miércoles, 8 de junio de 2011


One of the most striking features of the American Paradise of the 1980’s is the presence “of what Andrew Britton (…) has termed “Reaganite entertainment”” (Wood, 162). This entertainment plays a crucial role in spreading and consolidating the values of the patriarchal, capitalist and individualist system among the population. This fact, however, should not be completely surprising if one bears in mind Reagan’s explicit definition of politics as show business[1]. The most paradigmatic case of this is the television, analyzed by Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman argues that “is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining” (89). One possible explanation to understand why the population accepts this powerful spread of the philosophy of entertainment could be found in Wood’s suggestion in relation to the “overwhelming commercial success” of movies as Rocky, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and their sequels: namely, the “widespread desire for regression to infantilism” (165) among “a populace who wants to be constructed as mock children” (165). A similar movement towards an emptying of the political contents can be observed in the music scene: the decade opens in America with the murder of the pacifist militant John Lennon. Some of the main features of the decade, regarding this music scene, were the gradual disappearance of singer-songwriters, whose lyrics usually included political criticism, and the hegemony of the entertainment music, labeled as pop music, embodied by the phenomenon of Michael Jackson. Curiously enough, both the music and the cinematographic industries create male patriotic icons based on a model of masculinity linked with the restoration of the patriarchal system such as Rambo and Bruce Springsteen. This model, to a certain extent, embodies the updating of the character of the cowboy that Reagan himself had played earlier.
It is in this context that Home of The Brave, the film directed by Laurie Anderson that collects some of the performances of her Mister Heartbreak tour, reveals all the political dimension of an artistic product that challenges the dominant ideology of the American Paradise. Since it is not possible to develop an exhaustive analysis of Anderson’s work here, I will focus on one of the main political issues explored in some of the songs and performances of the film: the deconstruction of the binary oppositions and the condemnation of these oppositions as tools meant to perpetuate the oppression of the ruling classes.
Probably one of the best examples of that deconstruction is the opening section of the film, a performance called “0 and 1”[2], in which Anderson’s voice and physicality has become unmarked in terms of gender. This hybridity is complemented by the self-disempowering sentence “I’m not a mathematician” uttered before the development of the main thesis of the performance: that even though everyone in American society has become obsessed with being the number one, both ones and zeros are equally needed as the “building blocks of the modern computer age” –a metaphor of the America of that time. By creating an ungendered character that lacks the specific knowledge that he/she is supposed to need, Anderson deconstructs the premise that “only an expert” is qualified to talk about the American Paradise and shows that this premise is a fallacy designed to keep the privileges and the authority of the ruling classes[3]. Criticisms to binary oppositions, hyper masculine models and show business are also present on the song Smoke Rings, in which Anderson, parodying the spreading of the patriarchal values through entertaining television, invents a show quiz where the contestants have to decide “qué es más macho”[4] between objects like pineapples, knives, school buses and light bulbs. Also the myth of Paradise has a critical revision on the song Langue d’Amour in which the feminist view of the legend excludes the figure of God and suggests that the falling was a strategy of Adam to break the increasing friendship between Eve and the snake. The influence of the snake over Eve appears in Anderson’s song as based upon a more positive version of the idea of the spell: the storytelling. The male anxiety about ruling is embodied by Adam’s interference and by the fact that ultimately Eve’s version of the myth will be dismissed if favor of Adam’s, as we learn hearing Eve’s observation about her view of the legend: “And this is not a story my people tell. It is something I know myself”. Certainly, storytelling as a way to construct reality and establishing rules is nothing but the pre-technological step of the entertaining use of television to perpetuate the ideology and the power of the dominant classes I have already mentioned. Regarding this issue, Anderson also delivers a message against the acceptation, by the civil population, of the condition of passive audiences that the American Paradise has created for them by means of the show business. This idea can be found in the first sentence of her song Language is A Virus ("Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much much better") and it is also embodied by Anderson’s active use of American symbols, like the very title of her film, which comes from The Star Spangled Banner, the American National Anthem.[5] It is not surprising that, being critical both with the entertainment industry and with the idea of the expertise, Anderson delivers also a criticism against the crossing between these two fields: the celebrities. In the mentioned song Language is A Virus, she uses the image of the celebrity as to emphasize both the increasing individualism of the times and the impossibility of developing an American Paradise within this individualist system of values.

As her main political criticisms, Anderson seems to point the mentioned use of the entertainment industry for political reasons and the sexism of the dominant ideology. Her alternative Paradise appears to be based upon the active participation of all the members of the society into the political debates and, more importantly, upon the equality of those members. Even though the length and focus of this essay only allowed me to consider the issue of language in relation to politics, this issue deserves further analyses and it could be thought as the main theme of Home of The Brave. 

[1] “In 1966, Ronald Reagan used a different metaphor. “Politics”, he said, “is just like show business” (Postman, 128)
[2] A copy of all the lyrics of Anderson cited in this essay can be found on its Appendix.
[3] More recently, Anderson has composed a song called precisely Only an Expert in which she reflects about the relationship between expertise and power. Her stance on this issue is consistent with the statement she made about her own job: “No me considero una profesional de nada”
[4] Originally in Spanish in the song.
[5] Every stanza of this anthem ends with the line “O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

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