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.

The result?

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?

Really?

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.

41 comments:

Lily's Mommy said...

How about "Another Flash in the Pan"?

Chez said...

For the record: I wasn't serious about coming up with a headline. It was a joke -- and apparently not a very good one.

celery said...

RS trivialized something that has extraordinary meaning to millions of people.

imagine if TV guide had run jed clampett on the cover of the sepetmber, 1963 issue, holding an oil can with the headline, "i have a dream".

Lily's Mommy said...

I meant, for the Rolling Stone title. :)

I didn't actually see that you didn't have a title. I'm a sleep deprived mommy this morning. (that's EVERY morning)

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. "Yes We Can" may have begun life as "just" a campaign slogan, but it became much more to those of us who voted for a chance to rise up as a better country than we've been for a long time. Our identity as Americans is tied up in that phrase. I hope this does not catch on as a trend -- c.f. the abuse "Let's Roll" took after 9/11.

votar said...

Nonetheless, I'd go with,

EVIL ACTS







or maybe

BRITNEY DEFEATS TRUMAN

Suzy said...

for once, or twice, i have to not go with the flow on this one. c'mon people. you're taking this as seriously as the retard people take the retard movies, remarks, etc. lighten up. she's a douchebag. does anyone really consider rolling stone anything short of OK! magazine for music anymore?

mixtapetherapy said...

O.k...someone obviously hasn't had their morning coffee yet.

Yes, it was a campaign slogan, and yes again, the message of hope and rebirth ressurected by the Obama campaign is just what this country needed.

But I think it's important for all of us to remember that the words "Yes We Can" - while certainly not the most erudite and eloquent of phrases - is a slogan used many times over before Barack took it on.

Christ, Bob the Builder's been saying it for years - and you don't see him getting all huffy and hot & bothered over Barack stealing his thunder, now do you?

Suzy said...

and maybe they're making a subliminal tie-in to "turkey" day.

Steve said...

Hmm. I don't really have a great attachment to "yes, we can". I think of it as a good campaign slogan that energized Americans, but now that the real work has to be done, it seems like "yes, we must" is needed.

"Yes, we can" seems almost nostalgic in a "summer of love" kind of way.

But yes, it seems lazy of RS to use it in this context.

Anonymous said...

It's dishonest. I mean, does anyone think she ACTUALLY can? It's just going to be a blip of getting herself together before she slides back to trainwreckville, right? There's no way she's pulling off any kind of real recovery.

In terms of 'disrespecting' Barack Obama or whatever, well frankly, it's hard to get outraged over words when Citigroup is taking $300 billion of taxpayer dollars and with all the other crap going on. My outrage well is bone dry. But sure, the editors probably should have spent 4 seconds and come up with something more appropriate.

Chez said...

It's not really a big deal. It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way the first time I saw it and, well, that's part of what this little site is here for. : )

Suzy said...

i still think she's hot, in a porn kinda way, in that 'toxic' video. LOL!

look, it rubs me the wrong way every time someone uses "our lips are sealed" in vain. but that's my own little go-gos psychosis.

*sigh*

votar said...

Wait wait wait wait wait....





You're not suggesting that there occur in our cultural lexicon, certain moments where an artistic concept, symbol, or expression is presented in such a singularly powerful way, in its original context, by its original author, that it should not be imitated (/covered), ever?

You're certainly not saying that. Hmmm?



You know of what I speak.

Anonymous said...

I heard about it on the radio and thought "wow that sort of sucks that they didn't come up with something better than the chant breathed so many times at the rallys i worked to coordinate that i lost my voice over." then i forgot about it till i came here and saw that you're paying lip service to someone who should just go away. forever. and i do mean Britney spears. by talking about her, you're enabling her to be around to infect your own daughter's ears one day. just forget about the bitch and she'll go away. because honestly? no, she most certainly can not.

Jeremy said...

I never cease to be amazed at the ability of revenue hungry mediums to twist and pervert good music, inspiring art, and, yes, even moving catchphrases, to sell a product.
I'm also no longer surprised at all when it happens.
I used to get outraged. Now I just shake my head at how eagerly everyone laps up the shite that rags like Rolling Stone spoon feed them. (Hint, Rolling Stone, if you want my business back focus less on the 'froo-froo' lip-synch acts and more on the effin' MUSIC from MUSICIANS!)

Chez said...

Votar --

You're kidding, right?

Johnny Cash covering Hurt is not the same thing.

Jeremy said...

Johnny Cash covering "Hurt" is the best thing that ever happened to Trent Reznor's otherwise screechingly annoying "I'm gonna hit one keyboard key that makes this same screeching sound over and over again" music...

Christine said...

My biggest problem with the re-appropriation of the slogan doesn't so much have to do with Obama and the hope that those simple words inspired, so much as... "No, no she hasn't." What has she done, exactly? I mean, she seems like a sweet girl and all, but it's not like she's suddenly decided to get a degree in environmental science or join the Peace Corps. She cleaned up her life. Yay? We need to get excited over this?

Anonymous said...

Wow, is Votar still upset over THAT cover??? You should get over your NIN martyrdom/angry young man complex. You're not so young anymore.

Christine

Chez said...

Jeremy --

While I won't agree that Reznor's anything less than a genius -- I have to say to Votar...

OH, IT IS ON!

IT IS SO FUCKING ON!

YOU JUST GOT SERVED!

votar said...

Hmm? Wha...?


Sorry, wasn't paying attention. I'm busy painting a clown hat on the Mona Lisa.

Next up, that last meal Jesus and pals had would have been so much more cheerful with some dogs playing poker at the table. That may take a while, gotta chat with Shatner about cheap airfare to Milan. Go on about your business. Don't mind me.

Suzy said...

i wanna see gloria estefan cover "Head Like a Hole".

Heather said...

I've got to go with Chez and Jeremy on this one. I thought the Johnny Cash cover of this song was better than the original -- but I have both on my iPod.

*runs and hides from the wrath of Votar*

Chez said...

You're right, Votar.

You are a douche-nozzle.

Jeremy said...

When you are done with the clown hats, Votar, I think the sculpture of David would look really good with black nail polish, a crappy synthesizer, and a shit-load of papier-mache teenage girls with bad skin in too-tight black stirrup pants and NIN t-shirts...

Suzy said...

for something that wasn't a big deal this sure is entertaining.

Deacon Blue said...

Well, Votar, as long as you don't make it into pigs playing poker at the Last Supper. Because, like, that wouldn't be kosher...

Heather said...

Damn. Jeremy is on a roll today!

B8ovin said...

The problem with co-opting a cultural touchstone is that the former inherent meaning can not be separated. If Obama was using the slogan to call for political, social and global change, what is Brittaney using it for? Yes, she can, WHAT? If Obama is successful the verb signifies something wonderful and transformative. If Brittaney is successful the verb bespeaks what? A simple return to sane behavior or inane music? Considering the level of creativity Rolling Stone could have just shown a picture of Spears from behind with the phrase in question removed and the rest of the headline in situ.

Anonymous said...

A "cultural touchstone"? You've got to be kidding me. It was a political slogan. It belonged to Bob the Freakin' Builder before Obama used it. It was catchy, effective political slogan, but it was a political slogan nonetheless. It is wide open to be mocked, and you can bet that as Obama's Administration evolves, he will be razzed with it by friends and foes alike.

Besides, I thought the entire purpose of this site was to snark on pretty much any target out there.

votar said...

In all seriousness, hopefully it's obvious I'm hardly obsessive about Johnny Cash co-opting that song. My gut feeling when I heard it was just very similar to Chez's reaction to the RS reference. B8's description comes close to my point: there are certain moments of artistic -- or in the alternative reference, political -- expression that transcend specificity.

"Yes, We Can" is so basic, so universal, that not only does it not need elaboration, its power is diminished by any attempt to apply it to something specific.

We are already seeing the media doing exactly this, provocatively asking "was this the 'Change' Obama meant [considering all the Clinton and Bush personnel who are finding their way into his cabinet]?" See how the pure and beautifully simple notion of "Change" is suddenly emasculated by applying it to that rather mundane exercise? Deep down inside, we all understand what was meant by the simple one-word expression Change.

Agree with me or not, appreciate NIN or not (clearly Jeremy does not, and that's fine), but it should not be hard to understand that this particular song was one component of a concept album that did not require explanation to appreciate. The listener is never given a clue as to the identity of the subject of the story, we are simply invited to viscerally experience their Downward Spiral. It is an expression of pure anguish, the denouement of a profoundly dark journey.

When Cash re-recorded it (and yeah, I know Reznor eventually gave it his blessing), he took that pure, anonymous outpouring of catharsis, and figuratively slapped his name on it, as if to say "because of the bad stuff that happened in my life, this song is about me."

No, it isn't.

There are really not many songs that I'd go to such lengths to argue about, but I guess this is one of them. I stand firm in my basic belief that there is something underneath the words and notes that no one else should have been permitted to claim as their own. By doing so, in my humble opinion Johnny Cash belittled himself, behaving not so much different than the black-nailpolish-wearing emo high school kid writing bad poetry by blacklight in his bedroom.

If you are a fan of Johnny Cash (I, frankly, am not), you should have no trouble agreeing that he was better than that.

Anonymous said...

"No She Can't"

"Seriously, Does Anyone Still Care?"

"Retarded and Still Rich: A Cruel Mockery of the American Dream"

Jeremy said...

Shit... blogspot just ate my post I think.
Short version of what I just typed. I disagree.
Johnny Cash made Reznor accessible to me in a way he never was before and allowed me to appreciate the poetry of his words that I'd always lost in the incredibly industrial grind of his music.

If anything, by pointing out similarities between the lives of a septegenarian country singer, and legions of nail polish clad angsty young'uns, Cash made the song more universal. Far from "stamping his own brand on it", as you claim, I think he expanded the audience who could appreciate Reznor's words.

votar said...

...forgive me, Chez, but...


Where, in its six minutes and fourteen seconds, does Hurt sound like incredibly industrial grind? It's practically a capella, if not for the single, quiet guitar behind the vocals, and the occasional piano punctuation leading to the crescendo (the only moment that even approaches "hard rock," consisting of exactly three notes). It's a beautiful song. Cash just sort of mumbles through it.

I think it's safe to say, much of Reznor's work isn't meant to be universally accessible. That a few puzzled country music fans were introduced to it may have been a curious consequence, but about as unnecessary and unimportant as Pat Boone laughably squeezing into those black leather chaps, hanging a razor blade from one ear, and recording that "metal" album a few years back. I don't think Johnny Cash set out to expand Nine Inch Nails' fanbase. He simply used someone else's song with which to wax all introspective and melancholy. Imagine if at the end of his life he had poured that kind of catharsis into a song of his own. Perhaps he did, I dunno... but if he did, it would make mutating Hurt that much more unnecessary.

Incidentally, a not insignificant proportion of NIN is anything but industrial grind. A lot of it is, and this serves a purpose. But check out A Warm Place off the same disk as Hurt. Listen to La Mer, Ghosts-13, Something I can Never Have...

But I digress. Hurt is a work of art; it is a unique aural embodiment of Anguish, not an appropriate vehicle through which to (unnecessarily) spread the "universal accessibility" of Nine Inch Nails, and it should never have been imitated.

Deacon Blue said...

Is anyone besides me thinking that we need a "Celebrity Deathmatch" bout between Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor right about now?

Jeffers66 said...

At Channel 6, one of our worst lines was "Trouble On The Tracks". I hated that one so much! And then there was "Home Alone", every time a kid was injured or killed after being abandoned by its parents. Talk about trivializing tragedy! How about "The Big Chill" every time the temperature dipped into the 40s? Damn Chez, now you've really got me going!

Mari said...

As someone who had to learn the hard way that manic depression had taken over my life around the same time Britney had her breakdown, I'm rooting for her just as much as I'm rooting for myself.

It's shocking how insensitive many people are to the fact that what she went through and is still going through is really tragic, horrible, and excruciatingly painful. It saddens me when her situation is made into a punch line as it trivializes not only my experience but others' as well.

For shame, for motherfucking shame.

Jeremy said...

Votar,
I was talking about NIN in general. I had totally ignored "Hurt" because of my perception of NIN music. Cash let me appreciate it. That was explained better in the full post that Blogger ate.

I'm sorry I kicked your sacred cow.

Jeremy said...

... and I am not a country music fan. I am a MUSIC fan. I like anything that's good, from Flaming Lips to Del McCoury to Cee-Lo.
I happen to like Johnny Cash and just not be such a big fan of NIN style.

Anonymous said...

"I think it's safe to say, much of Reznor's work isn't meant to be universally accessible."

Ah. There it is. Now I understand.