Last week I read a few articles on artists protesting the U.S. military’s use of music to acquire information from prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. According to these articles, several artists such as Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, are against the use of their music in a war effort they are opposed to.
I see these artists’ point. They created the art to have one meaning and the art is being manipulated and in some cases misconstrued to fit the needs of the US Government. It is similar to when Ronald Reagan attempted to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a campaign song, when the song actually protested an aspect of American society.
In Springsteen’s case, he won and Reagan dropped the song from his campaign. In the case of the Reprieve Musician’s Union and their website Zero db, I don’t think they have a leg to stand on. First, the messages in most, if not all of the songs are not counter to the intent of the Government’s action. It’s not like they are playing Public Enemy, Immortal Technique, or The Coup. The lyrical content is in most cases completely coincidental. It is the sound, the rhythm, and the volume the Government is using to its advantage.
Second, the artists’ claim that their music causes “suffering” is ridiculous. The songs themselves can not cause suffering. It is the methodology of their use that can cause pain and discomfort. Just as in Clockwork Orange, any music can be used as the backdrop of torture, even Beethoven’s Ninth. Unless of course, the bands in question are claiming their music is in fact brutal. I doubt these bands would complain that people are crying and breaking down emotionally when subject to repeated playing of their music. I would think most death metal bands, for example, would use the fact that their music is used in torture as a selling point.
Lastly, however, I want to make clear that I don’t think the Government can get away scot-free. Remember the arguments for programs such as Napster and other file sharing services, that people can use music and other media under their possession for whatever use they want, even if that included giving it away? If memory serves me correctly, the government said that is not the case, use of media is restricted to private use and has its limitation. (Apologies here, if this is not the case, please let me know.) However, I seriously doubt the music being used at Guantanamo Bay is the property of the US Government employees employed there. If the music is the property of the US Government, then the US Government is in a sense legalizing the use of media for usage outside of the normal sphere. Why is the Government able to use music for whatever it wants but the people can’t?