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'Totalitarian Kitsch': Add Music To the Things Ruined by Politics
Milan Kundera has a phrase for it: "totalitarian kitsch." And if you
want to know what it looks and sounds like, you'd be hard-pressed to
find a more perfect example than that moment in July 2016 when Donald J.
Trump, saggy of frame and silhouetted like a pompadoured frog in a blaze
of blue light, swaggered onstage at the Republican National Convention
to the piped-in chorus of Queen's "We Are the Champions." Never mind that nobody in Trump's orbit seemed to have bothered to
ask for permission to use the song; never mind that Freddie Mercury,
whose virtuoso pipes continue to make "We Are the Champions"
spellbinding even after roughly 8,475,129 spins at sports stadiums
around the world, probably would have recoiled in disgust. Trump knows
enough about showmanship to realize that "We Are the Champions" serves
as the ideal expression of "his own sheer force of will," as his
daughter Ivanka put it during her own speech in Cleveland. ("No time for
losers...") Ivanka herself, as you may remember, strode onstage
to a droopy, wedding-bandish version of George Harrison's "Here Comes the
Sun." Oh my sweet Lord. (By the way, anyone who thinks the Democrats are
above campaign kitsch hasn't seen that video of Katy Perry trying and
failing to hit the high notes in "Firework" during a Hillary Clinton rally.) A long time ago, of course, in a galaxy far, far, away, rock 'n' roll
was the click track for liberation and rebellion and all of that stick-
it-to-the-Man, flowers-in-her-hair stuff, not the jackboot jingles of
reality-show Mussonlinis. But as tempting as it may be, you can't really
blame Trump & Co. for the way things have turned out. The hit songs of
the '60s and '70s have become victims of their own stubborn endurance.
Say a word out loud enough times and it starts to devolve into nonsense.
The same goes for music. As glorious as it originally was, classic rock
has turned into the party guest who won't take the hint and go to bed.
It continues to carve a deep groove in the American skull -- on the car
radio, at football games, in Walgreens commercials, in the Pandora
mix at the neighborhood restaurant with the wood-fired pizza oven, at
weddings where everyone cringes at Uncle Howard's interpretation of the
Electric Slide. You couldn't get away from "Sweet Home Alabama"
and "Slow Ride" even if you went all Viggo Mortensen in Captain
Fantastic
and moved into a hut in the woods. Politicians have been tapping into these little pockets of
ineradicable emotional memory for a while now. Ronald Reagan figured
that his supporters wouldn't care that "Born in the U.S.A." is as grim
as crap, and he was right. Bill and Hillary Clinton figured that their
core supporters would go all melty when they heard Fleetwood Mac's
"Don't Stop," and they were right. Along the campaign trail, over time,
renegade energy and meaning drained away from the FM-radio database.
And where did that energy go? Let's just say that if a song makes anyone
uncomfortable, politicians won't want anything to do with it. Which is
why we're betting it'll be a long time before the radical magic of
Beyoncé's "Formation" helps vault someone into the White House.
Unless we're talking about President Beyoncé herself. - Jeff Gordinier, Esquire, 10/16. ###
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