Come back home to the refinery/Hiring man says, “Son if it was up to me”/I go down to see the V.A. man/He said “Son don’t you understand”
FOX News host Glenn Beck has set himself up as a sort of modern, media Joseph McCarthy, policing the words and deeds of public figures for Proper American-ness. He’s claimed credit for green jobs “czar” Van Jones’s departure from the Obama administration, and lit out after anyone slightly to the left of Pat Buchanan for trying to drag Real Americans kicking and screaming into socialism.
His latest target? Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. Apparently, Beck has just figured out that the lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.,” that most bombastic of Springsteen anthems, are less rah-rah-America and more – what the hell were we doing in that stupid war anyway? And what the hell did we do to the working-class boys (yes, still boys at that point) who fought it?
Springsteen has been a rather outspoken progressive for years while managing to avoid the type of ire directed at, say, the Dixie Chicks. As far as I know, there have been no public burnings of Springsteen records, even after he publicly campaigned for Democratic candidates.
This probably comes from the tendency of McCarthy-wannabes to spend less time paying attention to what their targets actually have to say, and more time policing their image. Scruffy, blue-jean-clad (white) Bruce, with choruses that are often bitterly ironic but are easy to sing along to, passes muster as long as you don’t look too hard. Ronald Reagan used “Born in the U.S.A.” as a campaign theme song—until Bruce put a stop to it.
But apparently Glenn Beck finally sat down and actually listened to the Boss’s lyrics. Or perhaps a staffer pointed them out to him. In any case, he’s decided that Springsteen is—wait for it—anti-American.
In Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, he mentions that Nixon would set himself up as the debating partner of President Johnson through careful media management. Beck has been trying to set himself up as the debating partner of the Democratic party, as have other media demagogues of the Right for years—most notably Rush Limbaugh.
So does taking on a rock’n'roll musician—a very successful and beloved one, but still, a rock’n'roll musician—actually backfire on Beck? Does it set Springsteen in a place where he can fight back—and will he?
We saw, of course, the blacklists of the Red Scare, where screenwriters and musicians weren’t allowed to work because of nebulous “communist” ties. Targeting popular artists isn’t exactly a new tactic. But is it really a wise choice to target artists as widely beloved as Springsteen?
In an age when the music and culture landscape has fragmented into many different communities, The Boss is one of the few mass culture heroes we have left, one of the few my mother and I can both listen to and cry (the other being Johnny Cash, who being dead is probably safe from Glenn Beck, but then again the safest target is one who can’t fight back).
Read more at GlobalComment.