Sunday, July 6, 2008

The National Anthem - sung by Whitney Houston

I'm two days late to celebrate holiday patriotism, but let's just say "Tis the Season"

Honk if you remember this musical event:

I was in the third grade when a classmate's dad went to fight in the Persian Gulf and she kept us updated on his well-being throughout the year. One day, she came to class so excited because she'd gotten to talk to her dad over the phone. Everyone laughed a little awkwardly when she told us how her little brother just said "I love you, I miss you, I love you, I miss you," over and over again into the phone to his far away dad. That got me thinking very hard about the scariness of being in danger all the time and that that's what it was like for our soldiers, and that any kind of loving patriotism was one more Care Bear Stare against the Forces of Evil.

I was also raised believing that Whitney Houston was sent to earth from the top choir of angels in heaven. No one told me this. My sister and I figured it out for ourselves at the ages of 4 and 6 thanks to "The Greatest Love of All".

And despite years of keeping a quiet eye on Whitney's People Magazine coverage as fervently as I had done Princess Di's, her voice has always been a blazing fire in my ears and when she sang the National Anthem at Superbowl XXV (friggin' 1991!) I felt like the world was being righted just a little bit more. And it drove home in me the notion that music and the love and energy in it could crumble any wall.

So now I listen to this song with a different perspective of both Iraq wars and both George Bushes than I had before. And the United States no longer seems to be the fearless, virtuous big kid on the playground who keeps all the world's bullies in check. Things about my country and its place in the world that I had thought were black and white are now blazing in multicolor. But the power of this particular Star Spangled Singing hasn't diminished. That moment was swimming in consumer culture context, but it was a link between countless souls for a lightning flash of time, and maybe the thunder from that is still rumbling somewhere. It's tough to see the line between sincerity and underhandedness. It's a beautiful human moment on its own, but in its context, it gives inertia to some not so clearly wonderful things, and some down right shitty ones. I'm aware that the picture isn't simple enough to pick the monster out of the crowd by pointing at it. All the same, hearing this all these years later, I'm angry with the fighter jets who dare to roar past at the end. Whoever set that up thought it would be the perfect thing to drive home "the message of the moment" but now I don't want her singing and the screaming of fighter planes to have anything to do with one another. In the most extreme light, the human spirit of that moment was manipulated into propaganda for the war. It's like turning a hummingbird into a carrier pigeon. You just don't do that!

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