17 August 2012

Elections and Music: Paul Ryan's Rage (Against The Machine) Problem

Representative Paul Ryan, the young, conservative firebrand, is all over the news in the United States. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, seemed to see in himself a personality deficit that was estranging him from voters. He chose Rep. Ryan to energize his flagging campaign -- and the socially and fiscally conservative Republican base.

The campaign has wasted no time in playing up Rep. Ryan's personality surplus. The campaign has been feeding to the story-hungry media the little details about Rep. Ryan designed to scream "young, hip, and mildly attractive (but in a safe way, unlike that scalawag Obama)": former Catholic altar boy; former prom king; works out really hard; go-getter; hometown hero; and big fan of the hard rock band Rage Against The Machine. He's just like you, Generations X and Y and Z -- he likes dangerous hard rock (and small government)!

Careful observers, however, may note slight differences between Rep. Ryan's political views and the political views expressed by Rage Against The Machine (RATM). In general, RATM is as far left as Rep. Ryan is far right. For example:

Noting this contrast, RATM guitarist Tom Morello, never a shy violet about politics, went so far as to write a hilariously scathing opinion piece for Rolling Stone, entitled "Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against."

American politicians have often abused pop culture touchstones in their electoral battles. Indeed, the Republican party has a rich history (pun intended), which CNN has captured, of seeking to co-opt pop/rock culture from musicians who are not terribly happy about being co-opted. The shining example is Ronald Reagan's campaign choosing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" as the theme song for President Reagan's 1984 reelection walk-in-the-park. Mr. Springsteen was one of the biggest rock stars in the country, so it seemed wise to associate his clout with President Reagan's image. The Reagan campaign, however, neglected to review the song's lyrics, which describe in haunting, resonant detail how the United States government had failed its Vietnam War veterans (and other citizens). The campaign also forgot to ask Mr. Springsteen, who later publicly requested that the campaign stop using his song. Perhaps they should have simply returned to the old American practice of writing original campaign songs instead.

Political campaigns tread on thin ice when they seek to import "real person" pop culture credibility. Even if RATM may be Rep. Ryan's favorite band, he would been better off simply remaining quiet. (If he had to pick someone, he should have instead chosen new, hip conservative band Madison Rising.)


Unknown said...

Does someone have to be Jewish to like Matisyahu? Or a die hard conservative to like pretty much any country band but the Dixie Chicks?

As for RATM, I lost all political respect for them when they played at either a fundraiser or convention (I don't remember) for the Democratic Party. Not so much because the Democrats are horrible, but because they're still part of the machine. If you're a communist or an anarchist, neither party really fits you, so when a band presents themselves as hard-core communists and then plays for the Democrats...

Jeff said...

For me, the problem does not arise from a conservative person liking RATM. Tastes are idiosyncratic; people should be free to dig cultural commodities that do not mesh with their politics. I do it all the time. (Sorry, Ted Nugent, but we will not be going bow hunting together. Nor will we be sexually objectifying women together.)

The problem arises when the political campaign seeks to use the image/idea of RATM to "market" Paul Ryan. Seems to be a misstep, given how strong Rage's leftist politics are.

Interesting point on RATM playing for a Democratic Party function. Perhaps they supported what they saw as the lesser evil -- given how strongly they opposed George W. Bush's candidacy and politics.

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