Music: Something That’s Truly Human

I remember having a conversation with my dad at the age of twelve. It was about a month after September 11th happened and I was still wrapping my mind around who the terrorists were and what they stood for. My dad told me that they were with The Taliban, a fundamentalist political movement that had taken over Afghanistan. He described how oppressive they were to the people there. I could believe that a group could ban certain clothing and speech but one thing I found absolutely hard to believe was that they banned music. With the exception of certain religious chanting, all types of music were banned and The Taliban would do everything from smashing CDs and cassettes to hunting down musicians.

Before that moment, I had no idea how much humanity took music for granted. People hear music around them, whether it is at a concert, through headphones or in the background. Everyone likes music even if it’s only specific types. Indeed, music can be catered to any age, personality and occasion; it’s just that flexible. I literally could not imagine a world without it. It begs the question, what would a world without music be like?

Music is an art form that is so old that the date of its invention can only be theorized. Bone flutes have been found in caves across Europe and Asia and even if musical instruments only date back 40,000 years, music itself may be thousands of years older. It may even be as old as other distinctly human concepts and inventions, like speech and fire, and may have directly or indirectly contributed to our development as a species rather than existing as a byproduct of advanced intelligence. It would be easier to imagine a society that had music before but then banned it (which, as I mentioned before, is difficult enough as it is).

So what would that world be like? If we were to get rid of music, not only would we be getting rid of instruments, we would also have to do away with forms of entertainment and stimulation that employ music, such as movies, TV shows and video games. We would also have to censor the vast majority of the internet. Dancing would be close to impossible without rhythmic sound to accompany it. Speech tone would be much more monotonous than it is in our world. Indeed, this world would be dull and eerie.

Any child that grows up in a society during a music ban who hears music for the first time would assume that it was some sort of fantastic audible drug. Hearing it has our minds swim in imagery and make us feel a wide range of emotions. It changes our perception of time. It makes us move our bodies in ways that we normally wouldn’t. It makes people more attractive if they’re the ones making the music. It brings people together and makes them forget any differences or problems that they may have. It makes you want to just keep listening and, when stopped, it makes us want to come back for more later on. It would be positively mind-blowing.

But we must remember why this scenario is quite unrealistic. The first reason would be that people who remember music back when it was legal would still have favorite songs of theirs that would pop into their heads or make their way to their lips as they’re performing mundane tasks. Secondly, music is the audible version of art. If art decorates space, then music decorates time. It would not make much sense if one was banned and the other wasn’t. Also, a person can make anything into an instrument, and I mean anything. Pots and pans, whistles, baby rattles, wood, marbles, metal bars. In fact, a contraption made of just those last three can manage to make quite a catchy tune. And let’s not forget the sounds of nature around us, such as chirping birds and the barrage of raindrops during a storm. If there was no music for several generations, someone – in fact, many people – would end up re-inventing it sooner or later, either on purpose or by accident.

Remember those forms of entertainment and stimulation I mentioned that would have to be abolished in a world without music? Well that was precisely what The Taliban did. They went through all this trouble to ban music but, not surprisingly, they were not entirely successful. According to an article dating back to the time when I had that conversation with my dad, people in Afghanistan (which had a rich musical tradition before The Taliban came through) literally took music underground or away from civilization, music speakeasies, if you will.

So at this time, in this place, be happy for music. No matter how meager your existence, no matter how bad things get in this crazy world, music will always be here as just one of the ways that humans bring others joy through entertaining expression.

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Frankie Reviews Stuff: Classic Doctor Who

Besides writing about publishing and my book series, I figured that I can put my two cents about things that I feel just HAVE to be written about. This could include books, TV shows, toys, electronic devices, whatever. This time around, I have written about a serial of the classic Doctor Who series that I saw a few months back. I’ve been a fan of the series for a little while so I decided to watch some old ones for kicks and giggles. Here it goes…

This is my review of the Third Doctor story arc “The Green Death.” Since is the first Third Doctor story I’ve seen, it will also serve as commentary for the Third Doctor and his companion overall. Heed warning, for spoilers abound.

Trippy…

Considering the time period, I expected a plot with an environmental message would come across sooner or later. In the story, an oil refinery in Wales promises the town prosperity but at the same time, a string of mysterious deaths has been going around amongst its workers. Once the Doctor and Jo take a look for themselves, they discover green slime – much the same color that the miners turn before their deaths – and a large number of giant maggots. The slime is the chemical waste produced by the company, which has been mutating the maggots into large, carnivorous creatures that soon appear on the surface. The computer responsible for running the company has no interest in doing anything about this because it runs on the logic that what is good for the chemical company is good for all.

The chain of events in this episode was a rather strange one. First, it concerned the disease that the miners were getting but then it switched to the mutation of the maggots. The plot still dwelled on the disease that the people were getting but it begs the question: why did the chemicals make the humans sick but the bugs mutate? Whose idea was it to have a supercomputer be in charge? Where did the technology for such a supercomputer come from? Then again, I may just be thinking too hard about the story arc’s premise. Otherwise, it was an interesting story about the consequences of tampering with nature and what exactly goes on in the brains of a CEO when he makes decisions that are detrimental to humans and other animals. Since humans are known for their so-called humanity, it makes one think that these CEOs are no more human than a supercomputer.

I will forgive this episode since it was made in the 1970’s but I couldn’t help but chuckle at some (though not all) of the effects. In the scenes where The Doctor is driving past the maggots in his jeep, you can tell that the backdrop is just a camera doing close-up filming of a mound of dirt with regular-sized maggots on it. However, I was impressed by the maggots themselves, as they were truly terrifying with their teeth and hissing noises. The look of the supercomputer wasn’t all that bad either, although it was difficult to tell whether the voice function was stationary or floating. And, of course, the explosion at the end delivered what it promised.

Next, I will dwell on the characters. The Third Doctor has a definite fashion sense (love the outfit!) but manages to retain his masculinity. In this incarnation, he is smart enough so that, when he is needed for a medical matter, he is a doctor in more than just name. He is also calm and collected when in a threatening situation, such as when he confronts BOSS. This is a noble trait for a leader type. Despite his middle age, he never backs off when given the opportunity to fight, which is why fans tend to compare him to James Bond. However, his intelligence is a double-edged sword; it makes him seem helpful at his best and patronizing at his worst.

The companion that follows him on his journey is Jo Manning. She’s a woman who is in her twenties (I’m assuming) but at the same time is delightfully naïve and needs some guidance. She doesn’t know that an apple does not make an adequate breakfast. Also, she reminds me of that little kid that tries to help but instead screws up, which is precisely what she does when she accidentally spills fungus all over Clifford Jones’ slides (“I was only trying to help!”). This leads Clifford to be rather patronizing to her at some points. As naïve as she was, The Doctor did not much worry about her. In fact, in the beginning, she trusts her enough to go off on her own and even says something along the lines of, “she’s all grown up now.” Also, Clifford shows concern for her as she was off getting a maggot for experimentation. He goes off to rescue her and, in the end, she was the one who turned out all right while he was the one who ended up in harm’s way by contracting the sickness.

Clifford Jones was the hippie-dippy environmentalist type and a biologist to boot. This made me assume that he would reveal himself to be a pompous know-it-all, like the other stereotypical liberal intellectuals on television. Considering this, I was quite surprised to see that he was quite likable. Yes, he has those moments of “stand back, this is a smart man’s job” but overall he is not the pompous intellectual type or the complaining hippie type. Instead of sitting around and smoking pot while expecting the rest of the world to change, he uses his smarts to contribute to that change. In this case, it’s inventing a vegetarian form of protein.

BOSS was one of those villains that almost doubled as the comic relief. Robots have the reputation of considering themselves to be superior over humans but this one proved to be just as flawed as any human in that position. What’s more, he would go to many lengths in order to deny this by saying things like “this is not relevant right now” when asked an impossible-to-solve riddle. He was also quite fond of giving himself his own victory fanfare. In comparison, the HAL 9000 was a bit more subtle.

With all that said, the ending was a satisfying one where all of the maggots are left dead… or are they?! Yes, we’re pretty sure they are. Jo not only decides to go with Clifford on his foray into the Amazon but they decide to get married. The Doctor does not even stay for the entire engagement/we destroyed an environmental threat party, probably because he does not want to be reminded of his impending sadness. And he has every reason to feel melancholy: he’s all alone now, something that he goes through many steps to avoid doing. Much like the end of a movie, he rides off into the distance looking for new adventures. What will this next adventure be? Who, if anybody, will be his new companion? This got me revved up for the next story arc and the next one on the list is… The Fourth Doctor story of “The Arc in Space.” Curse you, Netflix! Why do you leave such a gap in the timeline?!

First World problems aside, I found “The Green Death” to have memorable characters but a rather disjointed story. I think it would have made more sense for the title of it to reflect the mutant maggots section of the story since this got more attention. For those of you who are new to the Third Doctor, I would suggest starting with an earlier episode, particularly one where the companion does not leave in the end. With that said, save this one for later.