Does the U.S. need a new national anthem?
That’s not to say that changing up the lyrics and melody will resolve the issue of police brutality that Colin Kaepernick recently addressed by refusing to stand up, hold his hand over his heart, and follow the bouncing ball. Police brutality is a deep–seated problem—in general, and in particular for people of color.
Apart from that, the Star-Spangled Banner’s fetishization of a piece of cloth and some bombs seems kinda… workable as an explanation for Michael Bay’s oeuvre.
Before a few days ago, like many, I had no idea there were additional stanzas to the anthem, let alone one that glorifies murdering the enslaved! Holy Jesus Fuck. How is this news to so many of us?
Even if we officially delete those extra stanzas, can we really call it a day? Do you know the words to the U.S. national anthem? It’s aggro. Where are the lyrics celebrating… well, more productive activities? Where’s the good stuff about freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petitioning the government to redress grievances?
“America the Beautiful” has been the main contender as a replacement anthem for about a century now, but personally, I’d vote for “This Land Is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie. It works on so many levels: It’s fundamentally democratic, respects nature, and is a reflective social critique while still being hopeful that progress and justice will prevail.
In searching for other songs that have been considered for the anthem, I came across David Cantwell’s book review in Slate of “This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems,” by John Shaw (2013).
The gist of it is that although Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land” during the Depression as a peeved response to Kate Smith’s jingoistic rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” Berlin himself wrote his song as a thanks to the nation that had taken in his refugee family fleeing the anti-semitism of Europe.
I love this, from Cantwell: “The difference between Berlin’s motivation and Smith’s interpretation embodies the way a complex love of country can shrink to mere pride.”
Written three years ago, it’s a perfect analogy for the current, narrowly defined outrage over Colin Kaepernick’s well-reasoned, valid argument for refusing to stand for the national anthem.
And the reactionary response only bolsters Kaepernick’s point. Don’t you know what that flag represents? Are you going to turn your back on all the soldiers who gave their lives so that you could live in freedom? Stand up. Shut up. Don’t ask questions. Cash your considerable paycheck.
…Maybe the Star-Spangled Banner is more honest about certain American values than we’d care to admit? Maybe a new anthem might better channel certain American values we’d care to amplify?
What song would you nominate for a new national anthem, and why?