Bitter

>> Saturday, April 19, 2008

Slate had an amusing parody up yesterday: what might an anti-Obama/anti-Springsteen attack ad from the Clinton campaign look like?



Wow! They totally missed Springsteen's Satan-worship:

When I die I don't want no part of Heaven
I would not do Heaven's work well
I pray the Devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery furnaces of Hell
-"Youngstown"

...his misogynistic attitudes towards women:

Yeah point blank, you've been twisted up till you've become just another part of it
Point blank, you're walkin' in the sights
Point blank, livin' one false move just one false move away
Point blank, they caught you in their sights
Point blank, did you forget how to love, girl, did you forget how to fight?
Point blank they must have shot you in the head
Cause point blank bang bang baby you're dead.
-"Point Blank"
...and his casual attitude towards premarital sex:

Well I called up Dirty Annie on the telephone
I took her out to the drive-in just to get her alone
I found a lover's rendezvous, the music low, set to park
-"You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)"

But seriously: the Slate piece actually makes a point that may have been accidental (though I'd like to think Timothy Noah, who wrote the ad, was just savvy enough to be doing this on purpose--it's hard to tell because he's written some dumb things in the past): if you read Springsteen's endorsement of Senator Obama, you may remember this quote:
At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision....

What the Senator has been criticized for has been, in part at least, a characterization of working class folks as "bitter" and a statement to the effect that they "cling" to certain things--I think what he was trying to get at was that a lot of folks hitch their wagons to politicians who shift the blame for economic problems and such to subjects like gun control or prayer in schools, but he did an admittedly lousy job of phrasing it, phrasing it so it came out as "people are bitter so they cling to religion and guns" or something to that effect. And the clamor has been that folks aren't "bitter" at all.

Now, here's the interesting thing that the Slate piece highlights: Springsteen is often considered a voice of the working class. There's been a little debate among music critics over whether Springsteen's fanbase is really that blue-collar, or if he just appeals to intellectual liberal types like me who maybe just think they understand the working man. But let's just assume that Springsteen's record sales aren't the sales of someone who only appeals to the intellectual elites and that Springsteen does tap into something of the American experience for a wide range of backgrounds (I happen to think this is true); assuming that, would you say that Springsteen has written some "bitter" songs about the American experience?

Hmmm. Let's see.... "Born In The U.S.A." (Vietnam vet can't get work)? "Murder, Incorporated" (pervasiveness of urban violence)? "Youngstown" (steeltown economy so far under that steelworker decides "them big [corporate] boys did what Hitler couldn't do" after WWII)? "Johnny 99" (convenience store robber so mad at the state things are in, he asks judge to send him to Death Row for his feelings)? A little bit of bitter here and again? Should I continue? "Sinaloa Cowboys" (Mexican immigrants who are swept up in the meth trade discover "for everything the north gives, it exacts a price in return"), "Atlantic City" (man loses everything, makes a deal with the devil), "Meeting Across The River" (man who never had anything in the first place makes similar deal with similar devil)? Etc., etc., etc.

Bitter? Sometimes. And hopeful, sometimes, too.

There are Americans who have good reason to be bitter, you know? That's the thing. And Springsteen has often articulated that and that's been a major part of his success and his brilliance as a lyricist.

One of the things that troubles me about my country is that we've reached this point where we're supposed to lie. A similar thing came up with Michelle Obama's somehow infamous "proud of her country" comment. It still doesn't strike me as controversial. I'm ashamed of the way my country imported human beings as chattel until the Civil War, I'm ashamed of the way we treated Native Americans since we got here, I'm ashamed that we turned away Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s, I'm ashamed that we bombed Cambodia in the early 1970s, I'm ashamed that we torture prisoners of war right now. I'm ashamed that somebody had to write a song like "Strange Fruit" or a song like "Ohio." I'm ashamed that we interned Japanese-Americans during WWII and arrested Americans who marched for voting rights in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm ashamed that the President of the United States in 1914 decided Mexico was his backyard and the President in 1973 was a lying crook and the President in 2008 thinks he has a magical extralegal power under a "unitary executive" theory that has no basis in the understanding of Constitutional law that has prevailed in this country from 1803 (the year Marbury v. Madison was decided) up to 2001. I'm ashamed that this country will impeach a President for getting blow jobs and then name every fucking airport in the United States after another who illegally traded arms for hostages and criminally authorized secret wars in Latin America. Sometimes, sometimes I'm proud of my nation's Constitution, ambition, success, ingenuity and resilience--and sometimes I'm ashamed when we fail to live up to those mighty standards.

But to acknowledge those things is treated like an act of suicide, of treason, of cowardice. No, no--we must not say that any American is bitter or betrayed or ashamed. Everything is fine, boss, going to get some water, boss, I wasn't complaining, I was just digging, boss. Everything is just peachy, and damn anyone who doesn't agree.

We need, we really, really need to admit that there are a lot of things we've failed to do, and other things we keep failing to do. Not for the recriminations or to wallow in our guilt over our sins of commission and omission, but because we will never get our feet clear of those things if we don't step up and acknowledge they're there. Yes, some of us are bitter, and some of us have found it hard to feel pride in the country we love. Are we going to keep hiding, or are we going to do something about it?

So let's call things what they are. There are bitter Americans who have a reason to be bitter. Springsteen has often tried to vocalize that. I think maybe Barack Obama was trying to give voice to that too, albeit in a clumsy and ill-phrased way. To hell with the attacks on that statement of fact and to hell with the attackers, too. Some Americans are justly bitter, and they cling to what they've got. It's about time we offered ourselves something better.

4 comments:

Nathan Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 10:13:00 AM EDT  

Amen! You can't do better unless you're willing to acknowledge mistakes.

Janiece Murphy Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 10:54:00 AM EDT  

Thank you for this, Eric.

Sometimes I think my relationship with the U.S. is one of a parent toward a recalescent child.

I have unconditional love for my child, but I'm not blind, and it pains me when I see her make poor choices and compromise herself.

Seeing her mistakes doesn't mean I love her less, but if she's to grow up into a mature, contributing member of society, I have to recognize her mistakes, and make her recognize them, too.

Otherwise, where does change come from?

Okay, I think I've stretched that analogy as far as I can...

vince Saturday, April 19, 2008 at 3:17:00 PM EDT  

Concerning Obama's characterization of working class folks as "bitter" and his statement to the effect that they "cling" to certain things, I refer you to a great post over on The Angry Black Woman called "Is it still an insult if it's true?".

Janiece pointed this post out earlier in the week.

Eric Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 9:48:00 AM EDT  

Janeice: it's an extremely good analogy. It also works in the other direction, I think: if one's father or mother went to prison, one might well be disappointed and still love their parent. Perhaps family members generally.

I think you really raise an excellent point, which (bear with me) might be described as "What, doesn't anybody read Shakespeare's King Lear anymore? As I'm sure all of you will remember, the play begins with Lear divvying up his kingdom to his three daughters. But being a bit of a douche, he makes them kiss his ass first. Two of his kids, Goneril and Regan are suck-ups; Cordelia, however is pretty frank with Papa. So Goneril and Regan get the kingdom and Cordelia gets disinherited and exiled. Goneril and Regan end up stripping their old man of his retinue and his pride and then dump his ass out in the rain; Cordelia brings home an army whose sole mission is Saving Daddy's Bacon. Sometimes the people who love us are honest with us, would be the whole point. But these days, be a loving son or daughter like Cordelia, and all the Gonerils and Regans will accuse you of hiding terrorists in your basement, closets and attic.

(Oh, and also Janeice, I'm sorry because (see next paragrab*)):

Vince: I've been sporadic and erratic in blog-tracking this week. Thank you for pointing out that I missed Janeice's entry (I'll go take a gander) and for the ABW entry you linked to, which was excellent.

_________

*Xbscure E.A. Pxe reference, nxt a typx, just sx yxu dxn't think I can't spell. Cxldn't stxp myself.

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