I watched hours of television coverage during the Inaugural Day ceremonies for the new President of the United States and I heard a great deal of talk: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court talked-tripping up the president elect and, if not dismantling, at least tickling the “smooth transition of power”; two preachers talked; the Speaker of the House talked; a poetess read a beautiful poem badly and the new President gave a humorless speech beautifully, talking for twenty minutes with nary a hint of lightheartedness. Times are tough.
Aretha Franklin sang a bodacious “My Country Tis of Thee”. I love her voice, but her hat got my Bravo! Ms. Franklin’s sartorial statement gently brought to mind my mother’s youth. (I have a faded black and white photo from the early 1930’s showing her and her sisters wearing hats approaching the audacity of Aretha’s.)
After all the talk-much of it justifiable-it was time for America’s youth, proud and happy, to strut its stuff: if for no other reasons than the joy of making music together and yes, bragging rights for the rest of their lives. They had been chosen to represent the nation. They had practiced hard and had won awards. They had gathered hours earlier, off camera and cold.
Of the seventy-nine official participants, there were 30 high school, secondary and junior school bands; 12 university bands; The Lesbian and Gay Association Band of New York; the Suurimmanitchuat Eskimo Dance Group and some interesting non-music groups, such as The Mobile Azalea Trail Maids from Mobile, Alabama; The U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division Ceremonial Honor Guard and Motorcade Support Unit (Yikes!); and a refurbished 1965 DC Metropolitan Police Department Cruiser-(well, that’s OK.)
But the parade wasn’t about music, or about spectacle. Rather, it was all about Talk. A constant gushing of narcissistic blather made the music a mere background accompaniment for talk. The talk was louder than the United States Army Band playing The Army Song*; louder than The Punahou High School Marching Band; louder than the Howard University marching Band; even louder than the Florida A&M Marching 100 or the Grambling State University World Famous Tiger Marching Band; Louder than the Ohio State University Marching Band and the United States Navy Band.
Chris Matthews (MSNBC) and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer-is that really his name?-out blasted em all. The network’s had opted for talk over music. They had kidnapped one of America’s most historic and beloved spectacles in order to concentrate on their talking heads. In the United States alone, forty million people viewed the parade, but never saw or heard most of its participants. As the Punahou Band from Hawaii approached the Presidential party, a TV announcer began talking about how far they’d traveled to be there, and how proud they must be. When she’d finished talking, they were gone; the new President’s High School alma mater band, its music almost inaudible, had barely appeared on camera.
Matthews, Blitzer and their bosses are perfect metaphors for American television culture. They are my “Worst Persons in the World”, and shame on them.
* The Caisson Song.