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Sunday: February 15, 2009

Now Who’s Being Naive?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:26 PM GMT-0500

Terry Teachout wonders why music is sometimes used to torture prisoners, while other genres of art are not:

I’m . . . struck by the fact that music is, so far as I know, the only art form used for such purposes. No doubt it would be unpleasant to be locked in a windowless room that had bad paintings hung on all four walls, but I can’t envision even the most sensitive of spies blurting out the name of his controller to escape the looming presence of Andy Warhol or Thomas Kinkade. Yet I have no trouble imagining myself reduced to hysterical babbling after being forced to listen to shred, grunge and “I Love You” [as sung by Barney the purple dinosaur] for 16-hour stretches, a technique said to have been employed by Guantanamo interrogators.

Andy Warhol? Thomas Kinkade? What we need is not so much art that is bad, as art that is disturbing, and not just esthetically. I don’t know one-hundredth as much about painting as Teachout does, but I do know that there are some serious and not-so-serious works of art that would freak me out if I had to live with them round the clock: some of Lucian Freud’s nudes (Google “Freud nude shatters price record” for a disgustingly obese example) and one or two of Francis Bacon’s screaming popes, just to name two specific categories. Other possibilities that might well work on a fanatical Muslim terrorist, even if they don’t bother me much: some of Dali’s weirder paintings, almost anything by R. Crumb, the Pompeian wall-painting of Priapus with a set of scales and a big grin, weighing his enormous organ — I’m sure there are plenty more.

There are also some movies that would be very likely to disturb the sleep of a high percentage of prisoners. I haven’t seen Freaks, and terrorists would probably enjoy Faces of Death (haven’t seen that, either) and even the bloodiest gangster movies, but Killer Klowns from Outer Space seems like a cheap and easy shortcut to the confessional. Again, I’m sure there are plenty more.