Emphasize ideals, not rituals
On Sunday evening, I partook in the truly American experience of watching the Super Bowl. Apparently, most of the world did as well — even though numbers are still disputed, it is reckoned that Super Bowl XLV brought in more viewers than the rendition of "Thriller" on "Glee" that followed it or Michael Jackson's funeral, which effectively gave the producers of "Glee" the rights to create said abomination. But I don't care to comment on the game itself or the musical failure that followed.
What I care to muse on is the incredible TV moment that occurred just before kick-off. And, God bless her, I refer to Christina Aguilera's remix of the "The Star-Spangled Banner" — or, as I affectionately call it, "One of Four Verses Grade School Bothered to Teach Us."
As I watched Aguilera scream-sing the anthem, I spent some time thinking of better things I could be doing. Furniture needed dusting. There were month-old leftovers in the fridge I could stare at. But instead, I stood near the door and listened, yearning for Christina and I to get back to a point where I was 11 years old again, first realizing what she seductively implied when she informed me that I "gotta rub her the right way."
But at that moment, miraculously, my brain snapped from this trance in an almost-behavioral manner. I could not put my finger on it, but for some reason the cognitive reflexes that charted word after word of the anthem hit a glitch.
Then a friend of mine — a much more patriotic friend — muttered sullenly, "She f——- up."
And indeed she did. Upon further review, I found that where Francis Scott Key had penned, "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming," Aguilera instead sang, "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming." She re-sang a bastardization of the second line.
How dare she?! Right? More people watching her than the O.J. Simpson trial and she dare not remind us of the gallant ramparts? She butchered the song! The poem! The defense of Fort McHenry! She had already so poetically informed us that we hailed dawn's early light at twilight. And then she did it again! Pure poetic failure! An abomination in the name of patriotism! These are certainly the things that matter, right?
No. It really shouldn't matter.
The fact that most people do not know what a "rampart" is, I will overlook — though I can assure you that it is not the part with which one rams. What I will not overlook, however, is that most viewers at home — if they even had the TV on during the anthem — were probably talking through the entirety of the performance. For most, watching the national anthem play out on TV was lumped in with the pre-game commentary, TV personality Bill O'Reilly interviewing himself with President Barack Obama in the room, and sportscaster Joe Buck's pointless commentary — as minutiae to ignore. From our couches, brews in hand, we honored the flag as little as, if not less than, those raucous commercial breaks.
The second — and possibly more major fact — is that to a vast majority Americans, these words, the standing and removing of the hat, have become rote ritual. Our minds have come to merely trigger a pattern of sounds and melodies — if we know the words, we rarely know what they mean. Granted, the more perceptive will pick up on phrases like "land of the free" and "rocket's red glare." The even more perceptive will quote these in Memorial Day presentations as seventh graders. True patriots can even glean that the whole thing is about some battle, centuries ago, with old wooden ships. George Washington was probably there, but who knows? He is one of three presidents most Americans can name.
And yet, despite the jocular tone, I do not view this as that dire of a situation. In fact, I would say we should not be ashamed, brushing the patriotic blunder under the rug like a stained green dress. True, yes, it is a little silly. True, yes, the misplaced line completely ruins the integrity of Key's poem. True, yes, as the singer of the anthem, you should do the ritual some justice and make sure you nail all the right words. But words can only be so immutable, and the ritual itself can only carry so much weight.
During the anthem, there was a moment that exemplifies the point. Shortly after, Aguilera royally screwed the proverbial pooch, the grossly huge screen at Cowboys Stadium cut to a video of American troops in Afghanistan viewing the game. The crowd, rightfully so, applauded the troops loudly enough to drown the anthem out.
These are the things that are important. Not a song, centuries old, that speaks of images we no longer relate to. Not the ritual of standing before a flag, treating it like a stars-and-stripes deity, but showing some semblance of respect for common people doing a job that, honestly, I could never dream of doing. It is understanding that we all — though it takes college departments to come to some semblance of an idea of what it is — share strange common ideals classified broadly and often bizarrely as "American." And despite my often isolationist and misanthropic opinions, I truly believe this and find something quite telling in the image of American soldiers taking immediate precedence over the biggest Super Bowl mishap since Janet Jackson's boob.
Patrick Danner is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English with a minor in Italian studies. His column, "Stoop Musings," runs on alternate Fridays.