Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cee Lo vs. the Atheosphere: Not Our Best Response


Now, despite some poorly written and even more poorly reasoned opinions to the contrary, atheists are not the only ones pissed off about Cee Lo Green changing the lyrics to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’ Beatles fans and Lennon fans would have made enough noise about that one their own. However, some of the hand-wringing and indignation by atheists is downright embarrassing to me. Not that I didn’t wince at his artistic license, but I also forgot about it after approximately two minutes. Is this worthy of our time?

Three quick points about the whole fiasco:

1. As my Left Hemispheres compatriot Adam pointed out after I emailed this story to him: “Snore. Who gives a shit if Cee Lo changes a lyric? Johnny Cash changed ‘crown of shit’ to ‘crown of thorns’ when he covered Nine Inch Nail's ‘Hurt.’ No one called him a hack.” Granted some may take issue with comparing a NIN song to a John Lennon song (hand wank). Additionally, not many will call Johnny Cash a “hack” and live to talk about it, but that isn’t the point. The point is that it’s a song. A famous song. An important song. But a song. People cover and change songs all the time. Let’s say some atheist-minded musician took a cherished song with some religious lyric in it and changed it to make it atheistic. What would the atheosphere do? We would clap. The a-righteous indignation in this instance seems forced to me.

2. The changed lyric is just plain stupid and should barely register as an offence to freethinkers, if at all. All religions cannot be true. No one seriously believes this or even, if thought about for just a little bit, wishes it. Further, Cee Lo defended himself in a tweet (since deleted) stating:


Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.

Granted it isn’t that well thought out of a response, but (I think) I see what he meant by the change. I think Cee Lo is just wishing people would calm the hell down about religion in general. It’s an admirable, if not misinformed, view of the entire topic. A swing and a miss on that one…

3. Not letting him change that lyric to express himself; relegating that act to quasi-hate crime status is silly. More importantly, stifling individual expression (and group expression) is limiting to those being told to shut up and it even limits those who wish to stifle it. Atheists, freethinkers, rationalists, etc. should not be the thought/speech police. We are supposed to be against that.

In many cases politically correct speech terminates or hinders conversation and debate that is important to actually progress the issue. Granted, the altered lyrics make me wince because of its implications, but the proper response is to calmly and rationally point out the meaning and power of the original lyric within the context of the song. The proper response for rationalists, in my estimation, is to not freak out.


"The World Church called me once and asked, 'Can we use the lyrics to Imagine and just change it to "Imagine one religion"?' That showed they didn't understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea." ~ John Lennon


12 comments:

Andy said...

I have to tell you, I'm not into faux rage even when it's from my team. Maybe I can think of a bunch of jokes about Cee Lo's existential crisis over the song later.

Anonymous said...

You're ignoring control.

I couldn't give a toss about Green's tacky music, or the jangling of Lennon or the Beatles for that matter. I am concerned that religion is so powerful in America that commercial musicians so often lack the backbone to recite a line that stands an outside chance of jeopardising ad revenue. This kind of suppression is endemic, and deserves to be opposed.

You're also overstating the scale of the response. Mocking the likes of Green via social networks seems perfectly proportionate.

Thanks for asking atheists to stop being offended and get back in the closet.

Steve said...

Thanks for the comment ANONYMOUS.

As I said it is my opinion that he changed the lyric out of a misguided notion of equality. Not some heinous theist master plan or anti-atheist sentiment.

I didn't overstate anything and I don't think mockery is useful...in this situation. In others? Absolutely.

http://lefthemispheres.blogspot.com/2011/06/use-of-mockery.html

And as for your last comment; now who's overstating? I didn't tell anyone to not be offended and go back in the closet (so dramatic! Are you sure you’re an atheist because that is quite a cross you’re carrying?). I am merely suggesting that we, as people claiming to be rational, should have had a better, more reasoned reaction.
I find your "closet" remark dull and thought terminating. Basically you're the one telling someone to be quiet.

http://lefthemispheres.blogspot.com/2011/08/why-atheists-shouldnt-shut-fuck-up.html

Anonymous said...

No, what you did was characterised the negative response as "freak out", and made up an imaginary "we" that should follow your shallow lead.

The response I saw was, in the main, perfectly rational. You don't propose an alternative response, other than silence.

Want to get preachy? Then practice.

Steve said...

I saw nothing productive in the negative response. My proposed alternative response as stated in the post:

"Granted, the altered lyrics make me wince because of its implications, but the proper response is to calmly and rationally point out the meaning and power of the original lyric within the context of the song."

Anonymous said...

Which is what people did, that you characterise as "freak out". The fact that you don't like the tone of some of the responses, or think they're insufficiently "productive" is your problem - it just makes you more tone police.

I repeat: I am concerned that religion is so powerful in America that commercial musicians so often lack the backbone to recite a line that stands an outside chance of jeopardising ad revenue. This kind of suppression is endemic, and deserves to be opposed.

Steve said...

I have to say that I get a kick out of being called the "tone police." That is a first. :)

Anonymous said...

Quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

Meanwhile, still lots of valid opinion under the link you posted, on twitter and on blogs. Shame you want people to stop expressing it.

Steve said...

Yes I can see how you would think that given my stance against stifling free expression.

/sarcasm font

At no point did I say no one should state their opinion and contrary to your shallow assessment of me, I never stated that atheists should say certain things a certain way.

My points--which are outlined--are that 1) songs are not sacred. 2) the changed lyric is simply stupid on Cee Lo's part and I do not think he meant to change it the way many people assumed. That is my *opinion* as I had stated, 3) related to point #1, atheists in particular shouldn’t be the free expression police. That is not to say we cannot or should not criticize, or how we should criticize.

You seem to just be hung up on the link to RDF and that I labeled it “freaking out.” Regarding that…I don’t care.

And for the record, I know EXACTLY how dangerously religious my country is. Poke around this blog and find something that suggests otherwise. Read the Dominionism series (linked up top in header bar). I am more worried about right-wing politicians and their theocratic-fascist constituents than some song lyric. You can accuse me of minimizing it, but again…I don’t care.

Anonymous said...

"I never stated that atheists should say certain things a certain way"

Funny, that inconsistency with your estimation of The Proper Response For Rationalists that you're so keen on.

And still, there are many valid and "productive" responses out there that you maybe don't approve of - and maybe "productive" outcomes. Green's weak attempt at defence is retracted, and perhaps the PR droids have started to get the message that the kind of concept-censorship displayed isn't acceptable to many people. It will be interesting to see what kind of online presence Green has after that weak "think of the children" tweet.

It's perfectly "proper" for people to be offended by the behaviour, and you don't get to tell them what degree of offense is "proper".

"I am more worried about right-wing politicians and their theocratic-fascist constituents"

They are among the ones the lyric change was probably pandering to. Weakness in the face of that influence is what made the behaviour offensive, as much as Cee Lo fans might like to believe the post-hoc assertion that the change was "expression".

"Poke around this blog and find something that suggests otherwise"

Previous duck noises are not a warranty of the quality of today's quacking.

Steve said...

Curious how the lyric "all religions are true" panders to fascist monotheists.

Anonymous said...

It's an assonant substitution to avoid a backlash of this general variety:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-07-15-no-religion-ad_N.htm

The exact form of the words is immaterial, so long as they're not *too* likely to get religious backs up. That the kind of product Green is.