Of Rolling Stone, Maggots and the National Anthem

In which the Elegant Bastard considers what appears to be the new American national anthem and decides that he would much rather they keep the old one.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Do you remember that chant, America? I do. On autumn Friday afternoons we would buy our way out of afternoon classes and gather on our ramshackle bleachers to cheer on our football heroes. And about every ten minutes or so, the cheerleaders would strut out to the track – hands on hips, pompoms ready – and when their leader gave the signal, the chanting would begin.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It was wonderful in that context. Now, things are different. Something more than a football trophy is at stake.

It’s been an interesting news week. We had flailing arms, frothing mouths, pointing fingers and pounding fists. We had marches and vigils and crowds and parades. We had media everywhere, tossing out misleading headlines, filming crying eyes and screaming  mouths and throwing in enough  inflammatory bits of speculation to keep everything bubbling .  Then, in the evening, near identical sets of polished faces and sculptured hair sat on panels to “tut tut” and “tsk tsk” in predictably confrontational “discussions”. Organized outrage was on another big roll; it was a nation-wide case of choreographed flatulence.

And now, before we even have a chance to clear the air, there’s a whole new drama. Out of the way, Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Snowden, stop whining. It’s all about Rolling Stone magazine and it’s “fluffed and buffed” cover photograph of alleged Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

The Right Hand Rant:  How dare this radical smut-filled rag offer such disrespect to the victims of the Boston marathon tragedy? How dare it glorify and glamorize a terrorist and a murderer by placing him in a spot normally occupied by teen idols and rock superstars. This tears at the nation’s moral fibre. Those who read this or profit from it are anti-American and greedy traitors! ( And godless! We mustn’t forget godless!)

The Left Hand Rant: Freedom of the press is one of America’s most precious traditions, a cornerstone of its democracy. Rolling Stone has always been a symbol of cutting edge and responsible journalism. Its fearless devotion to truth was epitomized by its award winning interview of convicted serial killer, Charles Manson. Those who can’t see this are right wing red necks who need to get with the times and go with the flow. (Now play with your guns and get over yourselves.)

What’s wrong with this? All of it really, but the worst threat is also the most subtle.

Those who defend Rolling Stone by pointing out the fundamental role freedom of the press plays in creating and maintaining the essence of America are on solid ground. So are those who argue that displaying the smouldering pretty boy charms of Tsarnaev on the cover of the iconic entertainment magazine elevates a terrorist to the stature of a Bob Dylan sex-god and denigrates the suffering of his victims. But as will inevitably be the case in a society that only listens to itself when the screaming starts, both sides go too far.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Rolling Stone defends its actions by claiming that all they are doing is maintaining their “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” Oh please! This is just silly, and anyone who has followed the magazine even intermittently over its history knows that. The brainchild of a maniacal, manipulative and media-savvy 60’s radical, it brought together what one critic called “stock, shock and schlock” and made it profitable. The Manson interview, seen as edgy in its more innocent historical context, would be dismissed as sensationalism today. The new cover’s caption, claiming that the article will show how Tsarnaev “became a Monster” – Oooooo! – suggests that nothing much has changed. (And by the way, Rolling Stone, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?)

Another obvious argument against Rolling Stone’s attempt at noble self-justification is both the choice of picture and its placement. Past media images of Tsarnaev tended to be far less attractive than this posed photo. The story is one of several in the issue yet it makes the cover.  Why use this picture in that place? There can be only one reason. Sales! And sales, sadly, have to be a concern for a magazine that has reportedly been slipping pretty steadily since its glory days. That picture is where it is for the best and basest of all capitalist reasons. A woman I spoke to today sniffed that what Rolling Stone has done was no different than maggots with dead flesh.  I would disagree. When maggots feed, they do not claim they are dining.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Still, Rolling Stone’s sensationalism is not the real issue. More dangerous is the deliberate encouragement of polarization in American society. And most dangerous of all is the rise of impotence!

In response to the Zimmerman verdict and the Snowden … whatever that was, we had streetscape after streetscape filled with placards and chanting and grotesque faces thrusting themselves at television cameras like lovers to each other’s bodies. And afterwards, nothing. These were gestures, moments of strutting and fretting, tales of sound and fury screamed aloud by idiots. Even as catharsis it was feeble.

And now, in response to the Rolling Stone photo, we will have boycotts. Oooooo! That means that people who never buy the magazine will now loudly proclaim the fact that they are not buying it. Stores that barely sold any – or none – will now point out that they are selling none. An equally impotent act will be accomplished by the other side. Those who normally buy it or have it delivered will simply draw attention to their purchases, perhaps dispensing with a paper bag or by reading it ostentatiously on a bus.

And that will be that. Gestures. No bang. Barely a whimper. If your lovers loved like that, you would push them out of bed.

None of this is activism. None of it is profound. Yes, the images and sound bites of your marches and your mewlings will be gathered and broadcast, but this will be, like Rolling Stone, commercialism – not potent political philosophy. You will be camera fodder only, something to be used. The media and its pundits will profit enormously and they will do so by encouraging this schism they foment in America.

Perhaps if Americans put aside the “My way and only my way” posturing and choose to come together (over coffee, tea, or beer) and talk (no yelling, drooling, or spitting) things out on common ground (pubs are good; so are churches), things would change. Everyone would give a little and get a little. Daily life would be less stressful.  The evening news might get tad boring but would that be such a bad thing? (We can always get North Korea to do something entertaining.)

And politicians would have to do more than stir up hate to get elected. That last American presidential election was less a smear campaign than it was a sneer campaign, and that’s really dangerous.

Let’s all listen to the old chant one more time:

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It makes a grand football cheer, I agree.

But as a national anthem, it sucks.

 

Since it seems to be Rant Day, here’s a link to a short story concerning my encounter with an aggressive vegetarian: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-49

As always, feel free to “share”, comment, “tweet” or buy coffee.

 

 

The Devious Daylight Murder of “O Canada”!

In which the Elegant Bastard points out to singers and song stylists everywhere that while the national anthem is our national anthem and even my national anthem, it is not your ticket to stardom!

Somewhere around the 6th grade, I stopped singing the Canadian national anthem. I had not abandoned patriotism, nor had I intellectually evolved to rejecting the concept of nations entirely. (That happened at 18 during my annoying years.) About all I had turned my back on by age 12 were broccoli, short pants and fried liver.

I stopped singing “O Canada” simply because all the other boys in my class stopped. The classic symbols of manhood were only vaguely understood by then – and in that culinarily challenged time, none of us knew what quiche was so we could hardly refuse to eat it as part of some gender based protest. But we all seemed to know that singing a national anything was not part of “male cool” and that was enough. If proof that men didn’t sing was necessary, all a boy had to do was watch a televised hockey or football game. True, the anthem might provoke a tough jaw-clench, but in no male faces was there any indication that they even knew the words. (In fact, during many subsequent visits to various sports parks where large portions of the male audience seemed to sprawl in their seats, their great beer bloated bellies raised to the glory of God, I wondered whether they knew any words at all.)

My 12 year old self had not rejected singing entirely. My friends and I had learned that singing Presley and the early Beatles allowed us to practice our (at that point purely hypothetical) pelvic-thrusting. (One had to start somewhere!)

And I’ll admit than on September 28, 1972, when Paul Henderson fired “the goal heard round the world”, myself and a crowded dorm room full of buddies tried (unsuccessfully) to belt out our nation’s song, but that was more booze and brotherhood in action than any pure love of country.

Yet in the years since then, I’d like to think that my male ego has grounded itself primarily north of the belt buckle, despite the efforts of Abercrombie, Fitch, Diesel and Levis to keep it south. I’d like to think that given the right chance, I’d be ready to “stand on guard” loudly, proudly and as close to on-key as anyone. And in fact I was more than ready to. I wanted to. And so, on February 12, 2010, I tuned in to the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympic games and cleared my throat. Who cares how the athletes might have been feeling. I was pumped. I’d even googled the words – just to be sure.

And then Nikki Yanofsky destroyed the dream.

Perhaps she has a great voice. Perhaps some publicity agent told her to do what she did. Maybe she mistakenly thought – or had been informed – that everyone was really there to see her, and all those flags were flapping around just to keep people warm. Whatever the cause, there – in front of tens of thousands of Canadians crammed into the stadium – she rendered the national anthem unsingable. It was impossible to even hum along.

From the opening dirge-like bars to her closing it’s-really-a-pop-song-and-it’s-time-to-BELT-IT-OUT style, it wandered in pace and pitch with a few vocal pyrotechnics thrown in – usually just when I thought it was safe to join in. And as she sang, it became increasingly clear that this was not about Canada. It was not about the Olympics. This was all about Ms Nikki, and anyone with the nerve to try and share the moment was going to be made to look – and sound – like an idiot when the anthem went off in yet another unexpected direction.

I’m not suggesting she was unique in this. I’ve Grey Cupped and Stanley Cupped and Super Bowled. Hell, I’ve even Brier-ed; I‘ve heard O Canada and Oh Say Can You See in rock versions, country and western versions and even one operatic version.  To me, those were merely sports moments and my inner patriot snoozed on. But this moment was, to me at least – and I think to many others – a moment of the Nation, and something in my quintessentially Canadian psyche wanted to cast off reserve, modesty and even politeness and just bawl out boring old “Oh Canada” to myself and to the world. I didn’t care about the billions spent. This was our time. We had long been misunderstood. Now was finally rooftop time and our collective barbaric YAWP was ready!

Then the lady sang.

And the anthem died in my throat.