More campaign music

Phil Ford

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a little obsessed with the election primary this year. To a perhaps unwholesome degree. Part of it is the horse-race aspect of the thing. I have fond memories of watching Canadian election returns with my parents in the basement rec room as a child, fascinated by the red-blue electoral maps*, not really understanding the politics involved but able to understand the abstract contention of opposed forces, embodied in the figures of Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark. I can’t vote in the U.S., so while I have my opinions, I still tend to approach the whole political process with the same kind of abstraction, a tendency to obsess over the minutiae of polls and strategies and counter-strategies, who’s up, who’s down, etc. — in other words, I’m the sort of person that seriously political people hate. They want you to love a candidate (their candidate), not the mechanics of the process, but I’m wary of giving my heart away to a leader. (Just asking to have it broken if you do.) Someone in the comments once congratulated me for being “on board” for Ron Paul, but he was mistaken. I’m not “on board” for anyone.**

So, anyway, the primaries: Hillary vs. Obama is still very much worth following, but there’s not much suspense left in the Republican race at this point. To judge by posts by my fellow musicology bloggers, Obama’s taking the musicology vote in a walk. Phil Gentry had a characteristically interesting take:

. . . as a scholar of performance, and political performances in particular, I also support Obama because of the quality of that performance. I mean that literally: Obama wears great clothes, picks great tunes, runs well-produced commercials. I like that he speaks in paragraphs, listens closely, and gives the appearance of some sort of interior life. Clinton has some of these abilities as well, but for my aesthetic taste, Obama’s performance is vastly superior. Aesthetics matter, and when good taste collides with a progressive past and sufficient hope for a progressive future, I’m sold.

Of course, this is the sort of thing that makes HRC supporters see red. Style over substance! But I’m sympathetic to Phil’s point here, because (as I’ve said before), style is substance. One of my favorite quotes is Oscar Wilde’s line that Susan Sontag used as an epigram for her classic substance-of-style essay “Against Interpretation”: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Or, as Norman Mailer wrote (of the philosophy he learned from Dwight Macdonald), “if it feels bad, it is bad.”

It’s interesting how much of the business of Obama’s stylistic substance has been played out in musical terms. Gabriel Solis wrote a very good post (the comments are especially worth reading) on Maureen Dowd’s swipe at Obama’s “smooth-jazz modernity.” I’ve written before that if we’re judging candidates solely on the tunes that candidates have chosen for themselves, Obama wins easily. In the last few weeks there has been an interesting parallel phenomenon: unsolicited musical tributes to Obama. The one everyone has seen is the one with Will.I.Am, which Gabriel has also written about.

In the last few days a couple of new ones have appeared. There’s this Mariachi corrido  from Texas:

And a reggaeton tribute:

I’ve tried to find equivalent musical tributes for HRC, but god help me this is the only one I could find, and the comparison is not flattering:

If anyone can find other musical tributes to Clinton, please let me know. But from what I can tell, Obama has a commanding musical advantage in this race.

UPDATE: Rebecca points out this one for HRC:

*in Canada, red is liberal, blue is conservative, and NDP was something else, maybe green?

**Least of all Ron Paul, who disgraced himself by letting revolting race-baiting and gay-baiting propaganda go out under his name. This article by Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel tells you all you need to know about the whole sad story. It’s worth noting that one of the most dismaying aspects of this whole thing was how Paul’s libertarian followers, people who aren’t supposed to be followers at all but instead are supposed to raise distrust of political leaders to a point of principle, turned into Stalinoid hacks and insisted that Sanchez and Weigel be good little soldiers and keep quiet for “the cause.” Wrote Sanchez:

Maybe the most common beef I’m hearing from sane-seeming people is that we shouldn’t be talking about this stuff. It reflects badly on libertarianism, and Paul is still great all things considered especially compared with the wretched alternatives.

All other considerations aside, this is just premised on a repulsive conception of how libertarian journalists ought to operate—essentially as though “libertarian” nullifies “journalist” any time we’re faced with a choice between reporting facts and cheerleading for our tribe. It’s an argument with terrible pedigree, and reminds me more than a bit of an old essay in which Noam Chomsky argues scholars shouldn’t write about the Killing Fields in Cambodia, because fighting capitalism was more important than, you know, facts.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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11 Responses to More campaign music

  1. NDP is orange! Green is the now-defunct Reform Party.

  2. Scraps says:

    It’s a shame that Sanchez undercuts his fine point by pulling out another variation on a familiar smear of Chomsky that has no basis in fact. Chomsky pointed out that the coverage of the Khmer Rouge in the U.S. was politically driven, and that other genocides of the same time (such as the East Timor genocide) were completely ignored. He never said the Killing Fields shouldn’t be reported, and a libertarian journalist blandly asserting this, without support, is in fact letting ideology dictate what he says (and, presumably, believes).

  3. Rebecca M says:

    To add to the HRC file:

    Only a slight improvement on the Laverne & Shirley tribute.

  4. Richard says:

    Scraps made my comment for me.

  5. Ryan Banagale says:

    Thanks for your continued thoughts on this topic, Phil. Here’s one on Hillary, which isn’t so much a musical tribute as an attempt to capture the “Vh1 viewers of the late 1990s” vote:

    See you all in San Antonio!

  6. David Cavlovic says:

    The NDP is, for some reason, orange.
    The Green Party is green.

  7. Scraps-
    I’ll allow that this is an unsympathetically-worded summary of Chomsky’s views, but I don’t think it’s an unfair one. As we both know, of course, Chomsky was extremely critical of anyone who reported on atrocities being carried out by the Khmer Rouge, and did his best to minimize them. With that in mind, consider the following, from a 1988 interview with David Barsamian published in “Chronicles of Dissent”:
    “[A]n intellectual, like any human being, has the moral responsibility to consider the human consequences of what they do. That’s just a truism. If you write, you have a moral responsibility to consider the conseuences of what you write, what are the consequences going to be for human beings….
    [I]magine a Russian intellectual now. Should that person write accurate criticism of the terror and atrocities of the Afghan resistance in the Soviet press, knowing that that accurate criticism will enable the Soviet Union to mobilize its own population for further atrocities and aggression? Would that be a morally responsible thing to do?”
    Chomsky’s answer is, of course, that it would not. And I’ll even allow that there are circumstances where I might agree. But the idea we see articulated here, I think, perches atop an exceedingly slippery slope. It is very easy to see how one progresses from this type of reasoning to the conclusion that one ought to keep quiet about any facts that might be used as ammunition to defend an immoral policy.

  8. Scraps-
    I’ll allow that this is an unsympathetically-worded summary of Chomsky’s views, but I don’t think it’s an unfair one. As we both know, of course, Chomsky was extremely critical of anyone who reported on atrocities being carried out by the Khmer Rouge, and did his best to minimize them. With that in mind, consider the following, from a 1988 interview with David Barsamian published in “Chronicles of Dissent”:
    “[A]n intellectual, like any human being, has the moral responsibility to consider the human consequences of what they do. That’s just a truism. If you write, you have a moral responsibility to consider the conseuences of what you write, what are the consequences going to be for human beings….
    [I]magine a Russian intellectual now. Should that person write accurate criticism of the terror and atrocities of the Afghan resistance in the Soviet press, knowing that that accurate criticism will enable the Soviet Union to mobilize its own population for further atrocities and aggression? Would that be a morally responsible thing to do?”
    Chomsky’s answer is, of course, that it would not. And I’ll even allow that there are circumstances where I might agree. But the idea we see articulated here, I think, perches atop an exceedingly slippery slope. It is very easy to see how one progresses from this type of reasoning to the conclusion that one ought to keep quiet about any facts that might be used as ammunition to defend an immoral policy.

  9. Scraps says:

    As we both know, of course, Chomsky was extremely critical of anyone who reported on atrocities being carried out by the Khmer Rouge, and did his best to minimize them.

    Though that has been much asserted, to the point of being accepted as a truism by people who haven’t read his actual quotes, it is untrue, and doesn’t become truer by being buttressed with a a double-barrel of rhetorical leaning (as we both know, of course).
    Chomsky was critical of those who published exaggerations about the Khmer Rouge, yes. Time has in fact demonstrated that the reports he criticized were exaggerated. He was also critical of those who reported on the atrocities in Cambodia without reporting on the atrocities of our allies. Neither of those things (of course) mean that he minimized the atrocities, as he has been constantly accused of doing ever since (as we both know).
    A link you might find informative:
    http://musictravel.free.fr/political/political32.htm

  10. Scraps says:

    Ah, I can’t use blockquotes here. The first paragraph is quoting Mr. Sanchez.

  11. Scraps says:

    I apologize if this is unnecessary duplication (I mentioned it in response to one of Mr. Bellman’s posts), but, Mr. Ford, I think you would be interested in this post and subsequent conversation about music and the current campaign season (against a backdrop of campaign songs past):
    http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010012.html

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