stopped at a local shopping center for something or other. As I parked I spied a knot of teenagers congregated in front of the strip mall. One of them was eating handfuls of something from a plastic bag. As I debarked he dropped the empty bag on the sidewalk, though there was a garbage can less than six feet away.

     Being a terrible martinet and a scold of the first water, I said nothing. I merely walked up to the young litterer, stooped, grabbed his trash and stuffed it into the garbage can with emphasis, glaring at him all the while. Now, I’m not large – about 5’7”, 160 lb – and this young ruffian towered over me. But his face turned as white as if I’d leveled a gun at him.

     “I was going to do that,” he stammered.

     I shook my head and entered the store. The clerk, who had witnessed the event, said plaintively that what I had done was “very brave.”

     Why did she say that? What I did wasn’t brave at all. The kid couldn’t have hurt me, though he didn’t know that. What he did know was what he saw: I had asserted a rule of public order that he knew about but had casually flouted. Perhaps no one in his experience had ever done such a thing. That someone had dared to assert that rule visibly struck terror into him.

     That young man was white, and probably of European descent. In all probability his upbringing had included admonitions not to litter or deface public places. But his cultural identity was one that celebrates the flouting of the rules of public order as I – and likely he – had learned them.

     Order reasserted in the face of flagrant disorder is terrifying to the agents of chaos.

     As with a wide variety of musical tastes, there are limits. We can’t demand that all men go about in suits and ties any longer, nor that all women dress as modestly as urban American women did in the Fifties. But we can impose a perimeter on public deportment, and one of the instruments available to us is great traditional European art, especially music. It’s less about “driving the invaders away” than about enforcing tolerable norms in public spaces.

     Not to mention that substituting Chopin for the mind-numbing crap that assaults one’s ears in most retail establishments would bring a tremendous improvement to commercial civility, n’est-ce pas?

1 comment:

Linda Fox said...

Perhaps a better response to his semi-apology would have been to manage a slight smile, and say, "I'm sure you would have, and will next time, too."

I feel confident he was brought up to know what civilized behavior was. He just fell into the sloppy habit of living down to the life of a slob.

That music thing? It might be thought of as a way of "marking the territory", which is why we need to erase graffiti ASAP. Can't let a sub-group establish dominance.