I clicked through from this John Hawkins tweet to see just what was so chilling about “7 year old autistic girl nails the national anthem.” It didn’t give me chills. It makes me tired. The mush-mouthed, over-ornamented style of singing the national anthem that this child is cheered for – and which has become the standard – is emblematic of what’s wrong with this country. Style – and poor style, at that – over substance.
As everyone knows, it’s a difficult song to sing. You need range and power to really pull it off. I think it was Whitney Houston who first popularized tripling the notes that were in the original song and making the performance a showcase for her singing talent, rather than a remembrance of an historic event and one of the traditions that binds us together as Americans.
Years ago, we took our daughter to a Zephyr’s baseball game. People needed to be told to stand for the anthem, and some people remained sitting anyway. My husband and I stood and put our hands over our hearts. We couldn’t see the flag, so we faced the singer. My preteen daughter was humiliated by our odd behavior. She hissed, “What are you doing?” I glanced around and saw a stadium full of people mostly not doing what we were doing, just like in the RWN video. I explained to my daughter later, we don’t just make this stuff up – it’s part of the legal code. We were doing what we were supposed to do; this used to be taught in school. Everyone knew it; everyone did it. I was embarrassed that she didn’t know the protocol, and ashamed we’d somehow overlooked teaching proper respect for flag and anthem to our daughter. But these days, just like in the video, singing the national anthem is not about country or patriotism, it’s about the singer successfully performing a technically difficult song.
If the words aren’t that comprehensible (as they frequently aren’t; and that’s if the singer even remembers them), well, the important thing is she got the notes right. That’s America today. It’s not this child’s fault; she lived up to the standards that were set for her, and since she is autistic, did so against tremendous odds. The fault is with the adults; that we have allowed the purpose of singing the national anthem to be perverted from its original intent; as an expression of our love of country.
After all the flap about President Obama’s failure to put his hand on his heart at a campaign event where the anthem is sung, look at the crowd in that video. I counted five people who stood at attention with their hands on their heart. Evidently we don’t really care about the symbols and trappings of patriotism unless there’s a political slam to be made.
So the purpose of singing the anthem is to glorify the singer and the behavior of the audience is irrelevant. Postmodern patriotism at its finest.
And get off my lawn!!