On the surface, it’s easy to criticize Sunday night’s Grammy Awards telecast for sliding from a celebration of music into a celebration of gay marriage with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s live performance of “Same Love,” featuring Mary Lambert, Madonna, Queen Latifa and 33 couples – gay and straight – tying the knot.
There’s no question that the sanctimonious display, complete with gospel choir, stained-glass cathedral motif and pseudo-religious rhymes was intended to propagandize Americans into further support for gay marriage by giving the appearance of universal acceptance among the glitterati while marginalizing opposition from religious conservatives by reducing their motives to “fear” and “playing God.” “Right wing conservatives think it’s a decision,” the lyric intones. The fact that the socialist mayor of New York’s former lesbian wife agrees with that assessment is of no more concern to the songwriter than the fact that the current Democratic president – and indeed all of the Democratic presidents who went before him – all saw marriage as a male/female issue until right about election time last year.
Still, to turn one’s nose up at the Grammys for letting a show meant to honor art turn into a propaganda-fest is to misrepresent art itself. The simple fact is that all art is propaganda. From the first man scrawling on the first cave wall to da Vinci to the Beatles, the purpose of the artist is always to communicate a unique perspective in the hopes of moving the audience. In fact, for most of human history (and perhaps even still…) art has been less a business and more a patronage system where the wealthy would literally pay for art that promoted their vision of the world, not the artists. It’s hard to say what Michelangelo’s personal beliefs on scripture were, but his employer’s motive of inspiring awe in the face of the divine lives on in the Sistine Chapel and the Accademia to this day. As capitalism has imprinted itself on art, the values of the artist themselves have taken a more dominant role.
The idea of neutral art is as misguided as the idea of objective journalism – it has never existed in all of human history, and it shouldn’t.
When the founding generation moved from revolutionaries to politicians, the etiquette of the day forbid them from anything so mean as campaigning. So how did the solicit votes? They wielded the power of the press. It is not an accident that so many classic publications bear the words Democrat or Republican in their titles. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that this nonsensical notion of the unbiased press took hold, and it was always a lie. The “Most Trusted Man in America” masqueraded as objective while moving the country toward his own view of global federalism and losing America a war. The illusion of objectivity made the propaganda all the more palatable because it disarmed the propagandized.
So it is with art. If anything, “Same Love” is actually a less-effective form of propaganda in the same way that MSNBC is because it is so overt that it allows the audience to at least come to the subject with some level of skepticism. Macklemore is unlikely to change the minds of conservative Christians and Jews by denigrating the Bible as “a book written 3500 years ago” or by suggesting that just because we all come from the same God, we are all going back to Him. Religious Americans are not all theological scholars, but they have a slightly better understanding of their own theologies than a self-righteous singer ironically pointing to the self-righteousness of others. God may very well call Himself Love in John’s famous Epistle, but whatever that love means, it is somehow inclusive of the destruction of the entire population of the earth save one family, the slaughter of the people of Jericho, and the sacrifice of His own Son. Forgive us, mighty bard, if we aren’t surprised to learn that the Bible is a difficult text.
The real harm of “Same Love” is not its effectiveness as propaganda – it has none. It’s that by being so extreme, it lures us into a false sense of what true propaganda looks like. A discerning audience should at least be aware that all art seeks to move them from a starting point toward some sort of ideal. That’s its job. If it is inspired art, the ideal it leads us to is also inspired. Either way, it pays to have your eyes open while you take the ride.
Jeremy Boreing is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent film, The Arroyo, follows one man's struggle against the lawlessness on America's Southern border. He is the Managing Editor of TruthRevolt.