Scorn in the U.S.A.

Luke Kelly

On Sunday the 18th of February at the NBA all-star game, former Black Eyed Pea and constant lady lumps enthusiast, Fergie, gave a performance of the American national anthem that could at best be described as daring, and at worst as a declaration of war on sound. The Twitter-verse was quick to pounce, with comparisons varying from Dory’s attempt at speaking whale in Finding Nemo, to a serenade by a post-overdose Marilyn Monroe.  In addition to the unfair comparisons (unfair on the fish and the corpse) conspiracy theories were rife. The pick of the bunch suggests that Fergie is a Russian agent who intentionally defaced the national anthem, thereby reducing its importance and consequently devaluing American democracy. This theory gained traction on alternative right-wing news outlets as a tongue-in-cheek shit-post more than anything else. However, a near-carbon-copy was also making rounds on left-leaning forums, purporting that Fergie intentionally crucified the Star Spangled Banner as a reflection of the political and social disharmony permeating contemporary America.

It speaks volumes to the divide within the US that both sides of the political spectrum sought to impart unwarranted importance on what was, in essence, a failed experiment (ie. Fergie’s solo career, not the interpretation of the song).

In many ways, news can be blamed for the polarization of political America. The vast majority of people get their news from television, where the big hitters are Fox, MSNBC, CNN and ABC, with the latter three occupying positions on the left and Fox with its flag rooted firmly on the right. Discussions on all these networks fit a mould: the anchor acts as mediator while spokespeople on opposing sides butt heads. The flaw in this format is that every issue or talking point is presented not as a complex problem with a spectrum of possible stances and outlooks, but rather as a dichotomy, with one side being right and one side being wrong, thereby reducing constitutional debate to political Star Wars.  

This problem isn’t just confined to the electorate. Statistical clairvoyant 538.com outlines that congress is as divided as it has been since the inception of the statistic. The highest level of compromise was observed in 1971, when Nixon was president and both the senate and house were under democratic control.

Any attempt at compromise in the modern political thunderdome is equated with disloyalty and hypocrisy, with the networks calling for the heads of their once-respective champions.

But I cannot continue to crack wise about political shortcomings or Fergie’s defective windpipes and must instead offer a sincere opinion. The problem at the core of this is spectacle. Every news network wants an increase in viewership, and this can only be achieved by broadcasting something that is, above all else, entertaining. ‘Political compromise’ makes for a boring headline in comparison with a politician’s ‘betrayal of the people’. News outlets that operate on the fringes of the political spectrum gain more views because they grab your attention. Take, for example, the sweaty, enraged, bellowing hate-trumpet that is Alex Jones. Compare slick and bombastic news broadcasts in America with their infinitely lower-budget Irish counterparts: Irish news has no production values, gloss or purpose, other than to inform. Irish news consists of a newsperson, at a desk, reading a series of stories in order of decreasing importance. Irish news is brief, un-enthralling and quite frankly a chore to witness.

Fergie’s “performance” should have been a rallying point around which an entire nation — young or old, rich or poor, black or white — gathered together and collectively laughed at a falling star trying to perpetuate her fifteen minutes. Instead, it became yet another point of political division. If the claim that Fergie’s rendition was an allegory for contemporary America holds water, then perhaps it didn’t go far enough. Perhaps an accurate audio representation of modern America is less a poor version of the national anthem, than the sound of a bald eagle being thrown under a lawn mower.