"Once abolish God and the government becomes the God." -G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, May 14, 2011

House of Common

It makes a good headline so I might as well write about it.

I have no major qualms about the White House's invitation to rapper Common as part of the poetry festivities this week. If anything, I might be offended by what's considered good poetry by today's standards, but the pathetic state of art is a long topic for another day.

I also don't have any qualms with those who find the WH decision offensive given some of Common's lyrics. For the lazy thinkers like Jon Stewart who argue Common's defense of cop killer/fugitive Assata Shakur is the equivalent of a Johnny Cash song, though, I would like to point out that Cash's lyrics dealt with fictional characters.

To address Stewart's point, there wasn't really a Boy Named Sue. Eric Clapton's "I Shot the Sheriff" (technically Marley's) was also a fictional song. Common's lyrics glorifying the coward responsible for slaying Trooper Werner Foerster and wishing President Bush dead are about very real people.

Then there's this gem from his track Sex 4 Suga:

I like your way, it's going down
Hips are moving all around
Round and round, upside down
A once was lost but now I'm found

Sweetheart that you get me another round
Sweat in like you loosing pounds
Touch the ground, make a sounds
Sugar, ooh, sugar, you wear the crown

Doesn't exactly scream Wordsworth, does it? If this is what our First Lady considers outstanding achievement in poetry, then the English language is truly on its way to becoming as dead as Latin.

Let's be honest. Older Americans generally don't like rap music. Not even the lamest Vanilla Ice tune. It would be foolish to suggest a generational gap doesn't play some role in this controversy. However, I find it insincere that the Jon Stewarts of the world would mock those who think the White House should use better judgment in picking their guests. And I find it ridiculous Jon Stewart would in essence mock law enforcement officers and the family of the slain trooper who have expressed concern over the invite.

We all know if any performer was ever stupid enough to include a song lyric about "burning Obama", the Left would throw a fit, demand the label remove the artist, and attack any conservative who appeared within a country mile of them, let alone the White House. Which is how I knew Mike Huckabee wasn't running for president yesterday the minute he hauled Ted Nugent on stage.

The inclusion of Common at the White House for an "Evening of Poetry" says more about how pathetically common our president is than how uncommon the rapper's lyrics rate. The poem Common performed for Mr. Obama ends with the line "For One King's Dream He Was Able to Barack Us" repeated over and over, and could be easily summed up as "Sweet Sweet Barack's Badasss Song." It's brown-nosing and it's lame. Sex 4 Suga would have been a more appropriate choice given the sycophancy offered by so many celebrities to this administration.

Art is supposed to reveal truth to power, not flattery at the expense of truth. You would have found very little of that from any of the poets at the White House Thursday night. And Common might have been the most talented there. One poet read what I can only describe as a traffic report. Another observed her shoes in nauseating detail. Not only are our kids being indoctrinated at school, they're being taught by illiterate English professors.

I'd be far more satisfied if the administration did get radical and invite someone more willing to shake things up, not kiss up, because ultimately, shouldn't poetry be about an exchange of ideas? Maybe Paul Ryan can break down his Path to Prosperity in verse next year (don't worry, I'm half-kidding).

There are plenty of real issues for Americans to focus on, and I would argue rap lyrics are among the least newsworthy. But it would be nice if the so-called intellectuals in the White House had a propensity for encouraging discourse rather than creating an echo chamber of cliches and self-worship.