Virtue signaling is a ubiquitous presence in Internet social justice rhetoric. That is why, when I discovered the following YouTube rant by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, I was amused. I had discovered the Mother of All Virtue Signals.
I don’t harbor any sort of animus toward Ben. He does, however, seem to be overreaching in his conservative punditry with this video in which he admits that, if he *were* for censorship, he would burn every copy of John Lennon’s Imagine.
Have a look, then I’ll break it down:
Out of the gate, his tirade focuses not on the song as a song, but on the monstrous immorality of its existence and place within the world’s consciousness, with particular attention to—of course—how it is the Democrats’ theme song. He hits play, immediately decrying the “pretentious” piano chords at the beginning, then noting, “There isn’t [a heaven] for you, buddy.” Which is more pretentious: The piano chords of a song, or the mortal judgment of John Lennon’s soul for singing about world peace?
He suggests that, in order to be a great musician, you must know how to read music. Therefore, because the Beatles cannot read music, they aren’t so great. There are many articles out on the web listing some of the greatest musicians of all time who can’t read music, but I won’t bore you with such. I will just note that the major engine of professional music in the US runs on what is known as the Nashville number system, whereby really talented musicians can immediately pull a song together without the need to read “proper” music notation.
Personally, I don’t recall meeting a single decent musician who does not verbally understand the names of notes and chords, despite being “musically illiterate.” But Ben uses the metaphor of “not thinking someone is a great author who can’t read,” perhaps forgetting that oral storytelling was the precursor to contemporary writing. I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m relatively certain that Jesus didn’t hand out pamphlets to his audience.
Speaking of Jesus, Ben’s takeaway from the “no religion too” line is that Lennon is suggesting that “Religion is the cause of all the world’s ills.” He is, ironically, imagining that this is what Lennon is saying. But, within Lennon’s Imagine utopia, is it not the presence of perfect morality and absence of discriminating dogma that are key ingredients of harmony among humanity?
He notes that many of the concepts within the song are communist in nature. I am apt to indulge myself in a suspension of political beliefs when enjoying a fine song with beautiful, poetic concepts. Why would I burden myself with such analysis? Should this song really conjure the image of hundreds of thousands of communist-regime-related deaths? Is Ben Shapiro suggesting that Imagine is “politically incorrect?”
Lennon himself noted, “‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist manifesto, even though I’m not particularly a Communist… The Socialism I speak about … [is] not the way some daft Russian might do it, or the Chinese might do it…Us, we should have a nice … British Socialism.” He is admitting to imagining something that he understands is not tenable, in a typical tongue-in-cheek Lennon manner.
Further, he says in one of his last interviews, “…apart from that, I worked for money and I wanted to be rich.” John Lennon was a capitalist! There is even evidence that he expressed a political fondness for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
As many conservatives have observed, Marxism in the real world has proven to be an unreachable, impractical, inhumane mythology. Ben knows that, and John Lennon seems to have known that. There is some tragedy in the notion that a beautiful song about world peace can be co-opted for political virtue signalling, from the Left or the Right.
Ben: Try to enjoy the beauty of a concept, presented poetically and melodically. Consider it a thought exercise.