Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose (the election)
posted by Howard Wasserman
A mini controversy has sprung up over Mitt Romney adopting the slogan “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” from the tv show Friday Night Lights as a campaign rally slogan. Peter Berg, the show’s creator, wrote a letter to Romney telling him that his “politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series” and asking him to “[p]lease come up with your own campaign slogan.” No word, at this point, whether the campaign is going to acquiesce.
This is just the latest in a repeated story–GOP candidate uses some pop culture theme (song, show, slogan, character, etc.) and its creator complains and asks him to stop. And to the extent Berg is correct that Romney’s politics are contrary to the show’s message, that, too, is par for the course. Politicians (and others) have long been using Mellencamp’s Pink Houses and Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. as “rah-rah, America is great” songs, completely missing the songs’ obvious theme that America has ignored and abandoned segments of society–the working class, Viet Nam vets, working-class Viet Nam vets.
Several media critics have argued that it is not clear whether the show’s political message is consistent or aligned with the campaign’s message, because the show’s politics are not clear. The show, they suggest, was both liberal and conservative–”bi-partisan,” as one critic writes. Slate’s David Plotz argued last year that the show’s politics are “communitarian;” it values the communities that we create of whatever form–families, friends, schools, small towns, teams, team boosters, churches, etc. It’s an interesting insight, although I would counter that the central institutions depicted–the school, the football booster club, and the town that loved its team–all were corrupt and influenced by wealthy individuals with questionable motives and all screwed over Coach and Mrs. Coach at just about every turn. Anyway, the argument now seems to be that a show with political universality should not be coopted by one side or the other.
The question is whether it matters. Putting to one side any intellectual property issues and whether a political campaign can claim fair use of the song/slogan/show, what difference does it make whether the candidate’s use of the song/slogan/character is consistent with its original or intended message? In fact, isn’t the “fair use” argument stronger if the candidate can argue that he is giving new or altered meaning to the culture referent? Plus, whatever the message of FNL itself, the “clear eyes” slogan has little or nothing to do with any of that.