Liberal party bad boy Warren Kinsella’s piece in today’s Globe and Mail asks whether rock stars should get involved with politics.
To my ears it sounds like a silly question. But others obviously don't agree. Alice Cooper charges Bruce Springsteen with treason because the Boss raises money to help defeat George W Bush. Just turn on Fox News or listen to the rantings of Sean Hannity to hear similar hysterics. This is a typical Republican tactic. Remember when the Dixie Chicks were black listed because of their anti-war views? Or when folks threatened to stop watching the West Wing because Martin Sheen (aka "President Bartlett") spoke too loudly about his left of centre views and that people might take him more seriously because it was said that folks can't distinguish between a real president and a character on TV? Celebrities should have no voice in public affairs, they were told. Just make your movies, record your CDs, and keep your mouths shut about anything of consequence.
But where was the Republican outrage when Arnold Schwarzenegger manoevered his own Total Recall and ousted California Governor Gray Davis (D) after only a year in office? What about Stephen Baldwin's cozying up to the Religious Right at last month’s Republican Convention? Where was Sean Hannity’s righteous indignation then? Did Rush Limbaugh take a bathroom break? I guess it's okay when Republican celebs get involved with public issues, but Democratic celebs dare not utter a word,lest one feels the wrath of Rupert Murdoch and his ilk.
But as Kinsella points out,
…I heard the first Clash album, circa 1977 or so. And then I read what British kids had to say about the first Clash album. It was raw, it was loud, and it was fiercely political - about things that were largely beyond my ken, like Britain's system of the dole, and police brutality, and race riots. But here's the thing: The Brit fans adored that LP, and not simply for its sound. They loved it, they said, BECAUSE IT WAS MUSIC THAT WASN'T AFRAID TO URGE KIDS TO CHANGE THE WORLD. There: I wrote that last part in capital letters to ensure that not even Alice Cooper could miss the point - to wit, that rock 'n' roll matters, and not simply because it's fun to dance to.
For me it was Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds, Subhumans, and a host of other punk bands that aroused my political instincts, and, dare I say, influenced my Christianity. Who can listen to Soup is Good Food without hearing a rallying cry for social justice? Or who could sit through The Stars and Stripes of Corruption with lamenting the co-option of democracy by well moneyed lobbyists?
But a more fundamental issue is at stake: Since when does a person have to give up the right to freedom of speech simply because she or he has become famous? Some celebrities may say some deeply weird stuff, and some celebrities may be hopelessly naive about important political issues. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have the right to express their opinion, no matter how deeply informed or embarassingly asinine it may be. Isn't that the essence of strong democracy?
But as a Christian, I don't look first to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to determine or defend my life choices because Christianity is not first and foremost about rights. Christianity is about servanthood in Jesus' name. That's why I look to Jesus before I look to the Charter. Jesus talked about carrying the cross with him as a mark of being his follower. Jesus talked a lot about the corrupting influence of money. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God he described a way of living in, relating to, and influencing the world through God’s self-giving, suffering love. For me, as a teenager in the 1980’s, a lot of punk music spoke these values to my life far more deeply than any sermon I heard at church. Maybe Jesus speaks through prophets that most of us wouldn’t recognize or even accept. Maybe that's why rock stars should talk politics.