Thursday, February 4, 2010

More on Glenn Beck and "Revolution"

Though it's old news by this point, I still want to briefly revisit Glenn Beck's analysis of "Revolution" and show what I find most faulty about it. Specifically, it's that Beck fails to grasp the true purpose and tone of John's lyric. He notes a number of times throughout the segment that, to reach his conclusions, he closely examined what John was saying. For instance, the use of the word "evolution" signaled something quite sly and sinister to him: John was deliberately eschewing the violent rhetoric used by Maoists, the New Left, and other extremist groups in favor of a program more politically palatable - "evolution" replaces "revolution" - but no less destructive in the long run. In Beck's view, it was just a different means to the same undesirable end. Admittedly, there are some slivers of truth in this reading, and yet Beck still ends up significantly in error. The whole point of "Revolution" was so that John could firmly disassociate himself from the various radical groups that wanted his allegiance. He didn't share their approval of violence. He espoused a peaceful approach to social change and asserted as much in the song: "But when you talk about destruction/ Don't you know that you can count me out." And to the Maoists, he said, "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow." The rest of the lyric is consistent with these lines: It witnesses John disputing some of the positions taken by extremist factions on the Left.

What Beck can't seem to understand is that, with "Revolution," John was not proposing an explicit plan of action for achieving the goals that he, as a man of the Left, desired. As I alluded to above, the song is almost entirely couched in negative terms (i.e., this is a method and that is a method that I (John) don't condone). Even the word that Beck emphasizes the most - evolution - comes from a line that John attributes to someone else: "You tell me that it's evolution." Thus Beck can't claim that John was trying to use the idea of evolution as a trojan horse for revolution. After all, John had positioned himself in opposition to the person/group that is the "You" in "You tell me that it's evolution." One of the few positive exhortations he actually delivers is, "You better free your mind instead." He's putting the onus on the individual to improve him- or herself. Couldn't conservatives such as Beck find something to like about that? It's also noteworthy that, in lines like "We all want to change the world" or "We all want to change your head" where John seems to be expressing agreement, there is an undercurrent of dismissive sarcasm in his voice. Notice how the preface to each is a qualifying "Well, you know...," i.e., "Yeah, we also want to effect change, but we're not on board with you."

The upshot of this is that Beck incorrectly sees "Revolution" as containing John's vision for how he would bring about social progress. It's actually a vision of how he wouldn't. The bulk of Beck's argument lies with his discourse on the word "evolution," and that analysis crumbles under scrutiny. "Revolution," in fact, communicates oppositional sentiments toward radical left-wing groups and, with the chorus line, "You know it's gonna be alright," it almost seems to suggest that rapid change may not be necessary (or maybe even desirable). These wrongs will be righted in due time, John could be interpreted as saying. Perhaps there's some irony in the song's title.

I realize that John's indecision over whether to say "count me in" or "count me out" on the line about violence makes it difficult to interpret "Revolution" with full confidence. He did end up using "out," though, and he never really strayed again from this belief in non-violence. It should also be pointed out that, on his show, Beck didn't indicate any awareness of this historical detail, so his analysis doesn't have the benefit of the complications it presents to my argument. On a number of levels, Beck simply didn't do his homework.

No comments: