Saturday, April 3, 2010
"Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)" by Toby Keith (2002)
Everything that is wrong with conservatism, in a single package. I recognise that a lot of Americans felt a need to respond in some meaningful way to what happened on September 11. Some people expressed hurt, horror, fear... and, yes, defiance. A lot of people turned to the American flag as, I guess, a kind of comfort. September 11 shocked and devastated me too, as a non-American, just as it did most of the world. It was horrible. It should have been the dawning of a post-nationalist era.
Alas, 'twas not to be. What the world got was George W. Bush putting the sentiments expressed in this song into practice. This is macho belligerence of the ugliest sort, and it mocks the sympathy the world had for the United States by glorifying its insular word-view and proudly displaying its ignorant disregard for the rest of the world.
The key phrase of the song, the one that got the most press, is 'We'll put a boot in your ass – it's the American way'. While some people might claim this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek play-on-words threat against al-Qaeda, I doubt Toby Ketih saw it that way. I think Toby Keith really believes that global dominance and military displays of might are the American Way – the lifestyle he claims his father fought and was wounded for.
A perfectly generic country-rock acoustic/electric lighters-in-the-air stadium anthem, the music is completely irrelevant (excepting the curious bells that show up toward the end). It's all about the lyrics – grunted out over top in the ugliest manner possible. The video is live, as it ought to be, since the song is a jingoistic populist rabble-rouser. Keith sings surrounded by a million flags as the overwhelmingly-white audience pumps their fists in the air and cheers at the ugly taunts, such as “you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A.”, whipped into just enough of a frenzy to leave the auditorium, verbally attack a few foreigners and vote for their Republican candidate.
And the global image of the USA, the image that was decimated by eight years of George W. Bush, the one that shows America as a bully, as a sabre-rattling, unilateral stain on the face of global solidarity... the image of America not as a 'land of the free' but as a hindrance to world freedom... well, that's the image Keith should be showing alongside all those fluttering flags on the monitors behind him. Because that's what he's a part of. That's what he feeds into and perpetuates.
And I'm absolutely sure he doesn't care in the least.