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I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

by James Lileks

Coke ran a Super Bowl ad in which “America the Beautiful” was sung in different languages. To judge from a few headlines in my news feeds, the entire right side of the political spectrum fell down and had a six-hour spasm that wore a groove in the floor. Why were they FREAKING OUT?

You have to ask? Foreign people are bad because otherwise God would have made them Americans. Foreign languages are wrong, period, because you don’t know what they’re saying, and we didn’t liberate Europe twice so they could turn up their noses when we say howdy-doo.

That’s what the deep thinkers believe conservatives think, anyway. They regard the Right as a collection of fragile, terrified old white people huddled together under a grimy glass bubble, lashing out like dying scorpions, full of impotent rage just because the City of Chicago requires all new Chick-fil-A stores to have a statue of Oscar Wilde out front. Like your precious freedom to not pay for an Oscar Wilde statue is somehow infringed. Boo hoo.

The website Salon found out-freaking on Twitter, where “xenophobes” were going crazy. The article cited three tweets. Three. One of them had two retweets and two favorites. You can get more social-media action if you tweet “I fed my ferret bacon 2day lol.” The author of the piece, by the way, also tweeted out a link to a website dedicated to pictures of famous Communists with Cats. The first picture is Lenin holding a cat. Thirty-two likes and reblogs. This is 16 times more signs of approval than the anti-Coke tweet, ergo:


But you can’t say that, because then the Web would buzz for a day: “Some guy put up pictures of Lenin holding a cat and the wingnuts lost it.” Of course, the Right wouldn’t bother; we assume that grudging affection for the totemic architects of state power is encoded in the modern Left’s DNA. A tumblr dedicated to pictures of Che holding a puppy while he signed death warrants would get a “CUTE” tag on BuzzFeed. It’s just one of those things you expect.

Back to Coke. To be fair, it wasn’t just three people on Twitter. Glenn Beck filled some airtime talking about the ad and said it was polarizing: If you liked it, you were for immigration, and if you didn’t, you’d be accused of xenophobia. He has a point. When a conservative says “a common tongue is necessary to bind a nation and assist a common civic identity,” the Left knows what he really means is “Stop talking es-pan-yol before I shove that jibber-jabber down your illegal word-hole, José.”

Conservatives might tweak the Left thus: You think the national anthem should be sung in other languages at baseball games, depending on the composition of the crowd. Facial-recognition sensors could determine the ethnic make-up and provide phonetic pronunciations on the Jumbotron, so we can bring excluded singers out of the shadows. Singing in English just privileges the dominant culture and assumes that’s the way it has to be sung. There’s a rich history of subversive rethinking of the national anthem, going back to the early-20th-century cross-dressing vaudevillian Billy Devine, who sang it in Pig Latin while lifting up his bloomers. It’s time we not only recognize those contributions but realize they are superior to normal culture because I still hate Mom and Dad for making me go to Bible camp.

Or something like that. Of course, that would be silly. Quotas! Preposterous.

Anyway, it’s not worth the bother. Flip response to Coke ad: They want to sell as much caffeinated sugar water as possible. Thoughtful answer: By adapting the American anthem into other languages and using them in the context of happy Coke drinkers, the company hoped to braid together their global brand with the transcendent ideas of America — showing how both stride the globe and touch everyone — thereby selling as much caffeinated sugar water as possible. Big deal.

Which brings us to another Internet dust-up you may have missed. Cheerios had an ad with an interracial family. MSNBC tweeted: “Maybe the rightwing will hate this.” MSNBC canned the tweeter and said that wasn’t who they were, any more than they were the network that made fun of Mitt Romney’s biracial family picture, or paid Martin Bashir to enthuse about the need to make Sarah Palin experience a meal of intestinal excretions, or paid Chris Matthews to reassure his audience of multitudinous dozens that the Right’s fixation on Benghazi is a result of their obsession with the quantity of melanin in the commander-in-chief’s epidermis.

Translation: Darn, open mike.

This will not get better. We will be arguing about Coke and Cheerios ads without cease, for two reasons:

1. The Left has not only politicized every aspect of American culture, they have a vast chattering army of academics who write turgid screeds like “Not So Cheerio-varies: The GMO War against Women’s Health.” Their outrage is inexhaustible.

2. The Right, having seen things get twisted to fit the various agendas (the villain in the upcoming Lego movie is named Lord Business, for heaven’s sake), will think there’s a political message in everything. Even in the 0.03 percent of examples where there isn’t.

The Left may win in the end, but as soon as they’ve completely hijacked the culture, they’ll tear themselves apart over cute pictures of Lenin with a cat. By what right does he claim ownership of another being? Meanwhile, the Right will FREAK OUT and conduct WARS ON THINGS.

Or, as we call it, “disagree.” The nerve!

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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