Fallen Idols

Fallen Idols


If there is one single moment in music that best defined the utterly idiotic circus of American politics last week, then it came from Kelly Clarkson.

Surely, the American Idol’s now-infamous Tweet supporting Ron Paul was only one turd in a vast, stinking mass of media fertilizer that is only bound to pile up around this time in election season. Celebrity endorsements of politicians arguably mean less now than they ever have. What few of the talking heads and spin doctors seem to get, however, is just what Clarkson’s support and the subsequent backlash against her represent.

Initial reports had Clarkson’s own album sales spiking in the days directly following her endorsement of the fellow-Texan and arch libertarian congressman (“I love Ron Paul... If we wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote”). Paul even publicly quipped a few days later that his own supporters were responsible for this bump.

We now know that these reports were false, or at best, wishful thinking. In fact, if anything her music became less popular than it was prior to her endorsement. The week ending on January 1st saw sales of her new album Stronger drop some forty percent. Though Stronger did indeed find a higher place in the charts, it was only a result in a more dramatic drop in sales among the other top albums. At best, the “Ron Paul effect” has been negligible for Clarkson’s bank account.

It’s also clear that plenty of the singer’s fans were more than a little unhappy with Clarkson’s endorsement. The Twittersphere was positively lit up by followers incensed at the endorsement.  The uproar was apparently so unavoidable that country star Blake Shelton felt the need to weigh in on her side: “I love you!!! I’ll listen to your view points anytime. And I really wouldn’t mind throat punching someone for you either!!”

More surprising than the stream of online protest against Clarkson has been how, well, surprised anyone can be at this series of events. Or, for that matter, that any writer or pundit thought it might be kosher to immediately declare an uptick in the singer’s own popularity.

Just in case anyone needs reminding, Clarkson’s endorsement came right at the end of an embarrassing few weeks for Ron Paul, when scrutiny over his racist and homophobic newsletters was finally unavoidable. Obviously, Paul was hoping for all this to blow over quickly. It didn’t. In fact, it gained steam as pictures of the congressman next to the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan current Stormfront.org founder Don Black began to surface. That Black publicly announced his own support for Paul hasn’t helped matters much either.

It is worth pointing out that the attacks against Clarkson weren’t for Paul’s supposed anti-war positions (as some of his erstwhile left-wing supporters might claim), but for the virulent bigotry that has always set him aside. It’s also these specific charges that Clarkson saw fit to defend herself against:

"I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women's rights, men's rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he's my favorite."

In her own mind, Clarkson obviously sees no contradictions. She also is, at least publicly, oblivious to the much uglier side of candidate Paul. She has, for example, yet to say anything about his high approval rating from the white supremacist John Birch Society, his plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nor has she mentioned Paul’s intentions to do away with Social Security, public education, the minimum wage and anything else designed to help working people basically survive.

This election season will see candidates point fingers at each other over a stubbornly sluggish economy and lack of jobs. None, on either side of the aisle seems able to speak truthfully about the consequences for ordinary people--in particular people of color, who have bore a double brunt of this unrelenting economic crisis. Still, even in the Republican camp, a particularly nutty end of the cesspool, Ron Paul’s views stand out as extreme.

Is it really any wonder that nowadays, when revolutions and occupations have finally forced issues of inequality and poverty into the mainstream, so many of Clarkson’s fans revolted? Likewise, can we really be surprised that, just as a growing number of ordinary people have come to demand a more humane political and economic system, they have also come to expect the same from their culture?

This, to be blunt, is what Kelly Clarkson is truly oblivious to when she plays the victim for being lambasted. In a music industry so committed to painting its biggest stars as “better than the rest of us,” Clarkson ranks among the highest of singing, dancing cash-cows. Talented? Undeniably so. Artistically groundbreaking? Hardly. Marketed and focus-grouped to death so as to maximize profits every step of the way? Most definitely. In fact, her “big break” came on the first season of a show deliberately designed to create, mold and shape such stars.

It’s also what makes artists like her so ultimately disposable. That she was taken to task so vociferously by so many reveals how frustrated us “little people” have finally gotten with this kind of elitist impunity. For her own part, Clarkson has done her best to show some grace in defeat:

“I will listen to what you say and any articles or viewpoints you have when you say it with respect. I was raised to respect people and their decisions and beliefs and I hope you will grant me the same decency. If you don’t agree with me simply unfollow me.”

It would appear that plenty of Clarkson’s followers took her advice, dropping her from their Twitter. Stands to reason that many others have unceremoniously removed her from their CD collections, mp3 players, and their lives in general. We’ll all be a lot better off when we figure out how to do the same to this sick, sick system that gives so much to so few while leaving the rest of us to rot.

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist based in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies (http://rebelfrequencies.blogspot.com), and is a columnist for the SOCIARTS website. He can be reached at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com.