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Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House

Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House (photo)

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As of yesterday, conservatives were on attack about Michelle Obama’s invitation of the svelte-and-sexual rapper Common to a poetry reading at the White House. Ostensibly bored with its own content and mimetic design, Huffington Post’s conservative counterpart, The Daily Caller, went looking for a most-readily decontextualized piece of Common’s backstory. In a segment recorded for Def Poetry, he defends Kobe and the King of Pop and suggests burning a Bush of the presidential variety. The piece was such political fodder that even Sarah Palin managed to fire off 25 thoughtful characters about the situation, via Twitter: “Oh lovely, White House…” Fox News, of course, diligently covered the story; the White House retrenched, sort of.

It’s easy to launch racism charges at the right’s criticism of Common, but that’s problematic for two reasons: First, we’re betting black country star Darius Rucker wouldn’t get the same treatment from Palin and her pals; after all, we don’t remember any stump speeches about Common’s Gap or Zune commercials. Those are good for the economy. Rather, what the right seems to be attacking here is the honesty and complexity–really, the thoughtfulness, in spite of or maybe because of its pop-culture accessibility–found in Common’s work. When Common raps on record or offers a rhyme tonight at the White House, he’s offering his view of the world. If that means he’s complaining about the woman who came home with him from the club just to watch movies and fall asleep or extoling each of the lessons he’s gleaned from reading the texts of history’s dominant religions, the worldview offered in his discography seems real and developed. Sure, Common has said things over the last two decades that might irk a lot of people, whether that be through his songs about sex or his sociopolitical stances. But his career has been defined by writing about more than one thing, more than just liking orgasms or not liking the president. The right seems scared of a voice that’s offering its mind’s full view–a complicated view of reality, no matter who it might offend.

Personally, I’m offended for related reasons by “Americans, That’s Who,” a single issued earlier this week by the country-gospel group Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. In a Monday press release, Gatlin, who won a Grammy for “Broken Lady” back in 1977, had this to say about the glossy country dross: “We’ve known for some time that it would take a groundbreaking, monumental event for us to release this single to radio. The death of Osama bin Laden meets those qualifications. We would like to send a very special ‘thank you’ to the members of SEAL TEAM SIX and all of the brave American men and women in uniform who risk their lives to keep us free. Who are these good people? AMERICANS, THAT’S WHO!”

Let’s forgive the fact that Gatlin, always one for a gathering of arms, is trying to cash in on someone dying and pay attention to what he’s saying. The three-minute tune essentially lists all the things he thinks that American citizens and soldiers have done for victimized people in foreign lands. For Gatlin, the list includes feeding, clothing and housing poor people. Soldiers have freed folks and expanded democracy while leaving families for possible death overseas, all for freedom of speech. Somehow, though, Gatlin also takes a jab at the effete American media, singing that you won’t read about these beneficent efforts in the paper, though he’s certain that they’re true. Go ahead, Common, and consider the irony.

The tune ends with a full minute of harmonizing of both the title phrase and “Glory, glory, Hallelujah,” lifted, of course, from an old spiritual and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” No where is there any hint of the mistakes we might have made or continue to make as a country; for Gatlin, we’re all good, all the time. Too stupid and stilted to be a Trey Parker and Matt Stone satire, “Americans, That’s Who” presents a reality that’s so mitigated–or, really in Gatlin’s case, made-up altogether–it isn’t even expression. It’s a Hallmark greeting card version of a complex national identity, with the sort of sloganeering that, come campaign time, is scary.

The left, then, shouldn’t be surprised into reaction by the right’s condemnation of Common; it’s nothing more than the standard treatment the liberal media gets for not adhering to the Fox News cycle. Rather, it should be concerned that a song like “Americans, That’s Who” could ever be taken seriously, that it could be a single worth selling and singing. There’s nothing more motivational than a mantra.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…