Two things I, personally, have little use for are the n-word and contemporary country music.
Aside from its historical value in works of literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn—strictly to provide a backdrop for racial prejudices of the past—there are no circumstances I can think of in which the n-word has ever added to intellectual discourse.
Yet, while there is nary a more telling and concrete indicator of bigotry than casually dropping racial slurs, I would, nonetheless, defend the right of anyone to use any word at almost any time.
Doing otherwise takes us down a slippery slope—upon which we, incidentally, now find ourselves.
There are no nuanced degrees of thought-policing that will ever make censorship acceptable as a wholesale practice in a democratic society—particularly one in which a radical faction like the modern-day Left so desperately seeks to control the flow of information for its own political designs.
The recent failed attempt to destroy country singer Morgan Wallen suggests that many others share my sentiment and repudiate the pernicious effects of “cancel culture.”
After video surfaced of Wallen blurting the racist invective, his own label turned its back on him, saying it would refuse to promote his latest release, Dangerous: The Double Album.
That, in turn, caused album sales last week to quadruple, selling out the inventory on his own website (although the digital download is still available).
This was actually the second attempt to ‘cancel’ Wallen; last fall, “Saturday Night Live” literally canceled a scheduled performance after he showed up mask-less at a crowded Alabama bar. However, the woke ‘comedy’ show later re-invited Wallen and even made light of the situation.
I must confess that I, a former professional music writer, had never heard of Wallen before the controversies.
The 27-year-old Nashville ‘bad boy’ apparently gained attention during a stint on NBC’s “The Voice,” a show that I do not watch.
My one link to the show was a 2010 phone interview (now lost to the ages) with “Voice” personality Blake Shelton. It proved to be one of the most generic, ho-hum conversations in all my years of music reportage.
Tellingly, Shelton’s high-profile Hollywood relationships have done more to define his career than his professional oeuvre. That leaves me skeptical about Wallen’s creative output in a genre that now holds “Old Town Road” as its gold standard.
But in a bizarre twist, by uttering an ugly word in a moment of presumed candor, the little-known country-pop star has now catapulted to fame as a symbol of anti-cancel culture. And even I, an avowed music snob, am thinking of giving him a listen just to spite the Establishment.
A better marketing campaign could not have been planned.
Meanwhile, a mirror image of Wallen’s unusual situation arose during Sunday’s Super Bowl, when a once-admired performer’s endorsement of a product I otherwise might have supported instead caused me to rethink my brand choices.
By most accounts, Bruce Springsteen was one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll artists of his generation.
His multifaceted talents as a singer and musician, a songwriter and poet, and a charismatic performer/band-leader led me to buy up many of The Boss’s albums during the formative years of my musical development. And, indeed, I still love listening to his early material.
But his politics have become increasingly problematic since the George W. Bush years, and like many other uber-rich, out-of-touch performers, Springsteen crossed the tipping point during the Trump presidency.
His songwriting prowess has been in rapid decline since his last decent album of original material, 2002’s The Rising. And it’s no longer possible to listen to his music without the distraction of his hypocritical views standing in the way.
That made him a particularly tone-deaf and polarizing choice for European automaker Stellantis—the parent company of Jeep—to use in its prime-time foray into American politics.
It borders on insulting that an aging and increasingly irrelevant firebrand like Springsteen, who made the conscious decision to put political proselytizing above his respect for his audience, is the new avatar for Jeep’s disingenuous paean to bipartisanship.
Amid Springsteen’s preachy pap about centrism, the commercial, wisely, does not reveal the product it is advertising until the very end. Yet, as a longtime Jeep loyalist, that revelation proved a double disappointment.
My very first car was a nearly antique Jeep CJ-7 (precursor to the Wrangler), and my family has gone through a succession of Cherokees and Liberties over the past three decades, even as the brand—once synonymous with American individualism—transferred into foreign hands.
In a way, Springsteen—the erstwhile balladeer of blue-collar laborers—was the right choice to represent the company since both now offer but a thin veneer of the rugged authenticity they once represented, each having long ago sold out.
But like the current slate of elected leaders, neither Springsteen nor Jeep was the right conduit for the message of national unity that they hoped to appropriate in order to peddle SUVs in Sunday’s $20+ million ad spot.
Not only did the choice of Springsteen miss its mark in any attempt to lure conservative audience members back into the mainstream political fold, but it likely will alienate them further as consumers, leading to significant losses in sales for Jeep—unless its aim is to become the new Subaru.
It is sad that cancel culture has forced so many of us to abandon the things we love—and to embrace those in which we have little outside interest.
Nonetheless, my identity as a loyal consumer of brands and products will always take a back seat to my duty as a liberty-loving American. And even without Springsteen at the wheel, the back seat of a Jeep was never all that roomy to begin with.