Did Bob Dylan “Sell Out” or Help Out?
Full disclosure: I didn’t see Dylan’s Super Bowl commercial telecast in real time because, even though I watched most of the game, I almost always mute commercials or switch over to C-SPAN or PBS to avoid them. The last television ad I may have actually watched was a commercial for Jordache jeans, and that was because we didn’t have remote control, and I was too lazy to get up and change channels.
Besides, even before the game started, I was in no mood to be inundated by naked commerce, having lapsed into a mild funk at the spectacle of jet planes flying over the stadium following the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was tiresome enough watching the national anthem being sung, as if sporting events and patriotism naturally went hand in hand, but why in God’s name would they have an aggressive display of military might before a football game? Christ, I thought they were going to strafe the fucking place.
In any event, after seeing a replay, and reading accounts of it, I was disappointed that so many people saw their troubadour hero as having “sold out” because he accepted money from a sponsor. Maybe I’m biased, but what I saw Dylan doing was promoting American cars, and helping out the distressed city of Detroit, once the greatest industrial center in the history of the world. Moreover, I would wager a pair of Jordache jeans that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would have done the exact same thing if given the opportunity.
Years ago I publicly pleaded with the AFL-CIO to spend less money on traditional, time-consuming organizing campaigns, and begin spending it on TV commercials. Not that I had any sway with the House of Labor. They never heard of me. Still, I urged them to hire a popular celebrity to go on TV and pitch the virtues of labor unions, the working man’s best friend and the institution that more or less “invented” the middle-class. A name I suggested was the rap artist Eminem.
With America’s union workers growing older by the minute, organized labor desperately needs an influx of young blood, and who better to appeal to a younger crowd than Eminem? Not only is he wildly popular, he’s practically a native son, having spent his teenage years in a working-class Detroit neighborhood. Who better than Eminem to go on TV and plug the UAW, once the gold standard of American unions? Pay him $10 million. Instead of blowing it on organizing drives, give it to someone who can help.
I even went so far as to contact a Chicago DJ I knew and asked if he could get me Eminem’s e-mail address. He said Eminem’s e-mail was tougher to get than the nuclear launch codes, but that he could put me in touch with a man who was “close to Eminem,” who could definitely pass along a message. I first had to swear I wouldn’t “abuse” this information. I sent the man’s e-mail to a ranking AFL-CIO officer, along with a detailed cover letter explaining the plan. And that was it. Never heard a word from anyone.
David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org