Pacquiao, Romney, PSY and the President

December 10, 2012

Before Saturday’s rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao received a visit from Mitt Romney, who had front row seats for the fight. Jokes about bad omens aside (Pacquiao lost), it was good to see Romney at the event. Presumably he went because he likes boxing, and it’s nice that after six years of doing things because they might help him politically, he is able to attend an event just because he think it might be fun. Boxing is also a pretty iffy endeavor, associated with gambling, crime, head injuries, and colorfully seedy promoters. That makes it even better that he was there, because it is so unusual for a politician to associate himself with something that has such rough edges. That doesn’t mean those things linked to boxing aren’t bad, but it’s healthy when our culture is realistic about the messiness of life rather than pretending all the lines are straight and clean. If Romney’s presence generates debate, that’s better than having politicians hide from controversy.

President Obama had his own messy pop culture encounter over the weekend, attending a Christmas concert that included the South Korean rapper PSY. PSY is remarkably famous for a goofy and catchy video that borders on self-parody. But he apparently also sang some crude anti-American lyrics at a concert in Korea nine years ago, so there was some controversy about the President’s attendance at the event this weekend. I think it was a very good sign that, once PSY apologized, the President attended and there was little fuss about it. As he did with a brief controversy about an event that included the rapper Common, President Obama is helping the political world get past its unfortunate impulse to make minor cultural issues into national spasms. 

The problem isn’t that people get upset about things like offensive rap lyrics. What PSY sang nine years ago was genuinely offensive -- about wanting to kill Americans. The problem comes when politicians run scared from any imperfect situation, or get stampeded by carnival barkers on talk radio. If our political leaders boycott any event that includes performers with imperfect pasts, they are seeking a world that doesn’t exist. Not that there aren’t moments to stay away or denounce hurtful words, but lowering our over-sensitivity is a good thing. In a very different (less polite) way, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is another example of a politician who challenges our over-managed political culture.

We need to get offended by truly offensive things, rather than easy targets in pop culture. Children dying in poverty or murderous dictators, for instance, deserve more attention than goofy rappers in spangled sweaters. And here at home, I would prefer that politicians denounce million dollar Super PAC donors, or cynical lobbyists, rather than whatever’s on MTV2. 

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Juan Manuel Marquez
Manny Pacquiao
Mitt Romney
President Obama
South Korean rapper PSY
Christmas concert
offensive lyrics
Political culture
The Bigger Hammer
2008 campaign

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