This is a post perhaps better left to my alter-ego, but there is an important musical context, and subtext, that I am compelled to address. I found this yesterday, and unintentionally, and it has been poking at my sense of aesthetics and morality every since, and after a night’s sleep I can’t let it go. So, it must be processed! That’s what blogs are for.
Let me state my biases up-front: I voted for Obama in the New York primary, and would like to see him run against McCain because he beats McCain, while Clinton doesn’t. He beats McCain because of this:
Which Rod Dreher finds objectionable. I must continue to state my biases: Dreher is a member of that particular socio-economic class of recent vintage, the professional ignoramus & scold. I say this because he is paid to demonstrate his ignorance and to scold people who believe, think and act differently than he does. The fact that he has written a book cements my opinion, since that book seeks to create a political demographic, with Dreher at its head. In other words, it’s an attempt to create an artificial market than sell to that market, and it follows the format of consumerist market research, defining people by specific niches based around what they buy, their life-styles, their single-issues. This type of thinking reduces the idea of a human being down to the point of an entry in a relational database and therefore denies the existence of the complex essence of humanity, the soul. It is soullessness in the absolute sense. I would add that it’s strange that someone who claims “belief” in the religious sense would act in a way that demonstrates they have no belief in the existence of the soul, but then I’m long past the point of thinking that self-identified “Conservative Christians” in America believe in anything other than gaining and wielding material, authoritarian power.
So, I find Dreher’s claim that the Will.i.am video demonstrates a cult of personality around Obama to be predictable in a mechanical sense, but there’s further meaning there I want to examine – and bear with me, there’s more music content to come. First of all, in the context of a candidate for his party’s nomination, and referring to a piece of political propaganda, the term has no mean. Unless the subject actual is the leader of a nation, it’s just an ad hominem attack. It’s also an attack that has no bearing or effect when it comes to Dreher, since he has no criticism of the actual cult of personality built around the current president, from the specific – commander codpiece – to the general – the idea that the president is now some kind of superhero and the office requires someone with sufficient “powers” to “keep us safe.” He has no critical, ethical or moral standing to make the charge coherently.
It’s a little pathetic the way he strives to show off his learning (“Stakhanovite”) by criticizing a call to abandon cynicism and ignorance. This puts Dreher on the side of cynicism and ignorance! Now, he clearly is cynical and ignorant, but most members of his professional class think it’s important never to actually admit that. But he’s nothing if not completely unaware of himself – an ignorant cynic complaining that Ryan Phillipe is not himself doing anything to make the world better.
What does Dreher value? It’s impossible to tell. He admonishes a candidate who seeks cut the Gordian Know of Conventional Wisdom that constantly says “No You Can’t.” That’s a comforting thought to those who have their clubby sinecures, I’m sure, and of course if Dreher doesn’t like the Obama video, he must favor this one:
That’s more like it! What is unstated but painfully obvious about this is that Dreher is the kind of conservative who has his, doesn’t want to lose it and is afraid of anything and anyone around him looking different than the claustrophobic horizon of his own smug ignorance. The United States is changing, and whether Obama is the next president, his face is the face of the future (go to here and start down at page 71). He is already the face of California. Dreher is no different than professional racists like Pat Buchanan who scream about the borders, about people who want to be in America, which of course is frightening to the GOP in general because it hates America. The main point of hate and fear is the nexus in popular culture of younger people and music (finally, obligatory music content!). While I’m not sure what Dreher and Buchanan like to listen to at home or in the concert hall, and honestly I think guys like them tend to hate all the arts just as much as the academic life does, I’m glad to point out that popular music culture in America is fundamentally non-white, and has been since its origins. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, it was a fortunate day for America when the first unfortunate slave washed up on her shores.
But to generalize grossly, popular music, as it bubbles up from literally the bottom to eventually take some kind of generic slot in the collective consciousness, always begins as the music of the underclass and the outsider. Blues, jazz, rock, punk, hip-hop all started off at the very bottom, all were scorned and feared by the priggish guardians of morality, all eventually triumphed, even if only for a short-time. And what kind of people fear music in this way? Those who never played an instrument and who certainly never made music in an ensemble. As for as moral training and health goes, I can’t think of anything better than playing music with others. It requires cooperating, empathy and listening to achieve good music-making, whether it’s Brahms or the Blues. It seems to me that these are worthy values, and truly conservative values. Knowledge is also a moral value, and playing music makes one smarter and more curious. Ignorance is a moral failing, and Dreher, being ignorant, is therefore immoral. And since he is a loyal foot soldier in the continued efforts of a very few to decide what is best for the very many, he has an interest in promoting ignorance as a value.
This seems to me the core of the pathetic cult of personality complaint – that there are people in America excited to hear a politician promoting a community of real values, not mere political slogans, excited that someone is engaging them from a positive sense of empathy, listening, cooperation. These are good things, and frightening things to the small-minded, mean-spirited people who prefer fear and division, because they themselves are cowards. The Drehers and Buchanans are taking up arms too late, they’ve already lost this war; a mongrel culture has already defeated them. As far as what’s left, the scraps to fight over are those, again, of belief – Buchanan himself should be pleased that immigration gives the Catholic Church a chance to gain a larger population in America, but he cares more about skin color. Dreher seems to be on the winning side in that fight, and as far as his belief goes, he’s surely on this side. But they’ll never have music. Palestrina, Charlie Parker and Marvin Pontiac are for the rest of us.