07 March 2019
Who’s hacking your brain?
By Neil Tidmarsh
I can’t sing. Never could. I used to dread music lessons at junior school (‘music’ was never anything more than singing). I was the kid whose groaning monotone would make the teacher’s sensitive and artistic soul flinch and shudder. School plays were always musical pantomimes – one year I was cast as the Emperor in Aladdin, and all the Emperor’s songs were cut, and the Emperor was given strict instructions to put the ‘mime’ into pantomime and do no more than silently open and close his mouth during the ensemble songs.
That was a long time ago, but in retrospect it looks like this wasn’t an affliction but a Darwinian gift which put me ahead of the evolutionary curve, a genetic upgrade which today and in the future might provide humanity with inbuilt cyber-security and protect mankind’s cerebral software from attack by hostile hackers.
What? Cerebral software? Inbuilt cyber-security? Have I been reading too much William Gibson? His concepts of virtual reality and cyber space have been made real by science, true enough, but his idea of jacking a computer directly into the human brain is still a few years away from realisation, isn’t it? And anyway, what’s that got to do with kids singing?
Well, this week it looks like Huawei – stung by the world’s accusations that its software might enable spies sponsored by the Chinese state to break into networks all around the globe – has found a way of hacking directly into people’s brains so simple and easy that science fiction doesn’t come into it. And it’s all to do with songs and children singing.
Get kids to sing your propaganda for you.
A song – Huawei the Beautiful – sung by little children has become a big hit in China. Although Huawei denies any connection with it, or with the Beijing government, the songwriters are or were members of the Peoples’ Liberation Army song and dance troupe, the national security department and local government. And The Global Times – the Communist Party’s news agency – was quick off the mark to proudly announce that the video of the Zhoudan Children’s Singing Classroom performing the song has gone viral on Weibo, the Chinese twitter.
“Of all the phones in the world, which is the most beautiful? Everyone says Huawei!” the choir of tiny tots sings. “Teacher tells me to love my country, and to love our domestic brand Huawei! Huawei is good, Huawei is beautiful, Huawei wins glory for our country! The battery is durable and the appearance is nice. The Chinese-made chip is very precious…”
But, to be fair, Huawei and Beijing weren’t the only ones trying to hack into their citizens’ brains via ear-worms this week. In Thailand, the country’s leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has yet another hit on his hands. The military dictator overthrew the civilian government five years ago, but these days he’s busy writing pop songs as well as running the country. His latest – New Day – is sung by an officer and a non-commissioned officer from his army, and appeals to his people ahead of the long-delayed election which he has finally promised for the end of this month (and in which he himself is standing, of course).
“Thailand’s new day is coming to refresh our hearts / Let us fix the disappointing past / A day when we have to combine our powers / Don’t let anyone come in and hurt Thailand… / Thailand’s new day will be brilliant when everyone proudly performs their duty / This is our land, our home, we must be patriotic… / Looking forward to a new day which will be imprinted in Thai history / To the path of democracy for all Thai brothers and sisters…”
Perhaps something gets lost in translation.
It’s General Pryath’s eighth single. His first was Return Happiness To Thailand, released just after his military coup d’etat in 2014. Last month, his romantic ballad Diamond Heart was released for Valentines’ Day. His rap single Thailand 4.0 came out hot on the heels of a protest song by the Rap Against Dictatorship collective.
And next door in Malaysia, former prime minister Najib Razak is taking a leaf out of the general’s song-book. Najib – in recent years a target for corruption allegations by The Washington Post and the New York Times and a subject of interest to the US State Department in its investigations into the disappearance of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s public coffers – was in power for nine years before his surprising defeat in last May’s general election. He was arrested by the Malaysian anti-corruption commission last July and now faces almost fifty criminal charges, including allegations of money-laundering, corruption, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust. But he’s fighting back. In a bid to reclaim the hearts and minds of the people of Malaysia he has released a pop song – a version of The Manhattan’s 1970’s hit, the ballad Kiss and Say Goodbye – and an accompanying video.
“Today is the saddest day of my life” he intones soulfully, backed by a choir of children. “After 9th May I was ousted / All this time I’ve been fighting so hard for my people / But what can I do / I lost because of Pakatan Harapan’s non-stop malicious lies…”
His trial begins next month.
Meanwhile, back in China, this week also saw the opening of a £17 million “Life on Mars” centre in the remote deserts of Eboliang, where the landscape resembles the surface of the red planet. The centre is a mock-up of a space station on Mars, and is part research facility and part public education resource. China intends to send an unmanned rover to the planet next year, and this centre indicates that it has a longer term plan to send men there, too.
Life on Mars? Isn’t there a song about that? One more for the Zhoudan Children’s Singing Classroom, surely.
“Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man, look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best-selling show
Is there life on Mars?”
That’s more like it. It’s safe to sing along with this one, kids. Classic 1970’s glam rock, guaranteed malware-free. What terrible noise? Oh, don’t worry, that’s just me trying to sing.