Wednesday, November 26, 2008
(Insert Clever Headline Here)
Back in 1990, near the peak of her international fame and right about the time she was officially canonized by Miami's Cuban exile community, Gloria Estefan was involved in a nasty tour bus accident. For those who don't remember, Estefan had to have two titanium rods implanted in her spine as a result of the crash and many wondered whether she'd ever walk -- to say nothing of doing that conga -- again.
During the year of intensive physical therapy that followed the surgery, Estefan was closely monitored by every local TV station in South Florida -- each one keeping a constant vigil at the side of Miami's patron saint as she attempted to work her way back to full body-shaking strength.
In particular, WSVN dubbed its coverage "Road to Recovery" and featured nightly updates on Gloria's progress. Although it felt like overkill, even at the time, there was nothing inherently awful about the way the station went about reporting the Gloria Estefan story.
In fact, it was only in retrospect that whole thing would seem kind of tasteless.
Two years later, Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. It devastated the region, killed 65 people and left thousands homeless. As the area struggled to revive itself in the wake of the storm, WSVN once again tagged its coverage "Road to Recovery."
Though I hadn't yet worked for the station when the Estefan incident happened -- I was nothing more than a 20 year old viewer at that time -- I remember talking to one of my WSVN co-workers in the fall of 1992, as our hurricane recovery coverage ramped up, and wondering aloud, "So let me get this straight: We're indirectly comparing the worst disaster in South Florida history with Gloria hurting her back. Shouldn't we at least come up with a slogan we haven't already used to death on something that now seems really inconsequential?"
Why do I bring this up?
Because although WSVN couldn't have anticipated the much more worthy "Road to Recovery" story to come when it used the line to describe Gloria Estefan's personal tragedy, Rolling Stone damn well knew the pedigree attached to the phrase "Yes We Can" -- the unspoken cultural trademark it now carries -- when it chose to bastardize it for the cover of its latest issue.
A photograph of Britney Spears adorned with boldfaced type proclaiming "Yes She Can!"
It's certainly not inherently offensive to co-opt Barack Obama's campaign slogan -- the one which not only helped define him as a candidate and win him the election, but which served as a battle cry for a nation desperately in need of something to believe in. For Christ's sake, though -- Britney? That's who you're going to ascribe this powerful phrase to after adjusting it to meet your trivial needs?
Britney Fucking Spears?
Just a few short weeks ago, the statement "Yes We Can" sounded like a clarion call across America -- an affirmation of absolute purpose made by the first black president of the United States as a means to inspire millions.
And you're equating that with Britney no longer shaving her head in public or attacking paparazzi with an umbrella?
I'll occasionally spend a good amount of time trying to come up with creative titles for the pieces on this site in an attempt to fulfill my obligation to be a smart-ass. But I always try to be cognizant of the line that separates clever from stupid (which is not to say that I always respect that line). Doing a groan-and-eye-rolling twist on an expression of momentous significance is easy and cheap -- a fast grab at the lowest-hanging fruit on the "wit" tree -- and it's way beneath the editorial board at Rolling Stone.
I'm willing to concede that I may be taking this too seriously; some will argue that it's just a political slogan, after all. But I can't be the only one who thinks that even if there's no parallel with larger events to be drawn from the Britney cover -- even if it doesn't tread on sacred ground, like telling a 9/11 joke on 9/12 -- the whole thing is just really fucking cheesy.
"Yes We Can" isn't simply another catchphrase to be milked to death by anyone looking to sell a product.
Rolling Stone could've -- and should've -- come up with a better tagline.
Maybe "Road to Recovery."
Hey, it worked for Gloria.