Monday, January 31, 2011

Some of us haven’t learned a thing

It has been nearly one-third of a century since that moment when the segment of our society that likes to believe they’re the only “Real Americans” got itself all worked up over the sound of Josè Feliciano performing the National Anthem at the baseball All-Star Game in something other than a martial manner that made you expect cannons to be firing, off in the background.

This particular tattered piece of cloth inspired the song that now causes so much anger in certain people who hear it at sporting events. Photograph provided by Smithsonian Institute.

The ideologues of the day got all upset (anecdotes of military veterans throwing their shoes at the television screen in disgust can be found all over the Internet), people claimed it was a disgrace, sounded foreign to their ears (Feliciano is Puerto Rican) and that people who had served their country in military service – particularly during a war – were somehow being disrespected.

YET TO LISTEN to Feliciano’s rendition today (recordings of his performance can be found in various places on the Internet) makes it clear that what he did was a stripped-down version of the song – just his voice and his acoustic guitar.

Compared to the over-bloated wailings that we now routinely hear at sporting events (which are less an offense to our country and patriotism than they are to the concept of music and being capable of carrying a tune), Feliciano’s version is fairly pleasant to listen to, and certainly nowhere near as radical (yet intriguing) as the take on the anthem given to us by the late Jimi Hendrix.

Most people listening today probably can’t comprehend why there was ever a controversy (which there certainly was, as it took Feliciano’s career a few years to recover after some stations tried boycotting his recordings on their airwaves).

The key to that last phrase is in the first two words; “most people.”

FOR THERE ARE some who are still stuck in the ideological ramblings of a past generation that have long been found to be absurd by the bulk of our society.

Take as evidence a recent incident in Indiana – one which ought to be sufficient evidence to anyone seriously thinking of leaving our state how silly it would be to live in a place where people willingly call themselves Hoosiers.

Bloomington North High School (which also is the home city of Indiana University’s main campus) has a teenage girl among its students who has become the person they turn to when it comes to performing the National Anthem at local sporting events.

Sometimes, she even goes on the road with her school’s teams to perform the song at their games elsewhere. That is where things get sticky.

FOR WHEN SHE performed the song prior to a game in Martinsville, Ind. (a town of just under 12,000 people – or about one-quarter the size of a single Chicago ward), the locals became upset.

The Herald-Times newspaper of Bloomington, along with the Associated Press, reported that the locals said the song was “unrecognizable,” and that people who had served in the military had been disrespected by her performance.

The only thing missing compared to Feliciano were the shoes being thrown at the teenage girl’s image on television.

Although there is a video snippet of the girl’s performance posted on YouTube. For all I know, there are ideologues who are going out of their way to log onto their computers and play her snippet, before hurling epithets at her image and trying to figure out ways to send her nasty (and anonymous) messages in return.

WHAT IS MOST pathetic about this new affair is the reaction of school officials, who instead of defending their student from abuse (they were the ones who invited her to sing) decided to go along with those people whose view of the world is warped enough that they see her as the problem

She was told she would not be allowed to sing the anthem any longer, unless she did a “traditional” approach. In all fairness to the school, officials there have since recanted and issued an apology to the girl for not offering her more support.

Now there also is the angle that the 16-year-old is of African-American lineage. Which means there may be part of the audience that had their sensibilities offended by her performance being upset more by her appearance, causing them to mentally insert elements into her performance because of their own racial hang-ups.

Then again, Feliciano all those years ago had some people screaming that he ought to be deported (even though as a Puerto Rican he is a U.S. citizen, just like any Indianan).

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of the fact that some people in our society are stuck in modes of thought that, quite frankly, were ridiculous even back in 1968 (seriously, Kennedy and King were assassinated that year and several cities were literally ablaze – yet Josè Feliciano was the subversive element?) and are just pathetic nowadays?

If anything, I wonder at times why we cling to the idea of the National Anthem before sporting events. It didn’t take place on a regular basis until World War II. For many decades, it simply wasn’t done. It would have been viewed as an event to politicize a ballgame – which I prefer to think of as a place to escape such serious matters for a few hours.

I literally find it ridiculous at times to see thousands of overweight people clad in athletic jersey replicas (as though they could take the playing field right there and then) singing along with the anthem in an even worse tone of voice than the person on the field who has the microphone.

That is what we should be offended by, not a 16-year-old girl from Bloomington, Ind.


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