Recruited in the USA

The misreading of one of the greatest protest songs ever recorded has always struck me as odd. Isn’t it obvious what “Born in the U.S.A.” is about?

Growing up on the great plains, basketball was my game of choice. I’d enter 3-on-3 street ball tournaments in the summer with a couple friends and we’d hit the pavement. A handful of games over a weekend was always a good time.

Aside from the games, it was also fun mingling about. Walking around, looking for girls, being a little rowdy, sometimes acting a fool. In the mix of all this were the tents. Places covered from the sun where sponsors set up to sell you something.

Inevitably, there was an Army tent. Ready to convince you to join. Sign up, be somebody, be an army of one. And always blasting out of the tent speakers on regular rotation was “Born in the U.S.A.” Always, without a hint of irony. The slick recruiters obviously never stopped to listen to the lyrics.

I suppose it didn’t matter. That chorus was all they ever needed. And whether the Viet Cong, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, they’re still there while we’re all gone, also of no concern to the recruiters. They just wanted our signatures.

Mad Hatters

Hootin’ and hollerin’, so quick to act a fool. Boys will be boys, yeah? As if offering excuses for a history of poor choices makes the ones committed in the present okay. As if it’s impossible for the adults in the room to provide restraint.

How difficult is it to let boys know that symbols matter? That when you step foot out your door into a public space, how you present yourself is no longer completely in your control. What symbols you’ve brought along with you are read and interpreted. Attached to you, their meaning can be reinforced or not, amplified or not, ignored or not.

Wear a MAGA hat while serving food to the homeless at a soup kitchen, that’s unexpected. Wear a MAGA hat while hollering at young girls, seems about right. Wear a MAGA hat, you have a lot more to answer for than simply your own identity and your own presence. Because you’re carrying with you the weight of a tired slogan many of us now wearily associate with white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, and fascism.

It may not seem fair. Especially if you’re caught up in national outrage. Even more crucial for the kids to firmly grasp the concept that symbols have power, both hidden and obvious. Both for the person wearing the symbol, and those confronted by it.

Walk out your door wearing a MAGA hat, there are real consequences. Just as there have been real consequences felt by the application of the MAGA ethos. For the kids locked in cages, or the soldiers who can’t serve their country, or the workers who trudge on without a paycheck.

I personally have yet to come into contact with someone wearing a MAGA hat. Not sure what I’d do, how I’d react. Maybe I’d just laugh in its face. I’d certainly be disgusted, and I feel like I’d know all there is to know about the person wearing the hat because the symbol has been used so repetitively. That’s the power of branding, the bludgeoning of the senses through hyper frequency. They hit us everywhere, and the meaning of the symbol burrows its way into our brains, forever lodged in between memories of weddings and funerals.

Again, it may not seem fair. But that’s where we are.

Interesting follow up via On the Media.

Branding wasn’t enough and it was more than OK

You pay a lot of attention to what you drink when you’re a kid. Sure, what tastes good is key. But so is who says what’s good. What do the cool kids think? What’s the drink of choice and how can you get some? Soda, juice, milk. But I could never do milk, as hard as I tried. Not even with the help of the ’84 Chicago Bears and all those milk mustache ads. I always thought it was gross. A tall glass of ice cold milk? No thank you. Sorry Bears.

Similarly, the late ’90s at my high school saw the vending machine invasion of OK Soda. And it sure looked good. Long before I really grasped what graphic design was, I wanted it. All those cans inside that vending machine, just wanting to be held. To be used as a status symbol for the next generation of cool kids. Something about that can said it was for me. And I tried like hell to make it so. Except, the soda tasted awful. As much as I choked it down, time after time, with a week or so break in between chokings, I eventually bowed out. I was defeated. Despite the best efforts of the branding, OK Soda was not for me. And I moved on.

I’m glad I did. Because I learned that when it comes to soda, how it tastes is far more important than how it makes you feel. As with so many things in life. Just don’t get sold and you’ll be better off. This applies to cars, clothes, haircuts, beer, music, and pretty much everything else. Learn this lessen: don’t let the advertisers give you shit, live a happy life.

Done and done.

The transition to Paul’s Boutique

I still chuckle when I think about listening to Licensed To Ill as a youngster. I certainly wanted to fight for my right to party and was way into girls. But my goodness, that album is ridiculous. Check Your Head and Ill Communication are more my wheelhouse, although I was never a huge Beastie Boys fan. I liked knowing they were out there doing their thing and I appreciated their music when it came on the radio, but I didn’t own their albums.

I recently bought Paul’s Boutique. Probably the most unfamiliar of all their albums for me. But I had heard so many amazing things about it. It was important. It was groundbreaking. It was epic. And after many listens, I certainly agree.

Even funnier to me is thinking about how that album was received at the time. Imagine, you have all the nonsense, riffs, and silliness of one album, embraced by the types of fans and record execs who love such things and the success that comes with. Imagine all that and then the next album to drop is not that at all. While silly at times, Paul’s Boutique is in a different universe altogether. It’s great hip hop that has stood the test of time. It’s exactly the type of thing people who loved the nonsense, riffs, and silliness would not at all love. Whoops. And it’s awesome, just awesome.

Putting the sweet corn in the trunk was a bad idea

My Grandpa Joe was a farmer through and through. My uncle, Joe Jr., worked the farm with him. Every August was time for sweet corn. They would drop off buckets of deliciousness to all the homes of family members. My grandpa would also drive around our small town selling it to people on the street. Everyone looked forward to his delivery operation.

While I was in college, Uncle Joe and I decided to expand the enterprise a bit. Our target was the city of Lincoln. He’d bring me corn from the farm, we’d fill the back of my Dad’s pickup, and I’d setup shop in a parking lot somewhere and just see what happens.

The first time we did this we sold quite a bit of sweet corn. It was a Sunday and I setup in an bank’s lot at a busy intersection. From their cars, people would see my sign and the corn in the back of a pickup truck. They flocked. We sold a few hundred dollars worth. Not bad for an afternoon of sitting around and handing people bags of corn.

The second time was different. It was during the week and I wasn’t able to use my Dad’s pickup. Instead, we thought it would be fine to put the corn in the trunk of my beige Ninety-Eight Oldsmobile. This proved fatal.

I had a hard time finding a place to setup. A grocery store kicked me out of their parking lot and a gas station wanted a hefty location fee for its use. The nail salon I ultimately convinced to let me use was an okay spot. It was on the corner of a busy intersection but with my new setup, selling corn out of the back of my trunk just didn’t add up for folks. I mean, if you want a legit, from-the-farm product, who in their right mind would trust corn out of the back of a car that looked like it was made for selling Mary Kay® beauty products? No one, that’s who.

The purveyors of the nail salon even felt sorry for my sad looking state of affairs. I had given them $20 for use of their lot but when they came out to see what I was doing they gave the $20 back. And then they bought a couple bags of corn out of pity.

This entire episode taught me something important in a very real-world way: when it comes to selling sweet corn, it has to be on brand.

That corn remained in the back of my trunk for a week. Almost all of the corn my uncle had brought me was returned to him. On the day I handed over the unsold corn, we both just sort of shrugged. Deep down, I think we knew we tried to cheat capitalism in brand America. And we both knew we would never do it again.

The five point palm exploding heart technique really kills

We had just gone to see Kill Bill: Vol. 2 in the theater. A couple friends and I. Afterward, we headed to a small gathering for a few drinks. Also at the gathering were some artsy hipsters who worked at a couple downtown bars. In conversation, it came up we had just seen the film. Asked what I thought, I tried to come up with the words needed to describe my delight; the fight scenes, the soundtrack, the way the story unfolded over blah, blah, blah. As I rambled for a bit, one of the hipster bartenders looked at me intently, paused, and extended his hand out quickly towards my eye. Pluck! An eye for an eye. It was so clear, so succinct. We all grinned, the conversation moved on. That concise motion was a way better explanation for why Kill Bill: Vol. 2 was a great film than my rambling. You can either tell me about The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique or you can show me.