mind your business

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Failure of "The Line:" An Example

After Wes's last post I thought of something I read and I figured I'd share. The shallowness of the political "line" in which so many people think and speak is exposed everytime anyone tries to put a label on someone who falls outside of the line. The other day I came across a perfect example of this phenomenon. In this review of Ben Shive's new record, the Square Peg Alliance, a group of which Ben is the newest member, is referred to as "a left of center." This is a very odd label to apply to this particular group of people, and I'm frankly not really clear on what it's supposed to be saying about them.

The fact is that the Pegs fall Squarely (sorry I couldn't resist the pun) outside the line. Sometimes this comes out not so much in their music, but elsewhere. For example, Andy Osenga, perhaps my personal favorite of the Pegs, recently encouraged his blog readers to do their homework about third party candidates. Occasionally, however, the fact that the Pegs fall outside the paradigm of the political line comes out plainly in their music, especially in the case of Derek Webb. In the song in the video below Webb criticizes precisely the mainstream, two-party poltical thinking that has produced the line paradigm:

But it gets even better than that! In another song, "Name" Derek explicitly warns against exactly the practice of unfairly labeling people:

oh my darlin’, you must be a moving target just like me
they’ll call you right, they’ll call you left
they’ll call you names of all your friends

you never know
what you’ll have to do
baby don’t let ‘em
don’t let ‘em put a name on you

there’s no categories just long stories waiting to be heard
don’t be satisfied when someone sums you up with just one word

There's something key that Derek notices in this song that I want to leave you with: the alternative to summing up people with one word is "long stories waiting to be heard." Labels and soundbites and all things short and sweet are among the greatest enemy of a healthy and meaningful cultural dialogue.