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Theme to a Childhood?

Big Bird Fatwa Remix

by DAVID YEARSLEY

Just when you thought American politics couldn’t get any more trite and tedious, here comes an ambassador from celebrity culture to lead us into a previously unknown sub-basement of banality. Yes, will.i.am was back on the Obama campaign trail this past week in the swing state of Ohio, hoping to defibrillate the president’s ailing political fortunes. So weak was the electric impulse emitted by the rapper’s depleted charisma, that the campaign’s corpse he was administering barely even flopped its arms before being wheeled off to a cryogenic freeze in hopes of a late-in-the-game revival.

will.i.am took to the podium to introduce the President at a campaign rally in the swing state of Ohio. The pop star turned quickly to a theme dear to him: education. It was subject he previously weighed in on at the 2011 Super Bowl half-time show in the midst of the Black-Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love.  There on the Cowboy Stadium fifty-yard-line, Mr. Am substituted a new verse to the song

“What’s wrong with the world, mama

People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas

I think the whole world addicted to the drama

Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma

In America we need to get things straight

Obama let’s get these kids educated.

Create jobs so the country stays stimulated.

This is dedicated to all the immigrated.”

This uplifting message, delivered by Mr. am with back-up from his bandmates while they were trussed up in leather of varying fetishistic styles, substituted for the original text, of a much more radical political bent:

“What’s wrong with the world, mama

People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas

I think the whole world addicted to the drama

Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma

Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism

But we still got terrorists here livin’

In the USA, the big CIA

The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK.”

Mr. am didn’t have the guts to blitz the CIA on sacred Super Bowl Sunday. Rather he converted his critique—albeit a vague one—of the war state  into a saccharine paean to Obama. With this craven display of Black-Eyed Appeasement, Mr. am showed just how much of an insider the outsider from East L. A. had become.

All of that was hardly unexpected, coming after am’s unoffical campaign song and video of 20o8, Yes We Can, in which celebs from Scarlett Johansson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appeared in support of Obama.

How quickly the lifeblood has leaked out of the Obama message was evident this week in Ohio.  Shedding his Super Bowl leathers for a tuxedo jacket and a golden tie, am hoisted himself back onto the education soapbox with and once again demonstrated his astonishing oratorical skills: “You don’t want education in the USA? I mean, I think the whole crowd should be screaming right now. It ain’t like I said some dumbness.” The wreckage of his speech was, I suppose, meant to offer the best proof for his next statement. “Seriously, we need to start education early. I remember when I was like three years old something like inspired me to want to learn. May sound silly and you may life, but this is the theme song to my childhood.”

As Mr. am’s left hand groped towards the laptop on the low table in front of him, itbecame painfully clear that Mr. am had been foolish, no childish, enough to be convinced by Obama’s caretakers to keep on harping on the Big Bird fatwa issued by Romney in the first presidential debate.  The “theme to a childhood” indeed.  If Big Bird is the answer to the disaster then the one thing you can say about this 3-D cartoon character is that, in contrast to all those educators laboring under the grim regime of Obama’s Race to the Top, the yellow bird doesn’t teach for the test.

In contrast to all those educators laboring under the grim regime of Obama’s Race to the Top, at least the yellow bird does more than just teach for the test.  Seen from inside the testing gulag that is the American educational system one could almost accept Big Bird as an inspirational solution to our problems:  plunk the kids down in front of the t.v. and convince yourself it’s good parenting because they’re glued to Sesame Street. Sure, it’s better than most children’s t.v., but hardly the substitute for an education.

“I like want to play it for y’all,” went on Mr. am, barely able to conceal his own embarrassment at having agreed to follow his marching orders from Obama command. The rapper claimed to fear laughter from the crowd, but tears of disbelief were a more likely response. Quickly losing heart even before the groovy guitar chord vamp was over, Mr. am paused the track, and asked “Y’all don’t know this song like I know this song?”  Quite to the contrary, the crowd knew it all to well. But Mr. am soldiered on, pressing “play” again and sending the childish voices out over the loudspeakers. “It’s a sunny day outside …” Unfortunately for Mr. am and his chief, Mr. Obama, it was indeed a sunny day in Ohio glinting off the rapper’s round sunglasses. Lightning and thunder did not chase him from the field before he utterly disgraced himself, swaying and fiddling around with a silly remix that spelled utter debacle.

In perhaps the greatest overstatement in music history, one of the lyricists of the Sesame Street theme song, Jon Stone called, it “a musical masterpiece and a lyrical embarrassment.” What was best about the song was Toots Thielemans harmonic playing, which lent a touch of authenticity to the chirpy blandness of the thing. Still, one could almost agree with Stone when contemplating Mr. am’s cooption of this cherished theme of his childhood: compared to his own simple-minded musical vocabulary “Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street” is a veritable epic of complexity and invention.

After the pieties of Yes We Can and the posturings of the Super Bowl, it was only fair that the intellectual and musical bankruptcy of Mr. am should be exposed by a Republican Trojan Horse in the form of a goofy yellow bird, one that, in the end, demonstrated the good sense that Misters am and Obama and lacked. The bird’s Sesame Street keepers demanded that the Democrats pull an ad featuring him. In the aftermath of this week’s disaster, Mr. am thoughts must now be roaming once again to the three-year-old self conjured in his Ohio speech. The rapper must be wishing that, like Big Bird, he had never dabbled in politics in the first place.

Yet for all stains on his bib, Mr. am has inadvertently illuminated an important truth that indeed hearkens back to his inspired childhood in front of the tube: American politics is now a game for preschoolers. If only three year-olds could vote …

DAVID YEARSLEY s a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Bach’s Feet. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com