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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paul Krugman's thoughts on Brangelina, Bono's on the Berlin Wall

The other day at lunch, my friend made me guess which New York Times columnist was quoted in Us Weekly on the state of Brangelina.

"Dowd would be too easy," I mused. "Frank Rich!"

Unable to name the obvious, correct one, I ran down the roster of columnists, pausing to guess what each one would have to say about the superstar marriage. I think it's completely within the realm of possibility for Gail Collins to have said something glib and offhand; my love for Paul Krugman extends to a delusional state, wherein he would be like me and devote a few minutes every week to "the tabs," as I like to call them and imagine he does, too.

I even named Bono, whom my friend refused to believe had a semi-regular spot. But there he is today, with a weird but not unenjoyable set of scenes tracing the history of "One" alongside the reunification of Germany. Yes, it's too much, too self-consciously cute in most places, but it's a great idea to trace how the song has been appropriated in ways that would have surprised THE SINGER 20 years ago:
An Irish band plays its song “One” in the city where it was written nearly 20 years earlier. The band is here for an MTV broadcast celebrating the anniversary of the wall’s falling. A helicopter shot glides like a ghost through the architecture of this most modern of cities: the avant-garde Chancellery, the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag, the refurbished Brandenburg Gate. Images of East and West Berlin dancing to the music are projected on the gate, turning this monument to peace into a graffiti wall of the same....

We close in on the band. We can feel its sense of occasion. This is nothing new. One suspects THE SINGER approaches a trip to the bathroom with the same degree of vainglory. (To wit, is he not writing about himself now in the third person? He is.) On stage, he is emotional in the way we’ve come to expect. In this case it’s because a song written to help stop his band from falling apart has somehow become an unsentimental ode to unity — in this instance a bittersweet song for a bittersweet history.

I love the idea of tracing how the song has transcended its initial context to mean something to everybody, largely by insisting on its transcendentality (not a word) in the first place. But key question: is it unsentimental, or is its extreme sentimentality the reason that it's been appropriated for use for multiple political and social contexts? Or, more to the point, what do you get by claiming it's unsentimental when every other generic feature of it (lyrics, Edge's guitar, multiple music videos for different causes) points the other direction?

I also deeply wanted Werner Herzog to show up in the scenes.

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