“America!” Trey Parker once bellowed with the force of a thousand Chevy truck ads, “F— yeah!”
It wasn’t meant to be a celebratory statement, rather, an indictment on the way the U.S. was viewed by the rest of the world: as egomaniacal cowboys, big, dumb illiterate broad-necks obsessed with fake boobs and huge explosions. Our foreign policy did little to prove this stereotype wrong. Neither, really, did anything else.
For something like 60 years now, we’ve been the Ted Nugents of geopolitics. We’ve acted with a sense of entitlement and a misguided purpose that was befitting of only the hugest, dumbest of rock stars. We’ve taken what wasn’t ours and trashed everything that lay in our path and treated the planet like it was little more than a day-shift stripper in Wisconsin. We are the double-necked guitar, the ham-fisted power ballad and the never-ending drum solo of the world. The cover of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. We are Hinder, KISS, Survivor, WASP and Mötley Crüe, all rolled up into one. There’s little doubt why the rest of the planet hates us.
Barack Obama wants to change all that. In his inaugural address Tuesday, he mentioned sacrifice and humility, spoke of the suffering of our ancestors and the challenges that lay before us. He used words like “dignity” and “peace” and even “fear,” extended olive branches and promised unity. It was sensitive and pragmatic and downright emo at times. And also extremely un-American.
I say this because rock stars are none of those things. Has David Lee Roth ever been sensitive? Do Nickelback ever weep? Has Axl Rose ever been pragmatic? Of course not. And they probably never will. The Eye of the Tiger does not blink (or change its spots, whatever that means). And that’s why I have my doubts that Obama can transform America from the hulking, preening, groupie-hording, coke-snorting, arena-destroying rock star that it is into, say, a gentle indie folkie. America will never be Sufjan Stevens, no matter how hard Mr. Obama wants it to be.
And this is sort of a bummer; living in the U.S.S. (the United States of Sufjan) would be great. We would all wear sweaters and rejoice and be seen as the weird, asexual cousins of the world. We would be sensitive and join hands and sing songs like “The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Going to Have to Leave Now, or, ‘I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!’” in warbling, threadbare falsettos. Some of us would wear angel wings and play ukuleles. America would certainly be a kinder, gentler place. And that would definitely be a step in the right direction.
Then again, that’s probably never going to happen. Because despite the fact that — perhaps more than ever — this country needs to get in touch with our inner indie troubadours, I just don’t think we have it in us to change. Rock radio is just as terrible as ever, if not more so. People keep buying Nickelback records. We are continually enthralled by the moronic antics of artists who need not be named, yet dumbfounded by (or petrified of, or allergic to) the music of Robyn or — to a lesser extent — Kanye West’s new album. Life in the USA is still very much like professional wrestling or a stop on Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon Tour: big and dumb and loud and unapologetically so. This will not change, because we like it this way.
Which is why, despite Obama espousing the values of emo or the merits of living life like Sufjan and Conor Oberst, I have my doubts. This is not the folk-singer’s America. We’re going to need wholesale changes, and they’re not going to be easy. We’re going to have to learn that it’s OK to share and talk and maybe even trade Belle & Sebastian 7-inches with our foes. We need to be OK with no longer being #1, or at least thinking we’re #1, and we need to ask how our neighbors are feeling too (perhaps “America … we’re good! How are you?” would be an appropriate slogan). Some will have to put some clothes on, some need to stop posturing, some need to stop writing songs about strippers putting “something” in their mouths.
And then, maybe, we can inch closer to Barack Obama’s vision for America. An indie-fied, cardigan-clad tapestry of democracy. An emo nation. I, for one, am willing to answer the call, even if it means having to put up with Will.I.Am for another four years, because I love this country enough to realize that I hate this country and that we need to change. Are you willing to do the same? Will you throw your hands in the air, toss your head towards the heavens and shout, “America! F— yeah!” in the most sensitive way possible? Can we talk about it?
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.