About That Song…
If the ritual of standing for the national anthem at a sporting event is “hallowed”, who consecrated it to be so?
Sing along, you know the words …
To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee
A few sons of Harmony seny a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron would 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 intruct you, like me, to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.
Oh, you don’t know that one…well, you know the tune to it. Maybe you know the remix…
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare,
the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave
Yes, we Americans took Francis Scott Key’s poem and frankensteined it to a drinking song about Greek gods of wine to make an national anthem. Ain’t it grand? Thankfully we don’t start a ballgame singing the wonders of the myrtle of Venus and it being entwined — as in the Biblical sense — with Bacchus’…you know what, let’s just move on.
Anywho, once your friend and mine Frank Scotty Key jotted down his poem, the drinking ditty seemed to fit just right and off we went with it. Key was obviously familiar with the song; he had written a different poem in 1806 set to the tune, so that his new work was a harmonious match could not have been accidental. By the time The Star-Spangled Banner was officially signed into law as the national anthem in 1931 by Herbert Hoover, folks had basically made it the anthem already.
The playing of the anthem for sporting events came mostly from baseball during and right after WW2, then migrated to other sports. The meaning and attention to the anthem at sporting events has ebbed and flowed over the years; events like 9/11 bring it to the fore. The NBA started regular anthems in 1981, and the NFL — while having played the anthem before games for decades — did not officially have players on the field for the now-common ceremonies until 2009. The Colin Kaepernick protests and kneeling of four years ago brought the debate to the forefront over standing/kneeling/whatever during the anthem again. Fast forward to today, and with the NBA restarting their “bubble season” the league that is easily the most progressive and outspoken on political issues has social issues like Black Lives Matters plastered everywhere. On the court, on the jerseys, and in planned kneeling.
Which brings us to Byron York’s Twitter feed:
“…A complete collapse of hallowed American ritual”….that’s interesting verbiage for a made-for-TV moment of protest and messaging.
Just to get the particulars out of the way, the NBA is encouraging players to express themselves, unlike previous years where the league forced Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to stand for the anthem when he wanted to protest and make a political statement about the country. That was 25 years ago, and in the pre-internet era it took weeks for anyone to even notice it. So this isn’t a rule breaking issue at least as far as the NBA goes. But the way York phrases it, and many others, hints that a horrible thing has none the less occurred. To be clear, the folks kneeling have the right to do so, as do the individuals who do not kneel have every right to make their decision. The silliness of saying a protest that is for increased rights means no one has a right to not participate is as ridiculous as the shallow folks who demand there be no dissent whatsoever during a song about the land of the free.
But to the matter at hand: If the ritual of standing for the national anthem at a sporting event is “hallowed”, who consecrated it to be so?
If pre-tip, pre-kickoff, pre-whatever festivities are “hallowed ritual” then the proposition is that somehow sports are now integrated and mandatory ordinances of…what exactly? Perhaps York is arguing that the nebulous and elusive American Civic Religion that holds patriotism as the one, true, holy, apostolic unifying force that all Americans are just hardwired to lovingly take into their hearts. It must be nearly religious, since the slightest blasphemy against the trinity of flag, song, and country is met not with gentle rebukes or questions of motive but with insinuations that you hate America, spit on veterans, and probably kill random puppies in the name of Karl Marx. See, the hardwiring of TRUE Americans would be upset at such things as not respecting the anthem, don’t you see? The causes don’t matter if the rituals are not properly kept and observed.
Spare me. A unifying sense of country and duty is a fine thing — and a level of respect for both is necessary in a functioning society — but they make for shallow and meaningless religion. The rowdys in section 230 of the arena have been laughing and giggling through the anthem for decades before they got all incensed at a player not properly performing the ritual as they see fit. The star-spangled displays of the NFL are great imagery that was done as much for marketing as anything else. Folks who want to boycott and protest Kaepernick, Nike, and anything else that is insufficiently patriotic are oddly nowhere to be found in protesting, demanding change, or even bringing attention to the actual Veterans Affairs system that literally kills vets through incompetency, bureaucracy, and sometimes even darker things, like outright murder, that go unchecked.
If you really want to show yourself as a true believe who is fully down with truth, justice, and the American way, you don’t need a full blown ritual, or an inquisition to purge heretics from the civic religion of patriotism, or even a social media presence to rant about it all.
All you have to do is maintain your bearing and not have a patriotism so shallow that it is shaken to the core by someone not ritualizing as you see fit.
Me, personally, to the day I die I will stand for the national anthem, as close to being at attention as I can physically manage in my current state, hand over heart. It’s not particularly comfortable to do so. But loving something like freedom isn’t about being comfortable. Which is the point of those using the rituals of our country to bring attention in the first place. It’s ok to disagree, to make the comfortable uncomfortable, to challenge things. That’s how a free society works. That discomfort is the workings and machinations of the grinding tensions of perfecting an imperfect union.
Uniformity to a civic religion might make folks more comfortable, but it wouldn’t be utopia; it would be atrophy, and mean the dying of all the good things and freedoms possible if we just keep fighting for them. Or, if you can’t manage that, tolerating and allowing those who do.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com as part of the author’s Harsh Your Mellow Monday feature on August 3, 2020.