David Brooks, the man who claims to have his finger on the pulse of down-home, All-American, Middle-American, (heck, Any-Which-Way American), plain-n-simple, family-values-oriented folks is a man who jets off to Europe for a Bruce Springsteen concert tour. No big deal. Lots of those good folk take vacations in Europe too. (If they can get to take their annual two weeks vacation all at once, and if they’ve managed somehow to save up the requisite monies.) What they don’t do however, I’m pretty sure, is subject us to inane sociological-ethnographic-anthropological analyses of their concertgoing experiences in Europe.
Brooks finds that audiences ‘in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula’–reaching which, I presume, requires three weeks of hard hiking from the nearest trailhead–‘singing word for word about Highway 9 or Greasy Lake or some other exotic locale on the Jersey Shore.’ Amazing. In Europe? When did they get television, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet? This is pretty mind-boggling stuff. Here is an American rock star, surely the most obscure type of cultural figure there could be, and folks in Europe, a land separated from the US by a BIG ocean, know the lyrics to his songs. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that kids in the US know the lyrics to songs sung by working-class kids from Liverpool! The world is flat, dudes. (Sorry, wrong New York Times columnist.)
But concert-going crowds knowing lyrics is nothing compared to what Brooks then experienced. Take a seat for this one, folks:
The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”
Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?
Once I went to a Pink Floyd concert, and all these people were singing, ‘All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.’ Did it occur to them at that moment, that, in fact, bricks don’t have ears and so, they couldn’t hear what these kids were saying? Another time, I went to a Kraftwerk concert, and these humans were singing ‘We are the robots!’ Did it occur to them that, in fact, that they weren’t robots (Or were they confessing?) And then of course, there was that time that I saw AC/DC and the kids were yelling, ‘I’m a heatseeker, burning up the town!’ No, dude, you are not a heat-seeking missile – you’re a human being!
From here on, unfortunately, it goes downhill into ‘paracosms’ and ‘passionate, and highly localized moral landscapes’, all the while appreciating the ‘power of ‘particularity,’ while disdaining that dreaded mix of ‘the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism’, steadily downward, till it bottoms out with the offering of ‘pious advice:’ ‘Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community.’
Yeah, next time, go see Springsteen in New Jersey. Like you said, ‘Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past.’ And don’t write Op-Eds about it; I don’t intend to have my ‘identity formed by soft boundaries.’