Sunday, April 6, 2008

Stand Up and Salute: OK, Now You Can Listen

Last evening, I attended a performance by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, a wonderful bill including the Beethoven Sixth, DeBussy's Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun, and Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto. Our seats weren't spectacular, mezzanine, 2d level on the bass side of the orchestra, but no matter: the music was grand.

Here's my beef. Beginning of the evening: Maestro Joel Levine, stalks onto the stage to hearty applause, smiles, immediately lifts his baton and the orchestra launches into . . . the national anthem! Oh, good grief. Do we really have to have this "I Am Patriotic and I'll Prove It . . . Watch Me Stand Up with All the Other Parrots and Sing" before a
classical music concert? I object! What's the point of this ritual at such a place? Must we constantly go through these motions to stir the "patriotic" heart stings before any public event? [I also object to the U.S. flag up on the same stage--this is an orchestra, not a band in the Macy's parade, but that's another subject.]

The reason I'm concerned about this kind of thing is I think it betokens a truly narrow mind set and an infantile kind of nationalism (er . . . maybe not, is there any other kind?) that has to constantly be reminding itself of how wonderful we are--when in fact, if there's anything that's plain to me, especially over the course of the last eight years, is that we ain't all that wonderful at all. I don't recall the NY Philharmonic doing this on PBS, or the Met, or any of the other US orchestras I've seen . . . I had never seen any such thing any life.

But according to my companions at the concert, longtime Okies, it's "always" been done. They weren't too concerned, and they were bemused at my outrage.
Part of what fuels my outrage is that others aren't outraged by these kinds of things. Why must we constantly be spouting the national anthem at public events? Does it make us more American? Does it make us love the country more? Or does it serve some inchoate urging of our animal nature that responds to the promptings of the reptilian tribal id? The anthem doesn't belong at anything but parades and perhaps celebrations of national holidays such as the 4th of July. It doesn't belong at sporting events, concerts, graduations, or any of the other myriad places it appears in all of its unsingable glory. I will forbear for the moment launching into our equally objectionable practice of flying the flag over every damn thing: churches, used car lots, burger joints, furniture stores, private dwellings! The only other country I can think of with a blizzard of flags everywhere--have you checked many of the backdrops for the presidential candidates?--is Nazi Germany. Now, maybe there are other countries where the citizenry feels compelled to advertise their patriotic nationalism with flag displays everywhere, but I'm not aware of any. (I roamed all over Europe when we lived there, and I can't recall seeing many national flags at all, anywhere.) If you are, let me know and I'll pen a suitably humble apology.

Looks like I couldn't help myself. I wasn't able to forbear completely.
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