Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I Can't Imagine: Why People Care About This

I'm an atheist. I've been one for awhile. Sometimes I get angry about things, politically or socially. I write aggressive posts on websites, I drone on and on in angry rants in the comments sections of various blogs, and at times I'm known to make vitriolic Facebook status updates. Usually, I try not to do this unless there is substantial reason for it --- such as when I feel someone's human rights are being violated, or that someone is being willfully obtuse for the sake of tapping into religious or political privileges. As such, I am usually pretty much "in tandem" with most of the atheist community online --- I echo many of the sentiments of people like Friendly Atheist, Matt Dillahunty and the crew at The Atheist Experience/Non-Prophets/Godless Bitches, Pharyngula, etc. I watch fiascos like the so-called "elevatorgate," and this recent deal with Penn Jillette and some other blogger I've never heard of until now, with fascination, to see if I can learn something or come to an understanding as to why people are so damn stupid (and suddenly prone to spouting ignorant sexist slander and lumping anyone they disagree with into the camp of "bigot" or "mysogynist"), and maybe examine my own behaviors and see if I'm doing anything which could be considered objectionable.

Then, there's stuff like this.

Now, as I've mentioned before, this may be just because I'm involved in a number of musical projects myself, but I don't particularly care for the atheist community's reaction to this deal with Cee Lo Green changing the lyrics to "Imagine." For one --- brace for blasphemy! --- I'm not a John Lennon fan. But even if I was --- or even if this had happened to a song I liked, like Bad Religion's "Won't Somebody" --- and Cee Lo had done the same thing, guess what? I still wouldn't care. You know why? Because I do the same thing all the damn time. Like earlier this year, when my solo project "T3" unofficially did a gag cover of the song "Jesus Is My Friend" by Sonseed, where we changed the lyrics to be about being raped by Jesus. It was changed this way to reflect exactly how creepy the song already sounds --- there's even a version on youtube with certain words censored to create the illusion that it's actually really filthy. That's what gave me the idea in the first place :)

Anyway, as you can hear, the words are pretty explicit, and quite the opposite of what the artist originally intended. To me, that's part of artistic freedom --- irony falls under fair game in my book. I'm not the only one who does this, or even CLOSE to the first: bands like Dead Kennedys and The Offspring have been doing it for decades, recording a cover of a song and twisting the lyrics to be completely different.

Not that I expect the atheist community to go back and make a stink about these albums that have been out for decades, just to be consistent (there wasn't much of an atheist community to speak of in the '90s or '80s, so I'm not surprised that they didn't freak out back then anyway, even if they had wanted to). I just hate that people are suddenly acting as if this has never been done before, or that it's some kind of egregious offense. It's not! The fact that nobody cares about the two examples I listed above is proof of that. So then maybe it's something else? Maybe it's just because Dead Kennedys and Offspring were never really that famous? Maybe just because punk isn't that popular? But see, that's completely irrelevant. If you don't care that DK and Offspring did it with some other song you don't care about, then there's no reason to freak out when Cee Lo Green does it. It makes no sense!

I get the sense that atheism is the only reason anyone's mad here. It's not that anyone feels truly slighted based on some musical code of honor (despite everyone's insistence that this is the case), or that Mr. Cee Lo's lyrical adjustment has done any sort of harm --- as much as fans of Lennon will insist otherwise --- but rather, that he changed the lyrics from sounding vaguely atheistic to sounding vaguely religious. I would guess that they feel mocked, but even after Mr. Cee Lo's attempt to clarify, where he blatantly came out and basically said, "hey guys, I didn't mean to be exclusive at all" (which, to me, was more than enough, although I didn't have a problem with his cover to begin with), I just don't believe that. They're just butthurt that someone did it to them for a change. We all get together and laugh whenever some laid-back rock band does a funny cover mocking an old song that's NOT vaguely atheist-sounding, but if you so much as change one lyric to "Imagine" by John Lennon, you're committing some huge blasphemy and the whole internet explodes.

As someone who places a lot of stock in the atheist movement in the US, I find this entire attempt to make a "debacle" out of this to be shameful. It's ridiculous. I stand by my claim that, if Mr. Cee Lo had changed the lyrics to any other song to make them contradictory, nobody would care. This is not an issue of covering a song or changing a song's meaning, and I call bullshit on anyone who says it is. Changing the meaning to a song through a cover has never been a big deal in any scene or genre I'm aware of. Let's all be emotionally mature, and intellectually honest enough, to admit this, to realize that everyone gets to play that game, not just atheists, and let's move the fuck on to something that's actually important.

--Tim D.

PS I brought my flame shield. So anyone who wants to lambast me for "dismissing a serious concern" or some other bullshit is free to take a shot.

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