Bloomsbury Minicast is now available. For this podcast miniseries, we invite Bloomsbury authors to discuss the politics embedded in their work, analyzing the subtle or not so subtle political qualities therein. Connections between the popular and the political, the national and the global, are forged in discussion of interdisciplinary books. Listen to our first episode featuring author Nina Jankowicz speaking about the politics discussed in her book How to Lose the Information War. And stay tuned for a new episode each week this fall!
Politics are omnipresent. Politics affect everyone, but they affect some more than others. To exist comfortably outside of politics is a privilege. Some who can afford to exist outside of politics do, while others choose to be invested regardless. We can identify successful, popular musicians among those who might see themselves as existing outside of politics. Yet, popular and celebrated figures are criticized for both their commentary or lack thereof on politics. As a result, it is most interesting when a celebrity does something overtly political, and many people misinterpret it or miss it entirely. The most delightful example of this is Bruce Springsteen’s song “Born in the USA.”
As discussed in Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA by Gregory Himes, Springsteen’s look while performing this eponymous song was very much a character: worn jeans, black boots, red kerchief. Sometimes, too, a denim jacket. This character is supposed to be a working class or blue-collar American man. This visual alone is interesting, given the significant time dedicated to fetishizing the working class while providing far less meaningful support. Out of context, or maybe even in context, this is a political choice by Springsteen to cast himself in the role of the working class. Whatever his origins, by the time of this song, Springsteen is no longer an Average Joe. Yet, Springsteen’s readiness to step into this role, with this song, on an international platform elevates a person and plight not often explored at this juncture at this time in history.
The narrator of “Born in the USA” is supposed to be someone who’s not been able to catch a break his whole life. Born in a town with scarce opportunities to thrive, he’s not set up to succeed in life. He’s then conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. (Interestingly, he’s not drafted. Rather, he gets in trouble with the law, and his punishment is to be sent to war.) On his return, he’s discriminated against when he seeks employment, and when he looks for support from the Veterans’ Association, he’s rejected once again. All of these events, of course, are a product of being born in the United States.
“Born in the USA” is evidently an anti-war song, but it is also a cry against the manufactured poverty of ordinary people, portrayed by Bruce Springsteen in jeans, by the hand of “the man,” (hiring, VA, etc.) which is to say, anyone with power, particularly derived from the government or, like corporations, aided and abetted by its policies.
None of this is new information. This song has been analyzed within an inch of its life for the past 36 years. Which is all to say that it’s funny when this song is played by and for those who are pro-war, pro-outsourcing and underpaying, pro-corporate tax break, pro-monopoly.
For fresh analysis on Springsteen’s political album, check out Gregory Himes’ book Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Himes delves further into Springsteen’s personification of blue-collar characters and how that type of song fits into his oeuvre. And for more political insight into other albums (and beyond), tune into Bloomsbury Minicast.