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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

This is a sequel to last month’s column. And like most sequels it starts well, loses its way in the middle and has a unsatisfactory ending that doesn’t entirely make sense.

One downside to writing a column for a monthly magazine is that it can never be truly topical. My hot takes arrive late and lukewarm with all the toppings slid to one end. So cast your minds back to the Super Bowl – a thing that had just happened when I wrote this, but by the time it reaches you will be a distant memory of the last time there was some news from America that wasn’t Hitlery.

For those who retain a loathing of sport, the Super Bowl is essentially a frequently interrupted game of helmet rugby. No one knows the rules so they employ men to loudly guess what’s happening for the duration of the match. However, it attracts viewing figures equivalent to the population of ten Belgiums because they show funny adverts and there’s the chance of seeing a pop star’s nipple. Only this year’s pop star Lady Gaga did something even more interesting than nipples.

The US superstar singer (real name Winifred Gaga) hasn’t been particularly relevant lately on account of forgetting how to write tunes and mostly going about dressed as a bag of balloons. But she found a new vitality this year by singing a 77-year-old protest song as part of the halftime entertainment.

Woody Guthrie wrote This Land Is Your Land as an angry reaction to what he saw as Irving Berlin’s oversimplified patriotism in the song God Bless America. In defence of Irving he rewrote his popular anthem in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. And it wasn’t his fault it was later co-opted by American Conservatives as a rallying cry against liberalism; a tendency for appropriating elements of popular culture they don’t understand that continues to this day. The divs.

Much of Gaga’s performance would’ve surprised Woody were he alive to see it: her ability to stay in pitch while suspended from wires, the sponsorship from Pepsi Zero Sugar (what a time to be alive), her failure to include Perfect Illusion in the set, suggesting even she knows it’s garbage… But mostly it would’ve boggled his mind that such a simply defiant ditty would still be seen as a provocative political statement in 2017.

Wardrobe malfunctions are no longer enough to cause a fuss at the Super Bowl. Beyoncé gave a black power salute when she performed at the 2016 event, prompting a barrage of howls and faltering boycotts from people who’ve never had to struggle for anything in their lives. And now here’s her former duet partner smartly segueing God Bless America into This Land Is Your Land as if they were verses of the same song; ending on the pledge of allegiance: “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

While we may question the motives of someone who’d flap about gasping like a fish on the pavement if they were denied publicity, her gesture was a significant one. Never in her or my lifetime has it been more clear which side to be on – that side that was made for you and me.

Now for the love of Guthrie, will someone write some new songs. There is much we must protest.

Tim Chipping


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