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Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2001 / 28 Teves, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

Dubya, First Philistine?
It depends on how you define the word 'artist' -- THERE ARE unmistakable signs that George W. Bush, has already lost the culture war.

During the campaign, icons such as Barbra Streisand, Cher, and most of the rest of Hollywood arrayed themselves against him. MTV declined to celebrate his election with the sort of party they threw to mark Clinton's ascension. He has even been flogged for not inviting a poet to his Inauguration. Clearly, Dubya has been anointed First Philistine (which is nowhere near Palestine, as he surely knows).

Because Dub likes being liked, this must be a bitter plug to chew. But he can be consoled by knowing that being stiffed by this crowd isn't the biggest insult in the world. In fact, when he finally realizes that he's not going to be able to hug his way into his opponents' hearts, he can have some fun at their expense --- and perhaps benefit the nation in the bargain.

For starters, he's completely right on the poet issue. Even had his staff managed to raise Homer from the dead, almost every American would have found it all a big snore. Americans don't like poetry; Homer without Jethro plays to an empty house. He might have made a faint stir had he resurrected poet Charles Bukowski, whose classic "story of one tough mofo" (contraction not in original) is much more in keeping with modern tastes.

But the controversy would have been high, as would the muscatel bill. More to the point, Dub can ask some pertinent questions about entertainers who wag their tongues and fingers his way, such as: Where do these people get off taking themselves so seriously? Do their actual achievements really merit their exalted status as thinkers, moralists, and philosophers? Consider the question of intellectual prowess. While many Americans (ahem) suggest Dub's brass tongue indicates a slightly dim inner bulb, it is not unfairly judgmental to point out that many entertainers come across as stupid to an almost supernatural degree, as did Cher in an interview during the Democratic Convention.

Dub occasionally has that deer-in-the-headlights look, but Cher sounded like she'd been hit and backed over a few times. She is not alone. The truly grating aspect of all this, however, is the moral finger-wagging, which seems to infect entertainers down to the dinner theater and garage-band level.

Consider the recent uproar over Ricky Martin's announcement that he would sing his pop moneymaker "The Cup of Life" at the Bush Inaugural (as he did at the GOP convention). Martin was denounced as a "traitor" and "sellout"; Robi Rosa, who co-wrote and produced the song, was inconsolable in his rage and grief:

Singing "The Cup of Life" at George Bush's inauguration is like playing the fiddle while Rome burns,' Rosa said. "This is a very partisan act. This is a president who would have people in his Cabinet who would obstruct the exercise of civil rights, human rights, consumer rights, the right to choose, the right to be free of gun violence and the right to a clean environment. This is a betrayal of everything that every Puerto Rican should stand for.
One way of reading this statement is that Rosa is an artist of extremely high moral principles who is taking a brave and uncompromising stand against evil. One senses this is Mr. Rosa's view, and that it is widely shared by many peers and customers.

Another reading of this statement, however, is that it reveals Mr. Rosa as a preening ass who is not only a raving partisan hack but a man in possession of a staggering sense of personal superiority --- a man who has assigned himself nothing less than the job of deciding what it means to be a good Puerto Rican, a good American, and indeed a good human being. In his mind he is so morally superior to his opponents that merely singing his song in their presence constitutes an act of artistic blasphemy.

Dub might consider campaigning on the second theme when similar denunciations come his way (many are no doubt just over the horizon). There are a few ways to knock such asses out of their shoes, but the best is to simply point out that these critics thunder as if they're great artists, but they are anything but. In the case before us, the deed is done by reciting some of the opening lines of "The Cup of Life":

Do you really want it? (YEAH)
Do you really want it? (YEAH)
Do you really want it? (YEAH)
Go, Go, Go! (Go, Go, Go!)
Ale, Ale, Ale! (Ale, Ale, Ale!)
Go! (Go!) Go! (Go!)
Go! (Go!) Go! (Go!)
Here we go! (YEAH!)

The cup of life
This is the one
Now is the time
Don't ever stop
Push it along
Gotta be strong
Push it along
Right to the top

No one should take away from Mr. Rosa the fact that he knows how to make the pop racket work on his behalf. He no doubt deserves the riches he has garnered. At the same time, he is for all extents and purposes nothing more than a highly successful jingle writer, and as such has no claim to be taken seriously as an artist, much less a thinker or moralist.

This isn't to hold him Mr. Rosa up as an abnormality, or to suggest that his inflated sense of self-importance isn't understandable. The ubiquity of pop culture lends its purveyors an omnipresent aura, with which goes an assumption of omniscience. And so a pop producer is believed, at least by some peers and customer, to be equally adept at dispensing political and philosophical wisdom. The illusion sometimes distorts reality to an even more ridiculous degree, as when actors who portray doctors or farmers are called before Congress as valid sources of medical or agricultural information.

All of which is a major crock, and Dub might as well say so. After all, no fawning MTV drone is going to ask him if he wears boxers or briefs --- it's assumed he wears both, simultaneously. As it happens, he can find some support for this position from within the entertainment ranks. He might begin by recalling Bob Dylan's response to those seeking deep enlightenment in his lyrics: You'd be better off reading Dostoevsky. He should keep in mind, of course, that were the grand Russian to have magically appeared at the Inaugural and begin reading from his work, there would be great danger in standing between the crowd and the Port-o-Lets.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


01/19/01: Goodbye L.A., Hello Nashville
01/12/01: Elvis and the Rock of Death
12/07/00: Col. Sauls-ders roasts some ducks
11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett