Monday, December 15, 2008

Bing and Bowie

David Bowie and Bing Crosby sang "Little Drummer Boy" way back in the '70's. I've been thinking about posting the video, but Andrew Sullivan beat me to it. Here it is, anyways.

Sullivan isn't appreciative; he posted it as part of his "Christmas Hathos" series. He defines hathos as "the attraction to something you really can't stand; it's the compulsion of revulsion." He's one of those people who find the sentimentality of Christmas a little much. Too bad for him.

I disagree about this video. It may be cheesy, but that's probably because it's from the early 1970's. I like this because it's a little bit of an antidote to the political correctness I experienced in college. Way back in the late 1980's, it was very cool to be opposed to anything traditional. As we tended to do in college, we occasionally took that stance of principled opposition a little too far (sometimes a lot too far), which sometimes made it emotionally complicated for me to try and resolve my status as a descendant of and beneficiary of a lot of those traditions.

So it was refreshing for me to discover that someone as impeccably hip as David Bowie could have enough respect for someone as resolutely old school as Bing Crosby to actually work with him.

While I'm on the topic, I want to provide my own definition of political correctness in college. Liberals tend to dismiss charges of political correctness as a conservative conspiracy to discredit liberal academics. I find some truth in both charges. I agree with conservatives that there are a lot of very liberal academics, and they tend to skew discussions. I had a fair number of professors like that. But I also found that, if I challenged them, some of them listened. Not all of them, and I'm highly doubtful that there are that many who would buy my take on political correctness, but at least some of them tried. So my take on political correctness is that conservatives are right, there is an atmosphere of liberalism on most college campuses. But I can also see the liberal point that the conservatives just want to use the charge of political correctness to bash people they disagree with.

What both sides miss is that political correctness is not really a function of what goes on in the classroom; it is a function of what goes on outside the classroom, in every other area of college life. Political correctness is liberal peer pressure. That's it. At politically active colleges, you've got a bunch of very intense but unfocused young people, who are both compassionate and angry. They're looking for some way to change the world, but they're also looking for someone to blame. Sometimes their targeting computer settles on the nearest target, which is usually the person next to them in the dining hall, or in their dorm.

So this is why David Bowie singing with Bing Crosby is such a relief to me. He meets Crosby literally and figuratively on his own turf; he goes to Crosby's house, and he sings in his style. Sentimentality, in this instance, is a powerful antidote to cynicism.

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