Indiana State Senator Vaneta Becker wants to establish a law that would impose a fine of $25 on any performer or citizen who significantly alters the lyrics or melody of The Star-Spangled Banner. “I don’t think the National Anthem is something we ought to be joking around with,” she has said. “Singing our national anthem is a sign of gratitude to those who have served our country.”
One may notice a theme among those chosen here as incompetent elected officials: the complete unfamiliarity with core American values and ideals, often displayed in a misguided effort to protect those values. This is known as “ignorance,” or perhaps, in extreme cases, “utter stupidity.” My presumption is that being ignorant or stupid renders an official incompetent to discharge the duties of lawmaking. Am I expecting too much?
Senator Becker, a Republican (there are plenty of incompetent Democrats, but I can’t imagine a Democrat engaging in this particular kind of idiocy) is apparently in a tizzy over parodies of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which itself is something of a parody, since Francis Scott Key used the well-known tune of a drinking song to devise the meter of his opus. Her National Anthem bill would establish performance standards at state-sponsored events, and require singers to sign a contract promising to be properly respectful before they tackle the tune. Becker also wants schools to maintain audio recordings of every time the anthem is sung, just in case someone complains. Atrocious but good faith renditions are fine, Becker says, reassuring tone-deaf patriots like my late father, who would proudly bellow out his version of the anthem at sports events at mega-decibels. “We just want them to respect the words and the tune as it was originally intended and we normally sing it.”
Does it get any dumber than this? Has Sen. Becker heard of the First Amendment? Artistic freedom? Irony? Please, someone, explain to her the mind-numbing foolishness and offensiveness of her proposal, which includes:
- Legislating artistic content. The “Star Spangled Banner” is a song, and songs are works of art, as are the performances of songs. Threatening artists who seek to interpret art in ways that government officials disapprove of is a totalitarian technique, the antithesis of what the National Anthem stands for.
- Restricting free speech. And national anthem is the perfect vehicle for political satire and commentary, respectful or not. Fining a pundit, protester or satirist for using the song to make a political point is a guaranteed violation of the Constitution—not only would the U.S. Supreme Court strike it down 9-0, their toddler grandchildren would do the same after having the First Amendment read to them. A law degree isn’t necessary to recognize Becker’s measure as un-American. Puberty isn’t necessary either. A brain…why yes, that is essential.
- Impossible enforcement. Would she want to punish Jimi Hendrix’s iconic guitar riff on the Anthem? How about the cast of the super-patriotic musical “1776” when they sing “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” a song that begins with a Star-Spangled Banner parody? Would the law fine the likes of Christina Aguilera, who respectfully massacred the words at the last Super Bowl, or Rosanne Barr, whose caterwauling, spitting, crotch-grabbing version at a San Diego Padres game used the correct words but was intentionally awful? Would all the Baltimore Orioles fans who shout out “O!”—signifying the Orioles—at the end of every anthem be risking a fine?
- $25??? What professional singer is going to be dissuaded from his or her signature interpretation of the song by the threat of $25? Who is Becker’s law aimed at, middle schoolers?
Proposals such as this are political grandstanding, but they should also be seen as cries for help. They say, “Help me! I am over my head! I have been elected to a legislature, and I have neither the knowledge, nor the intelligence, nor the common sense to do my job!”
Won’t the good people of Indiana help poor Vaneta, and find her a job she can do competently?