I’ve always been a firm believer that the right choice in music can make all the difference. A great anthem has the power to extend a jog, cause a large purchase, and even save a dwindling party. It’s no surprise then that the Democrats and the Republicans—which some would consider dwindling parties—have been using the power of music like crazy in this year’s election rallies and conventions. Ron Paul pumped up his supporters with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” Fox News used R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to make a satirical point, and Obama received a standing ovation as he walked off the convention stage to Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own.” As a musician, I should be thrilled that the often glib political establishments and I can at least agree on the power of a great song—but I’m not. In fact, I’m more than a little creeped out by it.
First, there are the obvious conflicts. The Huffington Post reports that R.E.M. has given a cease and desist order to Fox News because the network goes against pretty much everything they believe in, and according to the New York Times, members of Survivor have gone after Ron Paul for the same reason. There are also subtler issues at play: For instance, the use of “We Take Care of Our Own” as a straightforward expression of patriotic pride, when in reality it’s an ironic protest song a la “Born in the USA.” These inconsistencies are troubling, but they don’t fully explain my discomfort. Music has a long history of espousing a political message, so why does it bother me so much when a politician chooses to espouse a musical message? Shouldn’t art be open to multiple interpretations regardless of the artist’s political beliefs?
It turns out that the versatility of music is precisely why I reject it in politics. Over the years, my musical tastes have evolved considerably while my political views have remained more or less stagnant. We’re all capable of being metalheads one day and folkies the next, but that just doesn’t happen with politics. Using something as versatile as music to vouch for something as entrenched as our fundamental worldview cheapens both.
By using an apolitical anthem in a political setting, the versatility of the song itself is called into question. How can music be the most honest and open form of expression when it is used to espouse a platform that is set in stone? In many ways the conflict resembles the age-old political football of church and state. By its nature, a democracy represents an ever-changing population, and religion espouses a more strict set of principles. When the two mix, both the diversity and the religious principles inevitably water each other down. I can’t stand the thought of my music being watered down—so let’s leave politics to the politicians and anthems to the rockers.
David Ecker is a sophomore in Columbia College. Slightly Off Key runs alternate Fridays.