For many of us the term “pirate” conjures well-worn images of wooden legs, talking parrots and romantic swashbuckling adventures. Modern piracy is decidedly less romantic, bringing to mind tech geeks sneaking tripods into the local matinee of the new Tom Hanks flick, “Captain Phillips,” frantically scrambling for the honor of being the first to upload an illegal copy on file-sharing programs like Torrent. Arrr!
“Captain Phillips,” of course, deals with a much scarier sort of modern pirate. Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of a US cargo ship bound for Kenya. In 2009, the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by armed Somali pirates while traveling near the port of Eyl in Somalia. Phillips was taken hostage and held captive for five days before being rescued by Navy SEAL snipers. In the four years since Phillips’ rescue, the ship has encountered at least four more close calls with Somali pirates.
Violent hijackings continue to be a major threat for vessels sailing near the coast of Africa, but incidents have declined significantly in recent years as it has become increasingly common for ships to employ armed guards, often with military backgrounds.
Much to my amusement, British naval forces have recently found an especially effective method for fighting off Somali pirates: Britney Spears. The pop star’s music, considered intolerable by many even at a gentle hum, is blasted outward from the ship at extremely high decibels capable of damaging the human eardrum.
Noise deterrents have been used for quite some time as a means of warding off pirates, and cruise ships have experimented with the use of long range acoustic devices (LRAD), which blast sounds that exceed the human threshold for pain. Incorporating the horrifying sounds of tone-deaf pop stars is really just icing on the cake.
Maritime security experts acknowledge it’s not necessarily the sound itself that deters potential hijackers, but just as much the fact that it warns them the ship is aware of potential threats and likely prepared for aggressive defense. Nevertheless, I have little doubt crew members enjoy quite a few chuckles using Ms. Spears’ obnoxious music as a weapon, particularly considering Somali pirates’ hatred for Western culture.
Of course the recent incident with Spears isn’t the first time music has been used as a weapon. In the 1989 invasion of Panama, US troops continuously blasted rock music at high decibels, most famously Van Halen’s “Panama,” as a tactic to drive Manuel Noriega out of his hiding place inside a Vatican embassy.
There are numerous other examples of music used for various forms of psychological warfare, and it has become common practice for law enforcement and military personnel to use musical torture (they call it “encouragement”) to persuade suspects to talk.
Patriotic American songs are frequently used against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” This one is actually a rather amusing inclusion, as anyone even remotely familiar with Springsteen is aware of the highly critical nature of the song, widely regarded as a protest against the Vietnam War. I still chuckle every time I hear some clueless politician playing it during a campaign, but I guess if the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is a love song fit for weddings, then “Born in the USA” may as well be a patriotic national anthem.
Suspected 9-11 hijacker Mohammed al Qahtani was subjected to numerous unpleasantries during the early years of his stay at Guantanamo Bay, including being repeatedly subjected to Christina Aguilera’s blatantly sexual hit, “DRRTY.”
Guantanamo Bay interrogators have also gotten a lot of miles with the almost inconceivably irritating “I Love You,” made famous by Barney the Dinosaur. Mere mention of the parent-hating creature is probably enough to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who raised a preschooler in the ‘90s, but by the time my kids came around, most parents were clever enough to take measures ensuring their children were never exposed to the giant purple Hell-spawn.
Parents of today’s Internet-savvy youngsters face a new threat in the recent viral YouTube hit, “What Does the Fox Say?” The overwhelmingly popular song, created by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, was actually intended as a parody of the ridiculousness of popular club music, but it became an almost overnight hit all across the world.
The song is actually rather amusing on the first or second listen, but talk to me after your kids have blasted it about 300 or 400 times on repeat and start bouncing around the house nonstop making obnoxious screeching animal sounds. In fact, I can hear its pulsating beat coming from my son’s room as I type this. OK, OK. No need to play it again. I’ll move out already!
However, I’ll take that one any day over Robin Thicke’s recent pop hit, “Blurred Lines.” I’m aware it’s quite popular among adults and I’ll even admit it’s rather catchy, but it loses its charm pretty quickly the first time you catch your sweet 9-year-old daughter walking past you singing the phrase “I know you want it baby.”
Technically they’re not even “allowed” to listen to the racy song, but it’s almost impossible to avoid considering we hear it everywhere, including children’s birthday parties at the skating rink. The damn thing is so catchy my kids can’t seem to help humming along and it’s almost got me begging for the innocent days of Barney’s syrupy sweet nonsense. Whatever you want, I’ll do it. Just Make. It. Stop.
I recently polled my Facebook friends about the song that could be most effectively used to torture them, and quite a few were foolish, err, kind enough to reveal their weaknesses. Responses included techno, country, bluegrass (my sincerest apologies to the highly talented Andy MacDonald), ice cream truck music, mariachi bands (they NEVER stop!), “Barbie Girl,” Kenny G, Adele, Michael Buble, “The Song that Never Ends,” “McArthur Park,” Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” and Kurt Schwitter’s “Ursonate.” Yikes!