Amid all the big talk about the economy during this presidential election, a mini-drama played out earlier this week over the use of a song by The National in a pro-Mitt Romney video. The decision to soundtrack a Romney video with The National is a confusing one – the band played two concerts in support of Obama not even a month ago. And even more confusingly, the song used in the Romney video, “Fake Empire,” is the same song Obama used in a video about his “signs of hope and change” that came out shortly before the 2008 election.
The National posted a scathing response to the Romney video on Youtube, saying that “every single person involved in the creation of the music you’re using is voting for President Obama.” The video, made by a group called “Ohio University Students for Romney,” was taken down the next day.
You might see this as a win for artists looking to control how their work is used and to prevent it from being used without permission. Though it’s easier than ever to take and use music without permission, it’s also easier to get caught. When I watched the Romney video, The National’s comment had around 1,500 up votes, easily making it the top comment. It worked pretty well to undermine the message of the video. The band had real power; they were able to do something about the misuse of their work, which hasn’t always been the case for artists.
In the early 1990’s, members of “riot grrrl,” a feminist punk rock movement, notoriously avoided all contact with the media to prevent the misrepresentation of their message. If anything about the riot grrrl movement was expressed, it was on their own terms.
But avoiding the media completely isn’t a great solution, and The National have shown that artists today can still control how they are being presented while still reaching many people.
A question remains, though: Why did the Ohio University Students for Romney choose “Fake Empire”? Surely there are plenty of other songs that could have been used in the video that didn’t have such a clear association with Obama. Either the Students for Romney didn’t do their homework about the history of the song they decided to use, or they are actually much smarter than they seem.
News about the Romney video didn’t start to spread until The National commented on the video, and maybe the Ohio University students chose to use “Fake Empire” precisely because it was the worst choice they could have made. Publicity about a bad decision is still publicity. They were able to take advantage of The National’s ability to point out how ridiculous it was to use their music to also draw attention to the video it was in. It seems that artists will never be able to control the use of their work, even when it appears that they do.
And maybe, if we want to really take it to the next conspiracy theory level, the whole thing was cleverly planned so that the statement of apology made by the Ohio students would reach the largest number of people. The students used the opportunity to write, “unfortunately we’ve learned that partisan divide exists on Youtube and in music as much as it does in Washington.” The apology spins the whole thing to claim that Romney is really about bringing different people together, and though he is running on the idea that he represents a change from Obama, it’s a change that can appeal to everyone.
Is a partisan divide really such a bad thing?
Nolan Matthews, Senior ANDY Editor