This Sunday will mark the 28th anniversary since Manuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama in the mid- to late 1980s, took refuge in an embassy as U.S. troops closed in around him. Noriega would eventually surrender on Jan. 3, 1990.
What prompted Noriega to come out with his hands up? Music. Reportedly the compound in which Noriega was holed up was continually bombarded by hard rock.
BBC News reported that music by the band Metallica was used for sleep deprivation on Iraqi prisoners of war.
“These people haven’t heard heavy metal,” a member of a U.S. Army psychological operations unit said. “They can’t take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”
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Songs from children’s TV shows such as “Barney” and “Sesame Street” have been utilized for sleep deprivation and to culturally offend Iraqi prisoners. Even the Meow Mix commercial jingle has been used to pry intelligence out of captured combatants.
Now comes news of another type of music that proves effective in wearing down a person mentally: Christmas songs.
It’s been 37 years since the curtain came down on my career in radio, but I still vividly recall how I came to dread all the Christmas music we were expected to play at the small station in southwest Missouri where I was employed.
It wasn’t too bad in the beginning, playing one or two holiday hits an hour starting on Thanksgiving Day. But by the end of the broadcast day on Dec. 25, following a week or more of playing nothing but Christmas tunes, if I heard the Singing Dogs perform “Jingle Bells” one more time, I would have been ready to go howl at the moon myself.
What helped me maintain a shred of sanity was the fact I was at least playing multiple different versions of the same song. According to the music licensing company Music Reports, there are 137,315 recorded versions of “Silent Night.” No. 2 on the most-recorded holiday song list is “White Christmas,” with 128,276 versions.
Imagine having to endure listening to the same version of the same Christmas song repeatedly. It would not just be tedious. It could be psychologically harmful.
A study has found that holiday music on constant replay can be mentally draining for employees working in stores.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair told Sky News that store workers were “more at risk” of being impacted by a steady array of cheerful music. The same songs being played constantly makes it hard for employees to “tune it out,” and renders them “unable to focus on anything else.”
Even shoppers in stores where Christmas music is playing can be impacted, as can people who have it on continuous play in their car or home. According to Blair, each holiday tune serves as a reminder of all the things they need to do before the holiday arrives.
“You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing,” she said.
Finally, warns Blair, even “Silent Night” can irritate people if it’s played too loudly.
The American Psychiatric Association says that about 61 percent of people experience stress during the Christmas season. I wonder how much of that can be attributed to music that can drain you mentally.