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Poetry and Policy: Overtures of the Beast

Transformative Approaches Project


From a feminist perspective, the Beast conforms to the stereotype of the macho male in his treatment of Beauty as a form of cultural sex object. As a decorative object she is manoeuvred and displayed, often with the greatest cynicism, to enhance his own self-image.

1. Military and sporting events

That Beauty is important to the Beast is well illustrated by the way she has been "used" in military operations. Historically much importance has been attached to the development of battle chants and marching (bootcamp) songs as a way of psyching up soldiers and intimidating the enemy. This dates back to tribal times. Use of chants as a preliminary to violent reprisals has been documented amongst the Zulus in 1993. Similar chants are used prior to the commencement of major ball games and by fans accompanying them. The English rugby team in 1992 was reportedly intimidated by the All Blacks haka war chant -- designed for that purpose. The US military operation in Grenada, Kuwait and Waco (Texas) made use of broadcast music to undermine the morale of their enemy.

2. Corporations

Reviewed by Newsweek under the heading A Little Poetry for the Office Autocrat, James Autry's book Love and Profit: the art of caring leadership (1991). gives advice to managers that frequently takes poetic form. He is president of a large magazine publishing group.

Some major corporations have developed songs, sung daily or on special occasions, to focus the efforts of employees. This is most common in Japan, where it is taken very seriously. But even IBM has its song. As in military and sports contexts, these reinforce corporate identity, bonding and sense of collective purpose. Drinking songs, notably amongst students, continue to be imposed (often during hazing rituals) as a way of reinforcing camaraderie amongst people of different origin. Many schools and universities have their own songs.

3. Politics

Similar use has been made of Beauty in the political arena. Every newly independent country requires a national anthem as a symbol of national unity -- although it is questionable how many are played or sung with genuine enthusiasm. Goebbels was very skilful in his choice and adaptation of tunes during the Nazi era -- to the extent that some claimed that he had monopolized "all the good tunes". The International has been important to several generations of socialists. Songs such as We Shall Overcome have been of great significance in many civil rights demonstrations.

Commissioned poems have become a characteristic of some inaugural occasions, notably for the president of the USA (Maya Angelou, 1993) where Congress has instituted the position of poet laureate, as have twenty-five states. International conferences may be launched by musical or vocal pieces. Even the United Nations and the EEC attach importance to their respective orchestras. The "wit and wisdom" of the United Nations, as a collection of proverbs and apothegms on diplomacy (of which some are in poetic form) has been published (V S M de Guinzbourg, 1961).

4. Work

Songs and chants have longed been used as an accompaniment to work -- notably when there is a need to synchronize effort as in the case of sailors (hauling ropes), fishermen (retrieving nets), construction gangs (digging or moving objects). In certain cultures songs may be especially used by women to accompany tedious work. It was recently rumoured that one of the most productive assembly lines was composed of African women singing and dancing to their work. Background music (Muzak) is now very widely used as a mood altering technique in work and consumption environments. Many students now choose to study to the accompaniment of music.

5. Advertising

Perhaps most aesthetically offensive to some is the way in which Beauty is exploited in advertising. It could be said that the most familiar poetry now takes the form of advertising jingles, ditties andslogans. Products are given identity by associating a "catchy" phrase or tune with them. Coca Cola has been remarkably successful in associating valued music (Beethoven) and songs with its product. Clearly considerably more is now invested in such commercial art than in other forms.

6. Religion

This is not the place to distinguish the conditions under which institutionalized religion has used Beauty to carry or disguise its message from those in which Beauty is a natural expression of some spiritual understanding. It suffices to note that religious celebration makes special use of hymns and chants (mantras). Religious worship may be deliberately organized in various cycles (hours, days, years, or more) bound together into a coherent whole by aesthetic associations. Improvisation and collective participation may play an important role, where individuals in effect make aesthetic judgements on how to contribute or echo contributions of others (Hallelulah). Religious ritual shares with other forms of ritual, such as that of the freemasons or practitioners of magic, the use of liturgical structures which often take poetic form -- if only through the interweaving pattern of associations they embody.

7. Sciences

There has always been a certain tendency to enhance and enoble scientific meetings with a suitably chosen poem in the printed proceedings. This has become more, rather than less, acceptable --to the point that poems are now actually used within the body of texts or to summarize arguments. Thus Kenneth Boulding, a key figure in peace research, economics, and general systems research, chose (and was allowed) to summarize the proceedings of a United Nations University symposium on complexity by a poem -- each verse describing the contribution of a participant (S Aida (et al, 1985). His wife, Elise Boulding, of equivalent renown, chose to introduce her report on a working group of the World Futures Studies Federation (Rome, 1976) with a song.

Canadian environmentalist, Christian de Laet (1982), as a consultant in the drafting of the Papua New Guinea environmental policy, ensured that it was written in poetic form (mixed with symbolic and illustrative imagery). Hazel Henderson (1991), in presenting paradigms "beyond economics", chooses to include an Ode to the Life Force of her own composition. Of similar persuasion, Stephen Marglin (1992), in presenting a formal funding proposal to an intergovernmental meeting on the "greening of economics" used a "ditty" to emphasize the role of love. The BBC TV economist, Peter Jay, responsible for a weekly Money Programme, summarized the financial developments of 1992 through a lengthy poem which he recited on the Christmas broadcast. It was based on Lewis Carroll's Walrus and the Carpenter. Development Alternatives, a New Delhi-based think tank on environmental policy, has released two volumes of "songs on the environment" on cassette

Wolfgang Dahlberg (1984) very courageously presented a university thesis for a doctorate in philosophy written in German such that the tonal value of the words carried an additional level of significance.

8. Education and training mnemonics

In many fields of human activity mnemonic word patterns, often in poetic form, are used to facilitate learning. The film the Dirty Dozen, demonstrated their use in chant form in coordinating a sequence of actions of a commando group. Harold Baum, Professor of Biochemistry at Chelsea College (London) has edited The Biochemists Songbook (1982). The songs, based on well-known tunes, are explicitly designed to enable students to remember complex metabolic pathways. Lyrics and musical scores are given for 13 pathways -- few of them with less than 10 verses. Recordings are also distributed on cassette.

Note that in all of the above the emphasis of the Beast is on using Beauty to further his own institutional purposes -- however intrigued he may be by the inherent value of the qualities that Beauty carries. To what extent can it be said that the Beast's perspective is touched and informed by that of Beauty's? To what extent is she taken seriously? And what might that mean?

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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