Today is


   "A word to the wise ain't necessary --  
          it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
					-Bill Cosby

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Late Night Channel Surfing . . .

. . . and I came upon VH1's countdown of the "25 Greatest Protest Songs." A host of pundits, luminaries, and "artists" was on hand to proclaim the immense significance of songs like Do They Know It's Christmas? Janeane Garofolo, Steve Earle, and some guy named Moby spouted empty cliches for the benefit of VH1's benighted, protest-challenged audience.

We can all guess which song was No. 1 on the list, can't we? (Hint: the answer is flappin' in the breeze.) Now, I have a certain fondness for Bob Dylan's famous ballad. I have some affection for a few of the other anointed songs, as well -- Peter Gabriel's Biko, U2's Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, Neil Young's Ohio. Thankfully, since those songs were written in response to specific historical events, they resist being wrenched out of context and pressed into the service of some sapped-of-content, historically ignorant "stance;" thus Garofolo and that Moby guy -- who, after all, aren't much interested in actual history (it's, like, too complicated, dude) -- can't do as much with them as they can with a sublime piece of garbage like Give Peace a Chance.

I want to make a "protest" video featuring Give Peace a Chance. St. John's remarkably trite little ditty would play over scenes of historical events where the world gave "peace" a chance -- ten million dead in a man-made famine in Ukraine, 750, 000 slaughtered in Rwanda, tens of thousands dying in Darfur, Soviet tanks in Budapest and Prague . . . and so it goes (to quote Kurt Vonnegut, a second-rate writer and "pacifist" who churned out precisely the kind of out-of-context, adolescent, anti-war fairy tale that counts as profound among the knitted-brow, hip-to-be-square-bespectacled, Janeane Garofolo set). Do you think I could get Garofolo and Moby Dick --and Springsteen, and Bonnie Raitt, and Michael Stipe -- on board for my protest?

For Garofolo and her ilk, "commitment" will always be more important than content. As I listened to Garofolo's earnest little pronouncements, I was reminded of a certain poster that used to annoy me. This particular poster hung in the faculty restroom of the high school where I taught, and said something like,"It doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe, but whether you care or don't care." The stupid thing bothered me so much that I wrote out the words on my classroom chalkboard and asked the girls in my Freshman Honors English class to tell me what was wrong with the statement. Molly, one of my brightest students, raised her hand immediately and nailed the answer. I don't remember what she said verbatim, but she used the classic example to illustrate her point (four letters, starts with N, ends with I, Garofolo thinks George Bush is one). I wonder what would happen if I tried that little experiment with a classroom full of Janeane Garofolo and her activist celebrity friends. Would they "get it" as readily as Molly did? What do you think? Anyone? Anyone?

17 Comments:

Blogger stewdog said...

Kate Marie. . watching VH1? THAT is the story.

February 01, 2005 7:06 AM  
Blogger Madman of Chu said...

Allright, I'm not going to stand up in defense of Janeane Garofolo (who my brother has dubbed, in what I deem a rather subtle and incisive turn of phrase "Gabarfolo"), but I will come out swinging for St. John. If you made your proposed video, K.M., viewers MIGHT unironically assume "Gee, I guess the perpetrators of the Ukrainian famine, the Rwandan genocide, murder in Darfur, and tyranny in Eastern Europe didn't give peace a chance. Right on, John!" The point being that singing a protest song or taking issue with the action of one's own government does NOT entail automatic approval of "the other side" (or even acceptance of any reductionist account of how the "sides" map out). The symbolic impact of your video depends upon a pretty Manichean architecture of the political field.

February 01, 2005 8:41 PM  
Blogger stewdog said...

Envision Whirrled Peas

February 01, 2005 9:06 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Dear Madman,

I would argue that war (hot or cold) and violent conflict THEMSELVES create a "pretty Manichean architecture of the political field." If Saint John and his disciples were to march en masse in Central Park to protest the entrance of the U.S. into WW2, I would find it hard to escape the conclusion -- a la George Orwell -- that they were "objectively pro-fascist."

But in a way you make my point. Even more than my disagreement with Saint John's political ideas, it's the vagueness and insipidity of the song itself that I find utterly mind-numbing. What does "peace" mean in the song? Does it mean the absence, technically, of war? If so, then all the events I described would come under the rubric of "peace." Or does it mean the absence of any violent conflict? If so, it's the most toothless, vapid kind of protest I can imagine. Any group of people who choose to protest the Rwandan massacre by singing "Give Peace a Chance" may be able to congratulate themselves for remaining outside of the "Manichean architecture of the political field," but the fact remains that the song, and the protest itself (as long as it remains dedicated to pacifist principles), are little more than exercises in preachy self-importance. You don't sing "Give Peace a Chance" to Adolf Hitler and expect to survive the encounter-- not, that is, unless some poor non-peaceful bastard who doesn't share your high pacifist principles is willing, in accordance with the Manichean realities, to kill lots of people on the "other side."

Given the way I feel, I have no real excuse for being partial to Blowin' in the Wind, but there it is. The truth is I just like the melody better. My criticism of Lennon's song arises not so much from the fact that he was on the wrong side of history (though he was) as from the fact that the song itself is a symptom of the degradation of the language that George Orwell decried in "Politics and the English Language." It represents badly muddled thinking -- and that's hard to do when a song has so few lyrics.

February 01, 2005 11:00 PM  
Blogger Madman of Chu said...

Dear Kate Marie,

Your response relies on a pretty Manichean understanding of my use of the word "Manichean." What I meant was that the irony of your video assumes that ANYONE who finds the song "Give Peace a Chance" appealing would a priori object to aggressive, even military intervention to prevent something like the Rwandan genocide or the Ukrainian famine. "Give Peace a Chance" does NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, equate to "NEVER commit war," after all, and the perpeprators of those atrocities violate the spirit of the song as much or more than those who might take up arms to oppose them. But arguing over the "meaning" of the songs lyrics is semantics. Your video assumes a world that breaks down into wimpy/idealist/soft-principled/pseudo-intellectual liberals and hawkish/pragmatic/hard-principled/clear-reasoning conservatives, and THOSE Manichean categories just don't hold water. As to whether Rabbi Lennon was on the wrong side of history, there perhaps we have to agree to disagree. Vietnam was manifestly a time and place where the U.S. might have tried to "give peace a chance."

February 02, 2005 6:23 AM  
Blogger stewdog said...

Hey, can we all just get along?

"All we are saying. . is give sanctions a chance"!!

February 02, 2005 9:00 AM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

"Your video assumes a world that breaks down into wimpy/idealist/soft-principled/pseudo-intellectual liberals and hawkish/pragmatic/hard-principled/clear-reasoning conservatives, and THOSE Manichean categories just don't hold water."

-- Whether those Manichean categories hold water is a different issue (SOME kind of categorization is required to facilitate discourse about these issues -- whether EVERY individual fits into a general category is another matter. I myself don't entirely fit in the "pragmatic" side of the Manichean equation) -- but, in any event, I don't think my video makes any such assumption. My video assumes that most of those who are likely to march in the streets singing "Give Peace a Chance" in protest have given little thought to what the song actually means, or to what they actually mean when they sing it. Most of them have likely given little thought to whether that song could work as well to protest the situations I described as it could to protest Reagan's deployment of Pershing missiles in Western Europe, or the first Gulf War. The point of my video was to question why the Janeane Garbafolo brigade seems only to sing and march when it's a matter of American military intervention or aggresseive American foreign policy. I don't recall any such song-filled protests of Iraq's brutal regime, or of the Rwandan genocide, or of the situation in Darfur, etc.

As to the actual song -- well, I contend that any song about which one can spend so much time on semantic arguments, any song whose semantics are THAT ambiguous, is not much a protest song.

When I said that Saint John, . . . er, Rabbi Lennon was on the wrong side of history, I wasn't referring to his position on the Vietnam War, but to what I perceive as his vaguely fellow-traveling sympathies. But as I know very little about Rabbi Lennon, I may be being unfair to him in that regard. What I DO know about him is that he wasn't -- as a man -- worth the adulation that seems to be heaped on him. Whether he was worth anything as a musician is another matter. I like to listen to the Beatles, but I much prefer the post-break-up Paul McCartney to the post-break-up John Lennon (now, if THAT ain't subversive, I don't know what is).

February 02, 2005 11:37 AM  
Blogger stewdog said...

It's not subversive, it is just wrong.
McCartney and Lennon needed each other. McCartney was from a better home and was a better musician. Lennon had a rough go and his music showed it. His songs had depth, but he needed the smooth edge that McCartney gave them. McCartney needed the rough, tough and earthy edge that Lennon gave to his songs. Lennon did a lot of crap after they split, but was coming around (Watching the Wheels, Starting Over)when he was assassinated. McCartney has done nothing but spew out mindles pop junk drivel since they split. Don't get me started.

February 02, 2005 3:12 PM  
Blogger Wonderdog said...

"It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden, and those who have not swords can still die upon them. Would you have the folk of Gondor gather you herbs only, when the Dark Lord gathers armies? And it is not always good to be healed in body. Nor is it always evil to die in battle, even in bitter pain. Were I permitted, in this dark hour I would choose the latter."

- Tolkien

Here's my "Give Peace A Chance" video:

Have the gaunt faces of jews behind barbed wire at Auscwhitz lip-sinc-ing along with Lennon's caterwoling as nazis look on in derisive amusement. The anguished singing of prisoners continue as it now plays over an American battalion bursting on to the scene in slow motion, guns at the ready, charging and taking aim at said nazis. Suddenly, the American soldiers stop and are moved by the haunting mantra, lay down their weapons, hold hands and join in the sentiment...Lennon's mantra continues as the nazis unleash a hail of machine gun fire upon the singing soldiers, killing them all and leaving the prisoners in stunned silence...the mantra slowly picks up again as a child, seeing a gun from an American soldier within reach, stretches for it as barbed wire lacerates his cheeks...fade to black.

February 02, 2005 5:50 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Dear Stewdog,

I must respectfully disagree. "Live and Let Die" and "Band on the Run" (hell, I'll even throw in "Silly Love Songs") are better than anything Lennon ever did after the break-up.

February 02, 2005 9:23 PM  
Blogger stewdog said...

Pardon me while I get the custodian's bucket of sawdust to cleanup the floor. Band On The Run was mindless drivel. Live and Let Die was just pretentious.

Give me Instant Karma, Watching the Wheels, Jealous Guy,
Cold Turkey, and even Beautiful Boy and Starting over.

And if you go back over the Beatles songs and separate the McCartey Songs from the Lenon Songs, it's like separating chaff from wheat. There were some exceptions (Michelle, Yesterday) but for the most part, Lennon's songs smoked McCartneys.

February 03, 2005 11:09 AM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Beautiful Boy? Gag. I love the hypocrisy of that one -- poor Julian and the first mother really got the shaft from their multi-millionaire pacifist acid-dropping ex-husband and father.

As for Beatles songs, I defy you, oh Stew of Dog! Better call for another sawdust bucket. McCartney's songs were much better than Lennon's. Hey, Jude, Blackbird (that one alone leaves anything Lennon ever did in the dust), Let it Be . . .the list goes on and on.

February 03, 2005 11:24 AM  
Blogger stewdog said...

Exactly right. . McCartney's songs go on and on and on and on. Vacuous and saccerine. Let it Be? Hey Jude?
You've been smoking too much "Mother Mary"!

I'll spot you Blackbird, Things We Said Today, Michelle, and Yesterday, but cut me some slack.


Father. . forgive her, for she knows not of what she speaks. Now go stand in front of the mirror and sing "I'm a Loser"!!

Lennon was an A HOLE! McCartney was a better musician, but NOT a better songwriter.

February 03, 2005 1:43 PM  
Blogger Kate Marie said...

Come to think of it, George Harrison may have written their best song. . .

February 03, 2005 2:24 PM  
Blogger stewdog said...

At least we can agree that it wasn't Ringo.

I loved George Harrison. The only 2 celebrity deaths that had any effect on me in the last 10 years were George Harrison and Johnny Carson.

February 03, 2005 4:10 PM  
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