God Bless a Metonym
Scott observes a process of the trans-nationalization of baseball alongside the seemingly contradictory patriotic and militaristic displays at Angels pre-season games. He refers specifically to members of the military being asked to stand for rounds of applause, and he wonders why women who have not had cosmetic surgery are not instead asked to stand. As further discussion confirmed, and as consideration of the ritualistic singing of the national anthem at modern American Major League baseball games ought to confirm, the relationship of baseball to American (American-style) nationalism is a complex and possibly contradictory, possibly dialectical one.
I believe that Scott was referring to the notion that our Washingtonian empire of Unitedstatesia has managed to seize the grand metonym “America” for itself along with the economically most promising expanse of the North American continent, arguably (materially-demonstrably: historically) the most geo-politically and geo-economically exploitable terrain on the planet under our loosely speaking modern conditions of commerce and technology – secure, resource-rich, underpopulated, arable, temperate, benefiting from relatively unobstructed internal and external connections: To employ the baseball cliche, the United States is the country that was born on third base geographically.
I’ve written many times on an American idea, or ideal Americanism, inherently at odds with more conventional expressions of American patriotism, but I think Scott wants something more concrete. So here’s a dialectic: The most geographically – geo-materially – favorable terrain on Earth allowed for and compelled the spiritually most impoverished – in short, evil: slavery, genocide, brute capitalism – conquest of that terrain, but spiritual impoverishment allows for and compels re-spiritualization, which eventually requires the transvaluation of values and re-definition of definitions, and, eventually, re-drawing or revision or elimination of borders. Though by appearances highly speculative, this notion seems already to be playing out concretely in the politically vexatious and utterly insoluble “immigration problem”; in the Latino-ization of the quintessentially American game, the American national pastime; and in the desperate last-gasp radicalism of American reactionary conservatives before the demographic deluge and the expected relegation of white-European Americans to “minority” status in “their own” country. (Geopolitical theorist George Friedman, in his book The Next 100 Years, describes the Latino-ization of the United States and eventual total breakdown of the southern border as the one “threat” of them all that ascendant white-imperial America will eventually prove unable to defeat.)
When we say “American,” we usually mean Unitedstatesian, but once upon a time, as ever after beneath the surface, “American” referred to the entire New World – just as ideal Jeffersonian Americanism, or what Gordon Wood calls “American Political Science,” is transnational, universally federative, never intended to be the sole possession of the first revolutionaries or their direct descendants, and never true to itself if taken that way. Scott, viewing the Latino-ization of baseball, detects how the seizure of the metonym ironically prepares the end of that same historical fallacy, the gradual exposure and self-termination of the false and self-betraying nationalism of the United States as (rather than merely “of”) America. From the perspective of American Political Science, high treason and high patriotism approach each other asymptotically, and at key moments (founding and saving instances) become indistinguishable from each other: Lincoln suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus, Jefferson purchasing the Louisiana Territory, Roosevelt overstepping neutrality, and in our own day Barack Obama assassinating citizens and collateral innocents under an open-ended state of exception/state of war…
Sacred and Secular Anthems
It was Woodrow Wilson who first asked that “The Star-Spangled Banner” be played at ceremonial occasions, and it was in 1918, following America’s entry into World War I and grand entrance onto world center-stage that the anthem began to be played as part of public militaristic-nationalistic demonstrations at baseball games. Mental Floss provides the background history:
After America’s entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.
Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931), the song continued to be played, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games.
It wasn’t until 1931 that the SSB became the official national anthem of the US of A by Act of Congress. It wasn’t until World War II and the post-War era that the national anthem began to be played before every game in every major sport. It’s worth noting, however, that Americans are not so different from other peoples in this respect. Most nations have similar practices, and even or especially the International Olympic movement acknowledges and perpetuates the identification of sport and nation. Thus also the embarrassing moment at a recent international competition in Kuwait when organizers played the Borat parody of the Kazakh national anthem at a shooting gold medalist’s ceremony.
The singing of the national anthem, like the American national anthem itself, also like national identity every- and anywhere, is intimately linked to war: As most minimally historically literate Americans know, the “Star-Spangled Banner” was written in observation of a military bombardment during the War of 1812, thus Francis Scott Key’s original title “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Other than in occasional jokes recollecting the burning of Washington DC by British forces, the anthem is perhaps the only way that anyone outside the circles of academics and history buffs recalls the War of 1812 at all. It is said even by many within those circles that the war was a pointless and even absurdly bizarre adventure, although Wood has demonstrated that its very pointlessness may have been integral to its actual purpose, and in a way that validates this commemoration of an otherwise forgotten battle from an otherwise forgotten war as a sacred national song: The War of 1812 achieved nothing in particular, its supposed aims should have been mere afterthoughts to diplomacy, it was not very well fought on either side, and in terms of the forces deployed and the casualties taken, it hardly qualifies even as a sideshow to the contemporaneous Napoleonic Wars that taken together amount to the first “world war,” and would seem obviously to have been of far greater significance. Yet, as I read Wood, Mr. Madison’s war of 1812 was also the war that sealed American nationhood, that was fought in place of a second revolution or counter-revolution, that confirmed a non-British (violently anti-British) American national unity or identity under Jeffersonian concepts, and that in its own way was at least as important as the fate of the Corsican antichrist and his grand army.
Before we can leave 1812 behind and take up these same themes in historically less remote circumstances, there is another aspect of the national anthem that we ought to recall, and that will plunge us even further into complications. The tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner” is from a popular song of the period, “The Anacreontic Song,” also known as “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Though the Wikipedist suggests that referring to it as a drinking song is “highly dubious” given the (still notorious) “difficulty of singing it,” “To Anacreon…” clearly qualifies as bawdy, even Bacchanalian, especially in its closing couplet: “And long may the sons of Anacreon intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.”
An “anthem” is a song of celebration. Scott will want to note that the word “anthem” derives from the Greek “antiphon,” which musicologically refers to “call and response” singing of the very type that is the specialty of his “kirtan” band Yoga Das, the kirtan being the subcontinental Indian version of antiphonic choral music. The anthem’s main lineage in the Western tradition is sacred – liturgical and doxological – not secular, but, under the guiding thesis that the secular/sacred dichotomy must like every other simple dichotomy also be understood as a dialectic of mutual interpenetration, relation, and possible equivalence, the origin of the American anthem in a bawdy celebration of sex and booze (Venus and Bacchus) is equally a token of the consecration of the material world as a token of the desecration of liturgy. The birth of an American faith/faith in America, and the re-consecration and re-embodiment of that faith in the choral song at sporting events can be both sacred act and blasphemy at the same time (blasphemy and sacred act pre-supposing each other), just as renditions of the anthem criticized as desecrations – Jimi Hendrix’s and Roseanne Barr’s, for example – immediately convert into (re-)consecrations of Americanism as revolutionism.
In this sense, nothing is more sacredly American than desecration: The sacred American anthem appropriately refers to drunken licentiousness. It may be instructive in this regard also that colonial and revolutionary era North America was something of a drunkard’s paradise, where even children drank beer for lack of potable water, and where the first organized and armed post-Constitutional rebellion concerned the market for whiskey, a precious commodity more reliable than any scrip or currency out on the savage frontiers of Quaker-pacifist Pennsylvania.
In short, if, at the next Angels’ game Scott attends, he feels pre-inebriatively moved to sing to Anacreon rather than to Fort McHenry, then there is no good reason why it should not be pleasing to the fans, the Angels, and the angels. For that same reason, however – the lack of any good one – I would not recommend that he try it. For now, precisely because it ought to be well received, it probably would not be. The era in which it would be well received is the yogic-monistic era we are only approaching, when the singing of the national kirtan would become a matter of indifference, and the call for soldiers to stand up will not go out, because there will no soldiers (or will be only yogic-jihadi soldiers) to answer it…
Eternal Beisbolobucolical Globalmonistic Paradise
Congregants, rise and sing:
To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron wou’d be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine!”
Even the resident alien evil of “God Bless America” turns radiantly beneficent in the patriotically treasonous baseball-messianic light, as the Boy Scouts sing it, apparently with antiphonic/kirtan preamble:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.
The early Christian theologians insisted that after the end of days and the coming of Christ, human strivings as we know them must cease: Eternity unimaginably would entail an endless song of praise of God. Why? I dunno. Maybe for the Hell of it. Why not? Maybe “song” in eternal light-beyond-light is an infinite beisbolic gesamtkunstkirtan – no war, no oppression, but serious and risky play, yogically all of us yogically playin-watching.
Or not. Sing:
Oh, say, can you see, my eyes?
If you can, then my hair’s too short.
If not – maybe:
Qarsı alğan waqıttı,
Bizdiñ el baqıttı,
Bizdiñ el osınday!
Or don’t. Quite impossibly (certainly), in a universally homogeneous global and probably near earth orbital super-stadium of stadia where the yoga-ball season never ends, those who refrain from singing along are the loudest.