Friday, April 30, 2004

Entertainers don't (usually) rock my vote

—Originally published 4.30.04

"Don't hate the player, hate the game," the annoying phrase goes.

When it comes to mixing politics and art, it's hard to figure out exactly where to draw that line.

The first decade of the 21st century is going down as one of the most politically polarizing times in our nation's history, and that divisiveness spills over into the entertainment industry.

Granted, this is nothing new; politics and popular art have a long history together, touching on everything from the Vietnam War to apartheid to abortion to the AIDS epidemic.

Some people are willing to gulp down whatever political stance their favorite actor or musician or writer throws out there and, worse yet, adopt positions based solely on what those megastars put forth.

Others, upon hearing, say, the Dixie Chicks criticize President Bush, boycott all material relating to said artist.

This conundrum crops up all the time. Just 10 days ago, several punk bands got together to release "Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1," a highly-critical compilation of new and unreleased songs from several highly-regarded groups such as Alkaline Trio, Social Distortion and The Ataris. I'm sure there were those who, sporting their "Anybody But Bush Again" T-shirts, ran out to buy the album ASAP, while some Bush supporters probably broke their Sum 41 CDs in half (not missing much there, though).

I've struggled with this issue since I was old enough to understand both artistic content and politics. There is no easy answer, but I find both ends of this spectrum (the slurpers vs. the stoics) unjustified.

It basically comes down to how important a given issue is to you and/or how serious you take your entertainment. I obviously take music, film, etc., very seriously, so I hold the artists I like to very high standards.

As long as those people are producing meaningful work, rarely does an artist's personal life factor into my appreciation (except for your occasional child molester or devil worshipper). It's impossible to know everything about everyone, so I try to balance what comes through the work with what appears on screen or on an album. It's impossible to completely vet every artist -- I'd never watch a movie or listen to a song.

Politics, for me, is not a deal-breaker. No matter who I vote for in November, that person is still a politician and they're all compromised if not downright crooked. My faith in statesmanship at the highest levels is about nil. Instead I'm left looking for the candidate who isn't quite as bad as the other, and that's a sad state of affairs.

In the end, I reconcile my love for musicians on the absolute opposite political rainbow from me with this mentality: Better they're passionate about something than nothing at all. Matter of fact, they better be passionate about something other than just lining their pockets, or I probably won't pay attention in the first place.

Looking at it another way, would I stop being friends with someone just because we differ politically? No. I should want to learn more about their views and try to understand where those friends are coming from. We can agree to disagree but still enjoy each other's company.

Thus, I typically don't go in for these "boycotts" that crop up every once in a while. I skip past "Bushleaguer" -- an inane anti-Bush rant on Pearl Jam's latest album, "Riot Act" -- but count "You Are" a few tracks back as one of the group's most powerful songs. One does not disqualify the other.

I have a problem, though, when artists present their opinions in ways that are beneath their talent. If you have a strong point of view, that's good -- present it with some class and I'll respect you in the morning.

But I get annoyed when Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder assaults a rubber Bush mask onstage or Michael Moore shouts like a fool from the Oscar podium or Toby Keith writes a chest-beating post-9/11 "anthem" or Susan Sarandon screams like a banshee at a pro-choice rally.

That's just moronic, pandering behavior and serves little purpose other than placating sycophants. These are, supposedly, intelligent people, and they should act like it.

To his credit, though, Vedder proved quite prophetic during a show in Seattle on Nov. 6, 2000, just hours before polls opened for the presidential election pitting Bush against then-Vice President Al Gore (with some Ralph Nader thrown in on the side).

"We'll see you at the voting booth tomorrow," he told the rabid crowd that night. "If you don't vote, let that be your epitaph."

Twenty-four hours later, I'm sure there were a lot of people wishing they'd followed that advice.

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