Why Fergie Doesn’t Matter

As many of you know, former Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie has drawn much criticism for her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Sunday’s NBA All-Star game. It’s not the first time (and certainly won’t be the last) a singer’s performance of the national anthem has come under fire for any number of reasons — and, to be frank, it was a fairly odd interpretation, though I give her credit for at least attempting something new. What bothers me, however, is the fetishization of a two-hundred year-old song that even the current president can’t sing. At international competitions like the Olympics or the World Cup a bit of nationalistic pride is called for — the pomp and display of flags and singing of anthems raises the stakes of the competition, making what are intended to be “war by other means,” well, war by other means. Better to slog it out on the pitch than in the trenches.

What makes no sense to me, though, is the need to reify a tune into something sacrosanct — a secular version of a “Te Deum,” or what have you. Vibrant and confident democracies don’t need to worship their secular symbols to the point where one can lead to a national controversy just because a group of men refuse to stand for it, turning the symbolism on its head, reappropriating it to protest in the most visible way possible. People close to me have reproached me for supporting the anthem protests in the NFL, telling me I should be ashamed, because members of my immediate family served in the United States military — I’m fairly sure that once the bullets fly, the last thing those men and women are thinking about is a glorified jingle. Far worse is the recitation of a “Pledge of Allegiance” recited daily by schoolchildren across the country; there’s no problem with national pride, but I’ve always found the parallels between such pious recitation and 1984’s “Two Minutes’ Hate” eerily striking, even if it’s blasphemy to suggest.

I don’t take “globalism” as an insult — its antonym would be “parochialism,” which has never been a compliment — and find such rote expressions of “patriotism” antiquated, and the more emphasis put upon them, the more indicative of a nation that no longer trusts its reliability, institutions, culture and people to express pride in being American. The rest — including the recent proposed military parade — is just chauvinism hiding behind pomp. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is just a poem put to music.


~ by Benji on 19 February 2018.

One Response to “Why Fergie Doesn’t Matter”

  1. I’m a bit conservative on these things. Fergie’s wild rendition made me want to cry – or laugh, I’m not sure which. But I take your point. I just like my national anthems “straight.” Yours certainly is a tough one to sing, though. The Jamaican one is quite sweet and straightforward, and has a nice tune. It’s the high notes that are a problem. Ours is a prayer put to music. (I assume you are familiar with Jimi Hendrix’s instrumental version of Star Spangled Banner, many moons ago? Feedback and all. People recoiled with shock and horror!!)


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