(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Commentary: Unclear on the concept

Subliminal messages

It's all about the sound bite. Politics has developed to the point where major policies, political agendas, and complex issues are all boiled down to the simplest of phrases that no one could possibly argue with. If your guys says it, it's obviously right and the other guy's equally catchy battle cry can only be dismissed with cynicism about whether he actually means it. That race to the trivial catchphrase seems to work both ways, though. In particular, Songs like Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." and Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" have been praised by politicos from both sides who can't seem to hear anything more than the anthemic chorus refrain. Both of these tunes in particular have struck a chord with people who never seem to have listened to the darkly critical words in the verses. Springsteen sang, "I'm ten years burning down the road/ Nowhere to run, ain't got no where to go," referring to the hypocrisy of how America treats it's soldiers and working people in general, and Ronald Reagan's team ignored all of that to focus on that soundbite chorus, even asking the Boss to endorse Reagan in '84. It did not go well.

Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" has had similar treatment. Even as he mocked George H.W. Bush directly with, "We got a thousand points of light/ For the homeless man/ We got a kinder, gentler/ Machine gun hand," neocons took the song as a celebration of capitalism's triumph over communism. The latest moron to miss the point was Donald Trump, who used the song for his entrance when he announced his 2016 presidential run on June 16. That led to Neil Young making the most unnecessary official statement denying a tie to Trumps campaign:
"Donald Trump was not authorized to use "Rockin' In The Free World" in his presidential candidacy announcement.  Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America."

Using either of these songs, or any other similar pieces should be a new litmus test for political fitness. Ignoring the main thrust of the lyrics just because a line in the chorus resonates is not just a sign of shallowness -- we are talking about politicians here -- it's a sign of poor judgment. We don't have much choice about whether to settle for the soundbite. We should cry foul, though, when the slogan undercuts itself.

As a service, here's the lyrics video version of "Rockin' in the Free World" to help Mr. Trump out.

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