When I read yesterday that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin were appearing together in Philadelphia for a charity concert, I mentally bookmarked myself to check YouTube this morning for clips. Brace yourself using these first two, because the third will send me on a rant. Here we go.
Here’s a decent montage of straight clips from the AP:
ABC puts together a tender, not-too-stupid TV package here:
I was just going to stop there, enjoying the story with its juxtaposition of characters and themes. We have a Republican foreign pol expert able to smack some keys with the best of them, who chooses to do so happily with an R&B legend who also proudly headlined a Democrat’s presidential inauguration. Then I found another video that almost ruined it. So let’s set the stage. Nearly everyone, even the most partisan of Democrats, admits that Condi is classy. Say what you like about her politics: her every appearance exudes dignity, intelligence, and grace. And Aretha is just plain awesome. Watching the videos, you can tell that both own some serious technical skill, and with their concert attempted to forget about politics for one night to raise some money for poor kids’ music program. Laudable, yes? Even touching, and not just at the surface.
Now, here are some tasteless young fellows deciding that this occasion serves as a moment for partisan politics.
I’m not going to take this head on and complain about their preposterous slogans. What honestly irks me? That these young men decided every moment and event has political significance, requires a political participation or activism. They couldn’t just let people celebrate music and support offering it to children, but had to stand around with signs and denounce the event since “Condi tainted it.”
Dr. James Hunter discusses this politicization of American culture in his fascinating new book, To Change the World. I haven’t finished reading or digesting his superb analysis, but want to note how he explains politics and its inherent power struggles have subsumed American culture. This because pluralism means we no longer implicitly agree about even the most basic premises and approaches to life, so each different group feels it necessary to use politics to impose their worldview and will on everyone else.
Once during office hours, the incomparable Dr. Whalen described to me this exact Nietzchean “will to power” as the coming or present dominant influence on culture. I don’t remember how that came up, but I have never forgotten how earnestly he described those effects.
Then the question becomes, “How can we ‘scrub out’ overpoliticization and retreat to a world where public and political again encompass two separate spheres of cultural space?” I think the answer lies somewhere within simple activities like Condi and Aretha’s concert: activities of public participation and shared enjoyment where no one feels the need to sing Obama’s praises or denigrate “Bush’s war” because we are too busy apolitically absorbing and engaging these moments together.