On Friday I attended the Memorial Day pageant at my kids’ school. I don’t think they call it a pageant, but that’s basically what it is. The band and orchestra play a couple songs, the kids all stand in neat rows and sing and recite patriotic stuff. My daughter, the politician, introduced a couple numbers and absolutely nailed it. She’s a terrific public speaker. The whole thing was pretty cute. At the end some trumpeters played taps and then one 6th grader stood away a little bit, back to the crowd, and played the “echo taps.” And that’s where I tear up, probably as much for the bravery of that kid as for any other reason. But I teared up at the end of The Lego Movie, so there’s that.
It would have been perfect, except for one thing. The 6th graders sang that stupid Lee Greenwood song. I fucking hate that song.
For those global readers who have not had the misfortune to hear this jingoistic piece of trash, you can watch it on YouTube. The full title is “God Bless the USA, and Fuck Everyone Else.” (The second part of the title is silent.) I recommend listening on a full stomach, because you will be vomiting later, and dry heaves are the worst.
It’s a simple song, following the standard pop music structure: mumbleverse, bridge, mumbleverse, bridge. The mumbleverse (that’s a technical term I just invented) is the part of the song that nobody knows the words to. It’s particularly easy to pick it out because the 6th graders sing that part at pianissimo, whereas the bridge they belt out at full forté. I honestly had no idea what was in the mumbleverse. I hated this song on the basis of the bridge alone. But I figured that if I was going to write a rant slamming this work of art, I should probably go look it up.
I was surprised to find that as much as I hate the bridge, I may hate the first mumbleverse even more. The gist is that if he lost all his worldly possessions, and just had his wife and kids, he wouldn’t move to another country. Because, you know, that’s a thing. Like when the GM factories closed in Flint, Michigan, and all the unemployed auto workers packed their bags and said, “Honey, we’re moving to Latvia!” Those damn pauper liberals are always emigrating to some socialist country. But not Lee! No, if a medical catastrophe strikes his family and leaves him penniless, he’s going to sit his bankrupt ass right there in his pickup truck and live on the streets of the good old US of A! His kids can sleep in the back of the king cab, and his other kids from his first marriage can sleep in the truck bed or something.
Wait a second. Maybe that verse isn’t about emigration at all. Do you think, maybe, he’s actually slamming immigration? Do you think, perhaps, he’s saying that those Mexicans who risk their lives fleeing to the USA, escaping abject poverty in their home country, just do it because they aren’t proud enough of Mexico? Of course! That’s why they stop speaking their native language and never, ever put up flags of their home country, and never watch soccer again.
The second mumbleverse is just a list of major metropolitan media markets.
So with that out of the way, let’s focus on that bridge:
And I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free.
What the fuck does that mean? “At least I know I’m free.” Seems there was another sentence he maybe forgot, to give us some context. Let’s guess what that sentence would be: “This country sucks. Unemployment is out of control. The government spies on us. We’re at war with somebody all the time. But, you know, it could be worse. I could be living in one of those other countries without freedom.” Do you suppose that’s what he was implying by “at least” he knows he’s free. Free to do what, exactly? To sing songs about how great the country is? I’ve got news for you, Lee: there ain’t a country on earth where you are going to be sent to jail for singing about how awesome that country is. One sign that you might be in a country that isn’t “free” is that all the songs on the radio sound just like this one.
Maybe he’s talking about freedom of religion. Or, as the founding fathers might have said, freedom from religion. If that was his intent, then I bet he would find it pretty darn ironic that schoolchildren are being forced to sing “God bless the USA.” You are free to practice whatever religion you want in this country, except atheism, of course.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
Who gave that right to me.
Not forgetting fallen soldiers is a good sentiment. I’ve got no issue with that. But our friend seems to be a little mixed up about basic human rights, and the principles spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. Here’s a refresher:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights
So nobody “gave” us the right to be free. That’s part of the standard package. What our fallen soldiers did was defend that right. Lately, for the most part, not for you. But for other people, which I suppose is more noble, provided the other people are into it.
The rest of the bridge is basically him volunteering to join the Army. Except he didn’t. But it’s the thought that counts, right?
I really have two big problems with this song. First, there’s that “At Least” line which implies that the country sucks except for the freedom. And I don’t like that sentiment. I think this country has a hell of a lot going for it other than just the freedom part, which frankly, isn’t all that special any more. It’s not like we’re the lone free country in a world filled with tyranny. The vast majority of the world’s population is “free” in the way this song is using that word. This is actually a Cold War song, and the Soviet Union was a pretty big deal back when it was written, so I’ll excuse the sentiment. But it’s not really applicable so much any more.
My second issue is that “Proud” thing. Given the religious overtones in the song, I find it kind of ironic that he’s leaning so heavily on the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. The wikipedia article on pride really nails it:
In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante’s definition was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour”.
“Love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour.” It appears Dante wrote the liner notes for this album!
When I was doing a little research on this post (mostly to see if someone else had done this same rant better than I was about to), I learned that a public school principal in New York City had forbade the use of this song at a Kindergarten graduation ceremony. She is black. I bet you can guess what kind of letters she received as a result of that decision. Follow that link to read some racist, ignorant bullshit that will make you fucking proud to be an American, dammit!