Singing for the Empire: Make love, then war

In these days of a dying, raving and hallucinating empire, its best known poet, and a master at being antiwar, is accepting a Presidential Freedom Award from a cynical if affable, still, to many people, master of war. What is Bob Dylan thinking?

He and Obama are no strangers. On February 9, 2010, Dylan performed “The Times They Are A-Changing” at the White House. If I remember correctly, Dylan seemed a bit sullen that night, and he skipped the final, feel good session at the end, when all the other performers gathered, beaming, around our Chief Executive, the one who can order you or anyone locked up without trial, or shot, sans fanfare, because we’re in a never ending war, remember? Dylan’s old squeeze, Queen Jane, sang at the same soiree, and before crooning, Baez even gazed at Obama and cooed, “Mr. President, you are much loved.” In our inverted country, grizzled peaceniks now serenade a war criminal.

To those who saw no irony that night, or now, is it because your gorgeous mind was too clogged up by Fox News, trans fat, high fructose corn sweetner or CNN to hold simultaneously two opposing concepts, such as peace and war, for example, and note that they didn’t quite match, but were clashing? Or you, Bob, can’t you tell that the battle outside that is a-ragin’ is a-causa by this missile-firing and slow jamming man? Can’t you see through his tiresome mask? It’s all a joke, really, as when Obama warned that the Jonas Brothers would be zapped by Predator drones should they come close to his daughter, but I doubt that the world is laughing.

The Wall Street Journal muses whether this latest honor will inch Dylan closer to a Nobel Prize, as if that award still has much legitimacy after its Peace version was bestowed on Obama not even a year into his presidency, when he hadn’t a chance to really flaunt his bloody hands, though to the astute, there was already plenty of sick irony. The late, great Joe Bageant commented at the time, “The Nobel Committee awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to the very person who dropped the most bombs and killed the most poor people on the planet during that year.” Maybe these Scandinavians just like phony Americans, for in the previous year, the Swedes gave a serial joker, the dismal Paul Krugman, its honor in Economic Sciences. (The Peace Prizes are chosen by the Norwegian Parliament.) These recent gaffs top a long list of errors. Still, it’s a handsome pile of cash they give out, nearly $2 million now, so it’s rather remarkable that two men have turned it down, Jean Paul Sartre because he rejected all official honors, and Le Duc Tho because North Vietnam was still waging war even after it had signed a peace agreement. At least the Nobel Peace Prize never went to Adolf Hitler, although Gertrude Stein, one of America’s most celebrated poets, thought he should have received one. On May 6, 1934, Stein was quoted in the New York Times, “I say that Hitler ought to have the peace prize, because he is removing all elements of contest and struggle from Germany. By driving out the Jews and the democratic and Left elements, he is driving out everything that conduces to activity. That means peace.”

If driving out everything that conduces to activity leads to peace, then present day America would be Arcadia, but with the collapse of our manufacturing base, with many factories fleeing overseas for cheaper labor, a process that still continues, despite the propaganda, Americans are more restless than ever, as evidenced by the recent Tea Party and Occupy outbreaks, though far worse eruptions lay just ahead, no matter what jive masters like Krugman and Obama have to say. As for the foreign fronts, America is busy, as usual, with several overlapping wars.

Maybe Dylan will surprise us all by refusing to receive his Freedom Medal from such a war-monger, and break all protocols by ambushing his bloody host with, “Come you masters of war / You that build all the guns / You that build the death planes / You that build the big bombs / You that hide behind walls / You that hide behind desks / I just want you to know / I can see through your masks.” But of course he won’t do anything so outlandish. In accepting this award, Dylan will drape Obama in another layer of cool and glamorize him further, just as Katy Perry did to our grunts and guns in a recent music video.

Breaking up with her cheating boyfriend, Perry impulsively joins the Marines. Instead of squirting a water gun at an arcade with her ex-weasel, Perry is now seen firing an M-16. Instead of lounging in a tub under the creepy eyes of her philandering asshole, Perry is now wrestling underwater with a fellow warrior-in-training. Instead of relying on a two-faced fuckface, Perry is now surrounded by tried and true comrades. The video ends with Perry singing ecstatically under a blue-hued flag, her new sky. Filmed at an actual Marines Corps base camp, this video features 80 Marines as extras, as well as tanks and helicopters, so it is a major collaboration between our entertainment and war industries, something we’ve become quite used to by now, and something we’ll see again when Dylan grasps Obama’s hand, looks into his eyes and smiles.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

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5 Responses to Singing for the Empire: Make love, then war

  1. notthere56

    His Bobness has denied in at least one interview that he is or was ever specifically antiwar. “Masters of War” was about the warmongers and arms-makers, not war itself. That aside, I don’t disagree with what is being said about the unreality of what passes for our political “debate.”

  2. Phil T. Listener

    So what is the alternative to the current mess we are in in Afghanistan?
    Is it not be fair to say President Obama inherited this mess and campaigned on focusing our effort in Afghanistan? We mostly succeeded in driving Al Quaeda out of Afghanistan and took out many of those responsible for 9/11 and the killing of more than 3,000 innocent Americans.

    If the plan is to have 10,000 troops come home by the end of the year, and 23,000 more by next summer, effectively ending the 2009 troop surge, then withdraw on a steady pace until the final deadline of 2014 for combat troops, I’ll go along with that. Exactly how long we keep an “advisory” presence is debatable and hopefully the 20 years is a guideline and may be expedited based on conditions on the ground.

    I think you are stretching reality a bit with the “war criminal” moniker.

    The article is thought provoking, I’ll admit that.

  3. Richard Wells

    Bob will probably look uncomfortable, accept the award, squint, and go about his business, and good on him.

  4. Pete the Cat

    Of course not, Bob should accept the award. Times will change, as someone said. Perhaps America, at some point, will get it’s shit together. Great art is timeless, though, and Bob should (and I suspect will) accept the award from his country gracefully and thoughtfully.

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