15 September 2008

Washington DC #1: Songs of a Nation (9/9/08)

This morning, I had the opportunity to go to the White House Executive Offices and meet with Bill Wichterman, Special Assistant to President Bush and Deputy Director of Public Liaison (basically, one of Bush's main policy advisers). After we finished checking in and getting our appointment passes (we had to give them our social security numbers a few days ago so they could do background checks!) we went through security and then to his office! As we began talking, his close friend, (who is my boss's close friend, and the reason we were there) mentioned the book on his coffee table. It was the "U2 by U2" book. As we started talking to him about his relationship to U2 (as a fan) and Bono (which it turns out, is as an important influence and someone who actually had the guts to call him out on his "rock star" ego upon meeting him for the first time in the 90's) the conversation turned into how our culture dictates our laws. After all, wasn’t it Plato who once said, “Give me the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws”?

The culture which we are a part of is the context that we learn and grow and develop our perspective of the world from. It determines what we love and what we hate. The government is nothing without its people and its people are shaped by what they listen to and watch and read. In attempting to reform an entire system or government, we must reform that which influences us. Furthermore, and especially in the case of America, our biggest export to the rest of the world is the image we put forth through our songs, books, movies and popular culture in general. And most of what we export is, for lack of a better term, shit. When we are producing and distributing pornography, music that is completely degrading to women, and movies that encourage and emphasize our need for violence in order to be entertained, how will the rest of the world see us?

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, even more so now than ever before. (And this is what we were talking about with Bill). But these exceptions only begin when politics and popularity come together. The coupling of great thinkers and law-makers, who have the diplomacy, skills, and strategy...with the “rock-stars,” who have the power to influence others more than anyone else, can create a revolution that is both smart AND socially accepted. It is through meetings of Bono and the United States government that the AIDS and poverty crisis becomes forefront in the world, for example. It is through the combination of a recent college graduate with loans to pay off but a passion for something more and a globally renowned music group like Jars of Clay, that an organization like Blood:Water Mission is created, for example. The greatest feats can be overcome when there is a shared passion from both the political angle and the popular.

The culture we live in defines our laws, not the other way around. So what is our responsibility within this culture? There is this great revolution of change that needs to come about within our culture, and the only way we can do it is through a community of passionate people.

(Executive Offices at the White House)

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