Don Davis

On Being A Government DJ, Or, "Torture? You Call That Torture?"

Filed By Don Davis | October 30, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Guantanamo Bay, humorous blog post, music, Satire, Snark

It's become more or less common knowledge that US forces have been using music as an operational tool for some time now, and I've begun seeing lists of the songs that are being used either to inflict pain, to demoralize, or to just generally disorient various people in various sorts of situations.

There are others, wiser than I, who will opine as to the questions of efficacy and the moral issues surrounding these kinds of operations; I will opine, instead, as to the quality of the songs used.

Frankly, had anyone asked, I could have put the torturers onto much better musical choices, just by selecting from my own "My Music" folder--which left me thinking: "Hey, it's almost the weekend...why not do exactly that?"

Got any psychological warfare mission planned for the weekend? Expecting to have to direct amplified sound at an angry mob in a defensive maneuver Saturday night? Planning a Halloween haunted house that goes a bit...fuurther?

Come along with me then, soldier, and I'll provide you a playlist that should do the trick in almost any foreseeable emergency.

Before we go any further, a word of warning: some of the links in this story will lead to material that is extraordinarily offensive and, in some cases, exceptionally distressing in nature.

If you are reading this, and you're, say, eleven years old, go get your parents and make them read this with you so that they can also learn about some sweet death metal; later on you can all listen to better music in the car on family outings.

What's On Guantanamo's iPod?

So the obvious first question: what songs are the government using?

If the lists that I've been seeing can be believed, there is a fair collection of songs being used to create "environmental manipulation", including songs like Eminem's "White America" and "Kim", the obvious choices like "Born in the USA", songs from the super-patriotic county song genre like that "boot in your ass" song, sexually suggestive songs like Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" (which has a waaaay dirtier video than lyrics...), and a heavy diet of heavy metal. (According to Justine Sharrock's reporting at Mother Jones, MPs on duty in the detention facilities would often be making the choices about what detainees would hear.)

"The healthy man does not torture others -- generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers."

--Carl Jung

The odd thing about the metal: most of the songs seem to be far more tame than what they could have found--and a lot of the songs are actually among my "Rocktober" favorites...although at least one song was new to me, and I liked it, too.

Examples included Nine Inch Nail's "March of the Pigs", AC~DC's "Hell's Bells", Drowning Pool's "Bodies", Mettalica's "Enter Sandman", and a song by Deicide that I had never heard before...but, to borrow from "American Bandstand", it had a great death metal beat and you could mosh to it.

Now if it had been me in there, I would have suggested, for starters, some good old New Orleans Goatwhore, like "Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult", or maybe some delightful Cannibal Corpse ("Barbaric Bludgeonings" being a good place to start), or perhaps something that draws from Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" concept, like "Upper Decker", by The Red Chord.

One of my friends suggested I consider a Norwegian Black Metal band (which is a good choice due to the Satanic messages that are literally at the core of the music); and you can't go wrong with either Gorgoroth's most excellent "Carving a Giant" or a selection from Emperor's "The Nightside Eclipse" (which should also be mandatory for any haunted house soundtrack anywhere).

Did You Say Sex?

Songs with gay-oriented themes work in both PsyOps and "friendly" haunted house environments; my suggestions would include two long-time favorites: The Mike Flowers Pops' rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (which actually manages to be amazingly perky, unabashedly "pop", samples "The Macarena", and, despite all that, doesn't suck), or, when you're ready for the big guns, the Keta-Men's super-masculine, give-it-a-beat, four-part-harmony reworking of Sheryl Crow's "Strong Enough"; which should be effective, as I said, for any PsyOps you may have planned--or any friendly haunting.

As for other songs with a sexual connection: well, you could do a lot better than Christina Aguilera. How about, just to get things rolling, 20 Fingers and Gilette's "Short Dick Man" ...and then, after midnight, you gotta dig up the impotent sea snakes' "Kangaroos (Up the Butt)" (which is, indeed, about an Australian lifestyle choice gone horribly, horribly, wrong).

maxell.jpgApparently songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings", "Mandy", Air Supply's "Lost in Love", the entire Celine Dion catalog, and Morris Albert's unforgettable "Feelings" (unforgettable? After you hear it, you wish you could forget it...) did not make the list (although the public record is incomplete, and that may yet prove to be incorrect). The "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack apparently did make the cut, which confirms some theories I've had about the Brothers Gibb and torture that date back to the 1970s...but that's a subject for another day.

It also appears that no one went for the industrial/dance bands, and as far as I'm concerned, no serious haunted house (or PsyOps mission) is complete until the Negativland comes out to play--but there's a lot of other top-quality disorienting and jarring music available, including music from :wumpscut: and ohGr and Einst├╝rzende Neubauten...or even Twink's "Pussy Cat".

Finally, a few words about what might be the cruelest songs to make it on the list.

The theme from the Meow Mix commercials made the list.

The Sesame Street theme song made the list.

And, finally, in what might be the most barbaric act ever perpetrated by the American Government...Barney the purple dinosaur's "I Love You", a song you always said was torture to have to listen to, has now actually been used to soften up detainees for interrogation at Guantanamo Bay.

Amazingly, the song that might be the worst ever to have deployed against you in any PsyOps operation--or any haunted house, for that matter--is not on any list I've seen so far: the theme from the Disney ride "It's a Small World". I can testify to this personally: as a kid at Disneyland I was stuck on the ride, one summer day, for about an hour-and-a-half.

All I can say...is that it changes you.

Check out the link. It's almost 11 minutes long, and I challenge you to sit through the whole thing. If you do make it, I challenge you to get that song out of your head...ever...again. Good luck.


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As a musician and music teacher the idea of using music to torture really bothers me.
Some of the songs really are designed to taunt the incarcerated. My opinions about that are pretty nasty.

beyond the moral issues, there's also a legal one: what right does the defense department or cia have to violate copyrights and use this material not only without permission, but in direct contravention of the wishes of the copyright holders?

i would love to see legal action taken--and i would love to hear the likely defense: "your rights don't matter in a time of war, because we're the government, and we know what's best".

My band was apparently used for informal interrogations in Iraq: On Using Happy Flowers Tunes to Interrogate Iraqi Prisoners.

I'm still not sure how I feel about it, honestly. If we saved lives via noise, however, that's good.

Interesting suggestion of Gorgoroth, since vocalist Gaahl came out recently. I'd be more inclined to suggest grind bands over death and black bands, though. Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Daughters, The Locust, Pig Destroyer and Watchmaker, for example.

i know you're having trouble figuring out where to stand on this, so allow me to suggest that there are two practical reasons to eschew torture.

one of those is because if we treat the prisoners we capture in a humane and responsible manner, the odds are better that our prisoners will be treated the same way.

or to put it another way...if we treat prisoners fairly, the other side will actually take and hold prisoners, as opposed to simply killing our people on the spot or torturing them first and then killing them. (have you noticed there are virtually no us pows at this time?)

additionally, this is a fantastic marketing tool for those who seek to oppose us. how are we to take the high road if we are demonstrably doing the same things we denounce in our enemies?

there is an additional issue of practicality to be considered here: it is theoretically possible to torture someone and obtain useful information from the exercise.

however, it's a "one-shot" situation. that person, since they're your prisoner, is no longer "in the loop", and they are no longer a source of information for the future.

however...if you take the tougher road, and develop sources over years (which we did in the cold war), those sources remain "in the loop"--and instead of telling you one thing, under duress, which might be untrue, you get the "gift that keeps on giving", a source that can give you useful insight for months, or years, or even decades.

being perceived as the side that is "morally right" brings you sources, and if we chose to change our ways we could again use this sort of tactic.

quoting sun tzu is almost a cliche these days, but he was dead right when he said that any victory depends on knowing your opponent better than they know you...and what we're doing here is not advancing that process.

Lots of heavy metal. You'd think they'd have better luck if they used real torture music like Enya or Barry Manilow... Hearing Copacabana a million times would make me claw my eyes out! :)

it's funny that barry manilow wasn't used, and my theory on that is that they went for songs with "wall of sound" type arrangements; the idea being that you could "fill" sonic space more completely than you could with simpler arrangements like the one manilow used for "mandy".

this is a concept also well known to television advertisers, which is why commercials always seem so much louder than the programming.