Mark Steyn: Multiculturalists must face the music [Peter, in particular, will love this] : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread

Mark Steyn National Post

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Well, it's January 2nd and you, the loyal reader, have a right to expect that we media types have given up sloughing off lame-o "Best Of The Year" lists for another 11 1/2 months. But not so fast. If I were compiling a "Best Lists Of The Year" list, my best list of the year would be this one: the BBC World Service poll of the Top Ten Songs Of All Time.

I know a bit about these kinds of surveys from my disc-jockey days. Listeners are always surprised to find that the Beatles and Elvis get nowhere. That's because their vote gets split between a dozen hits all about equally popular. A superstar needs a mega-ultra-anthemic blockbuster big enough to counter his vote getting dispersed among the rest of his catalogue: Sinatra has My Way, Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water, Queen Bohemian Rhapsody, Whitney Houston I Will Always Love You-ulating, all the big hit-list reliables.

Not everyone goes for these all-time standbys. Among several minor celebrities who voted in the BBC poll, Bianca Jagger opted for Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Kevin Spacey for Bobby Darin's Mack The Knife, and Imelda Marcos for the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah -- the widow of the late Filipino strongman usefully reminding us that pre-Sixties smashes were also eligible for the survey. Over 150,000 votes from 155 countries were recorded, and this is how it all came out. To add to the suspense, I'll count them down in reverse order. As the host Steve Wright put it, "Enjoy listening to the world's favourite songs!"

10) Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

9) Chaiyya Chaiyya, A. R. Rahman

8) Believe, Cher

7) Reetu Haruma Timi, Arun Thapa

6) Ana wa Laila, Kazem al-Saher

5) Pooyum Nadakkuthu Pinchum Nadakkuthu, Thirumalai Chandran

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2003


4) Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu, Ilayaraja

3) Dil Dil Pakistan, Vital Signs

2) Vande Mataram, various artists

1) A Nation Once Again, The Wolfe Tones

So much for the Great Satan's suffocating cultural imperialism. I'll bet I'm the only National Post columnist who even knows the Number One song. It's an Irish Republican rebel ballad from the 1840s. The reason I know is because I was once in a bar in Liverpool and a couple of lads started singing it and a couple of others objected and a fight broke out. As a loyal subject of the Crown, I was on the side of the objectors. We eventually prevailed, but, even if we hadn't, A Nation Once Again is a fine song to get your head kicked into, at least when compared to Believe by Cher, which would rank pretty high on a list of numbers I'd least like to be listening to as my eye's gouged out and I fall into a coma, although it would in a way be a merciful release.

But the point is we're not in Kasey Kasem territory. My cunning plan was to wait till the BBC announced the World's Favourite Songs, record them on a CD, and clean up. But I have a feeling it's not gonna work. We must take the Corporation's spokespersons at their word when they deny their poll was nobbled by a bunch of wily nationalist bog-trotters plotting to put one over on the hated Brit oppressor's cultural mouthpiece. And, for all the talk of vote fixing, the sample's a lot bigger than those polls that claim to measure anti-Americanism throughout Europe and the Middle East. But, whatever the problems of methodology, there's something rather appealing about the way the list disdains Anglo-American pop hegemony -- no Sir Elton caterwauling Goodbye, England's Rose, no Celine and her Songs For Sinkin' Liners.

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2003

Superficially, the chart has the appeal of those shows you hear late in the evening on public radio stations, usually called "Worldbeat" or "Rhythms Of The Planet" or some such. They work less well on private stations. In the small hours of a snowy January night about a decade ago, I was driving through the Green Mountains of Vermont with Anthony Lane, The New Yorker's film critic, and housewives' darling Sebastian Faulks, whose novel Birdsong has enriched so many airport concession stands. There was a big Latin dance thing back then that was all the rage called the Lambada, but the overnight jock on WKXE said you'd never really heard the song until you'd heard the 12-minute Hindu version.

"Wow!" said Anthony. "This is the best record I've ever heard," said Sebastian, "except for I Just Called To Say I Loved You. But it turns out there aren't all that many Vermonters who want to hear Hindu versions of Latin dance sensations. About a month later, the station switched to soft'n'easy favourites, and the late-night guy got fired.

In that sense, the BBC's Top Ten Songs Of All Time are admirably multicultural. Certainly, a multitude of cultures is represented: the Irish rebel ballad narrowly edged out the Indian patriotic song based on a poem by Bankim Chandra Chatarji at Number Two and the pop national anthem of Pakistan at Number Three; just below them you'll find a love song from Nepal, a Tamil Tiger song about the oppression of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the theme from a Bollywood version of The Godfather and a popular favourite by Iraq's biggest pop star (Kazem al-Saher).

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2003

But the list is also multicultural in its rejection of a common culture. On the face of it, it's preposterous that A Nation Once Again, a dreary dirge no non-Irishman has the slightest interest in, can now claim to the be the planet's all-time favourite song. But it's no more preposterous than some happy-sappy hooey like We Are The World followed by Quincy Jones doing his usual acceptance-speech shtick about how, whether you're a New York sideman or an Alabama gangsta rapper or an Uzbekistani bluegrass fiddler or a Saudi lounge act, there are no borders in music. Indeed, in its new role as underminer of the BBC Top Ten A Nation Once Again is far more subversive than it ever was as a rallying cry against the reviled Crown: For what could be more exquisitely mischievous than a virulently parochial anthem of unregenerate nationalism winning a survey intended to demonstrate that music is the universal language?

Our great Canadian seer Marshall McLuhan was never more wrong than when he was peddling that "global village" hooey. Multiculturalism is more like a global housing project where we all do our own thing and nobody knows their neighbours. Thus, fans of individual numbers in this Top Ten have no interest in hearing any of the other nine; try going into an Irish bar and singing Vande Mataram.

But the BBC poll goes further than mere multiculti isolationism, featuring as it does not just songs which appeal to very narrow ethnic groups but songs which are positively offensive to large numbers of other ethnic groups. Don't open with A Nation Once Again in an East Belfast pub, or with Dil Dil Pakistan in India, or with Pooyum Nadakkuthu Pinchum Nadakkuthu if you've got a big Sinhalese crowd in the house tonight. You'll be lucky to get out alive.

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2003

The BBC World Service, founded to bind the Empire and promote Britannic values, these days cruises mushily under the slogan "Many Voices, One World." But many of these voices cheerily reject the multicultural, multilateral, multinational pieties of one world in favour of a fierce musical jingoism. Tamils vote Tamil, Iraqis vote Iraqi, Irish Catholics vote Irish Catholic. The only listeners who made any effort to live up to the virtues of the multicultural utopia were the Americans, who voted for The Girl From Ipanema by Brazilian bossa maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim. Typical. The only evidence in the BBC's "one world" that any of us are open to any "voices" other than our own is the much-mocked cocktail-hour staple of every suburban hi-fi in the mid-Sixties.

I can't help feeling that in this strange poll there are some profound lessons about the illusions of the age. Those of us skeptical of multiculturalism will be heartened by the dizzying variety of local prejudices on display in these unlovely songs. Today, we are not provinces of empire but of the suppler transnational elites: We in Canada, plunged into the slough of despond by losing to Norway in that UN survey, are particularly advanced victims of this neo-colonialist mentality. For that reason, in its stirring cry of nationalist pride, the Wolfe Tones' rebel yell, now sanctified as the world's favourite song, is truly a song for the world:

"And then I prayed I yet might see our fetters rent in twain,

And Ireland, long a province, be a nation once again!"

We Are The World. Not.

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2003

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