A lesson in liberal self-servitude

By Evan Gaudette

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The Super Bowl LI halftime show was a welcome break from a football game that left me incredulous both at halftime and at the closing whistle, but for entirely different reasons. Lady Gaga’s performance was masterful; probably the best ever (only because Coldplay had to ruin last year’s), full of stunts, showmanship, hit music and energy. However, through most of it I found myself shaking my head. Short renditions of “This Land is Your Land” and “Born This Way” were Gaga’s only two social statements in her performance. For such an outspoken, eccentric artist, this did not feel sufficient.

My companions heard “Born This Way” and saw it as a statement. As much as singing one of her biggest hits could possibly be a statement, it was; it’s an anthem for LGBTQ inclusion.  Others saw it as no statement at all. Fox News, The New York Times and The Washington Post all ran columns characterizing the show as apolitical or noncontroversial. Regarding “This Land is Your Land,” the Post ran a column explaining its history as an inherently political protest song rather than the patriotic national anthem prelude we know it as today. I wouldn’t have known it was a protest jam without stumbling upon an article explaining it, and I think most Americans wouldn’t know this either.

If Gaga was trying to make a statement, which is likely but uncertain, she failed. Quite badly, too. Beyoncé’s bombastic performance last year, introducing “Formation” to a mass audience using heavy Black Panther symbolism, was always going to be hard to follow. Gaga didn’t even come close.

If a political statement needs to be analyzed for a layperson to get it, then it isn’t a statement. If a social statement is made using a hit song that America can sing along to instinctually, it isn’t a statement. Gaga’s performance was like retweeting a political meme to all your like-minded followers. It’s nice, it feels good, but it does nothing constructive and may actually be counter-productive. Although I must note that I am extrapolating from Gaga’s performance, I have no idea her intentions or emotions, these actions are self-serving; they make you feel good for doing something that ultimately doesn’t help.

It would not have taken much for Gaga’s non-statement to become a statement: a shirt with some sort of immigrant, LGBTQ or Islamic imagery while singing “This Land is Your Land” is all it would’ve taken.

While most liberal self-servitude takes place on media platforms or in classrooms or living rooms, this was a chance for a potentially impactful message to reach a mass audience of people who don’t already believe it. It could have been a liberal moment akin to a counterpart of Tomi Lahren’s guest appearance on The Daily Show, but it was squandered. The NFL did their part to appeal to their core constituency by bringing President George H. W. Bush out for the coin flip, surely knowing that the commercials and half-time show had potential to anger a certain and important subset of fans.

For liberal ideals to advance, this sort of self-servitude must come to an end. Change doesn’t come from directly from belief, empathy or singing a protest song that is only a protest song if you already know it’s a protest song. It comes from taking action.

The concept of the coastal or liberal “bubble” has taken some flak of late as coastal liberals have begun to rebrand the rest of the nation as a “bubble” for its lack of diversity. But coastal liberals do live in a bubble, just not the one assigned to them by Trump supporters. They live in the bubble of their own minds, believing in themselves as moral and intellectual elites without seeing the irony reflecting in their surroundings. What resident of the Northeast hasn’t witnessed or participated in a conversation either lamenting or condemning the racism of the South with no mention of New York having some of the most segregated schools in the nation? Or of how  Boston is sneakily (or not really that sneakily if you pay attention) one of the more racist cities in the country?

The self-serving liberalism must die off for legitimate, lasting social progress to be made. Stop feeling good for what you know or what you believe, only for what you do.

Evan Gaudette is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]