Tag Archives: authoritarianism

Weaponising Mozart

Roll up, roll up! Observe, ye gentlefolk of the globe, how the UK continues to skip gleefully down ever-stranger corridors of surrealist authoritarianism and ephebiphobia! In a bizarre inversion of certain mechanisms and escapements eviscerated from a clockwork orange, disobedient school pupils are being forced to listen to classical music during detention sessions [via MetaFilter]:

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

Personally, I’m less bothered by the choice of music (which indicates little more than the desperate clinging of the chattering classes to pre-Victorian definitions of goodness, virtue and quality) than I am for the increasing parallels between the treatment of children who refuse (or simply fail) to conform to the contorted straight-jacket postures demanded of them by their parent societies, and the treatment of prisoners-of-dubious-legal-status in The War on an Abstract Noun ™. And look at how the subtext of the article, beneath the secretly-admiring hand-wringing over authority-run-amok, worries that classical music might be culturally devalued by this usage. Oh, horrors!

When disaffected kids turn to rioting and civil unrest – in the UK, the US and elsewhere, and soon – these starched authoritarians are the ones who will wonder what could possibly have driven them to such behaviour. What type of ingrates would try to smash the bars of the cage so graciously provided them? After all, it’s all done for their own good*.

[* – By “for their own good” they mean, of course, “for anyone else’s good but theirs”. I was in a really good mood this morning, too. ]

Mirror’s Edge – The Emptiness of the Short-distance Runner

Blasphemous Geometries sees Jonathan McCalmont taking a run with Mirror’s Edge, a game whose hipster near-future dystopian stylings fail to disguise its underlying theme – freedom is illusory.

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


After reading my previous column, you could be mistaken for thinking that only great games have themes and subtexts, and that those themes and subtexts only emerge when designers manage to work together and combine the various elements that make up a game into one shining image such as GTA IV’s initial depiction of the isolation and alienation that pervade 21st Century life. This is not in the least bit true.

Many crap games have themes, too. They have themes because every line of stilted absurd dialogue, every frustrating control mechanism, every poorly-designed level and every generic character all support one idea – an idea that the game designers almost certainly never had in mind when they started work on the title. Mirror’s Edge – from EA Design Illusions CE – is not only a terrible game, it is also a game with a clear thematic message: Freedom is an illusion, and all those who would claim to champion it are hypocritical and deluded fools. Continue reading Mirror’s Edge – The Emptiness of the Short-distance Runner

Algorithms to reveal secrets of East Germany

In Spring 2006, I spent a week in Berlin with some friends from university. As part of a city tour highlighting the Berlin’s Cold War heritage, the guide made a passing reference to plans for the digital reconstruction of files shredded by East German secret police.

As this project entered its pilot stage in May 2007, Germany’s Spiegel Online reported on the finer details;

[W]ith the looming collapse of the Communist regime becoming increasingly evident [in 1989], agents of the East German Staatssicherheitsdienstfeverishly plowed millions of active files through paper shredders, or just tore them up by hand.

Rights activists interrupted the project and rescued a total of 16,250 garbage bags full of scraps. But rescuing the history on those sheets of paper amounted to an absurdly difficult jigsaw puzzle. By 2000, no more than 323 sacks were legible again — reconstructed by a team of 15 people working in Nuremburg — leaving 15,927 to go. So the German government promised money to any group that could plausibly deal with the remaining tons of paper.

The Fraunhofer Institute won the contract in 2003 … Four hundred sacks of scraps will be scanned, front and back, and newly-refined software will try to arrange the digitized fragments according to shape, texture, ink color, handwriting style and recognizable official stamps.

This week, as the pilot phase of the project reached completion, the BBC’s radio programme Digital Planet picked up on the story;

“It will be a long job – but that’s the interesting part,” said the Fraunhofer’s Jan Schneider.

“First we have to digitise all the pieces from the bags. This is done by a special high-speed scanning device.

“The next step is to segment the image itself from the raw scan – we need the outline of the pieces, pixel-wise, to perform the reconstruction process after that.

“Then all digitised pieces of paper are stored in the database. After that we reconstruct a lot of the descriptive features of the pieces.”

However, at the former Stasi prison Hohenschonhausen, the main place political prisoners were held and subjected to torture, there are criticisms that the process has already taken too long.

“I think it comes a little bit late,” said Hubertus Knabe, director of the memorial at the site, which is also a museum.

“Nearly 20 years after the fall of the Wall we start to reconstruct these Stasi files, which are really important: the most important files were the ones they destroyed.

“I am happy that now it is going forward, but it is late.”

[2nd story via the BBC]