Partisan hacks with a microphone
I was a bit rushed with work when I originally posted the query below, so I should probably say by way of full disclosure now that I have time: I really am no big fan of the politicized subgenre of gospel tunes of which “We’ve Got to Get America Back to God” is a representative (the song came up in a piece of writing I’m working on right now; thus my need for your collective memory). Any time you try to put music in service of explicitly political rhetoric, the result is inevitably stilted and clubfooted. It’s like trying to find a rhyme for cancer. You can do it, but not without a cringe.
But that’s a matter of taste, I suppose. The bigger issue is that the music-as-political-chum approach disrupts the useful fiction of universal ecumenicalism that is an essential precondition for the successful live performance of gospel music (listening at home, you can just skip the cringe-inducing polemics). Typically, concerts work in no small part because we all have agreed to pretend that we agree about everything because we share a love of gospel music performed live. It’s one thing for artists to sing or talk about “values” or “Godly leaders” or voting for those people who will ensure this is a “Christian nation.” We all think we know what we are supposed to infer from these loaded words (politically conservative, religiously fundamentalist positions), but they’re sufficiently vague to allow listeners of all political and ideological stripes to assign their own meanings to these terms … and for those of us to the left of the hard right, hope the awkward but bearable moment of vaguely political grandstanding passes quickly. As soon as you start getting into specifics – abortion, the war, sexuality, prayer in school, whatever – you cut off access to that interpretive flexibility and make people choose sides. In the process you descend from the artistic ether (where people will suspend a lot of disbelief about politics and such and assume you’re someone they’d get along with because they like your music) and become a partisan hack with a microphone.Email this Post