Freedom's Call: Rap-Geniusing Trump
June 13, 2016
Since brands are phenomena with wide-ranging effect— cultural, linguistic, aesthetic, financial, etc. — they can be analyzed with an equally-wide range of approaches and descriptive models. During the beginning months of 2016, students had a five-week workshop in the general methods of criticism and critical theory.
To begin, criticism was defined as the description of a phenomenon's context, and not the development of an opinion. For each week, students were assigned a topical brand and asked to describe the landscape(s) in which it existed. Topics included Verizon and its new visual identity, #BlackLivesMatter, and Playboy Magazine (which had just undergone a significant editorial shift).
2016 also happens to be a presidential election year in the United States, so students were also asked to do a close reading of a current candidate’s brand. Classmates Shaz Bhola, Anu Khosla and Sam Baker teamed up to analyze Donald Trump, the candidate who drew the most media attention during the primary season.
Their chosen text was a January 2016 performance of the song Freedom’s Call by The Freedom Girls at a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida.
Bhola, Khosla and Baker formatted their work in the style of a Rap Genius annotation. Here is their presentation with their critical comments appearing after each slide. Green annotations are Military references, red indicates Aggression, cyan is Honor vs. Cowardice, and yellow is Political Positioning.
Cowardice are you serious?
At the beginning of “The Official Donald Trump Jam” sung by the Freedom Girls, we see one of the oldest ideas from the cannon of Western literature manipulated by Mr. Trump and his campaign staff. Using an almost 3,000 year old notion derived from The Illiad to play upon the emotions of a patriotic audience, Trump begins his tune by challenging constitutes’ personal honor and induces a fear of shame that mimics one a soldier is imbued with in refusing to participate in battle. Unlike The Illiad, however, the proverbial soldiers are America’s voting public and any details of the said battle that exists within the context of Trump’s jam linger in ambiguity through the consistent allusion to the notion of freedom.
Answer the Call / On Your Feet / Stand Up
Throughout the song, there is a frequent use of commands and “freedom.” Here, freedom isn’t the state of freeness or of liberty, but an imperative and imposition. The resulting demands to take action, highlighted in red on each slide, place responsibility on every American to buy in to more aggressive international politics.
Face the music
Derived from the tradition of being dishonorably discharged from military service to the sound of a drum, we see that anyone deemed an "enemy of freedom" by Trump’s standard will have to “face the music” i.e. expulsion from global society. The earliest recorded reference to the notion of being “drummed out” is first found in 17th century Christian author Thomas Armory’s The Life of John Buncle when he states, “They ought to be drummed out of society.”
Deal from strength or get crushed every time.
The political strategy Trump is referencing is big stick diplomacy. Most Americans will remember Teddy Roosevelt’s decree to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” The idea was that you could maintain a state of peace (speak softly) if you had a large military presence (a big stick) because it would keep external threats at bay. Trump believes in carrying a big stick, but he seems to forget the part about “speaking softly.”
Over There / Star - Spangled Banner
Freedom’s Call is sung to the tune of the 1917 song, Over There. Written to enlist young men in the army, Trump is expressing the same call to action to defend the nation’s freedom. His reappropriation of these lyrics and that of The Star Spangled Banner, highlighted in green on the following slide, are purposeful and clever. Aware that many Americans are familiar with these songs, the audience involuntarily calls to mind images of American wartime success and camaraderie. This is further tied into military tradition. Music has been traditionally used to signal the troops for battle—a reinforcing of Trump’s call to action.
The stars and stripes are flying
Within the context of the military, the American flag is raised daily at revile (the French word for “Wake Up”) around sunrise and is lowered at evening colors, around sunset.
Inspire, proudly, freedom to the world
Freedom’s Call is a decidedly domestic song, so why bring in the rest of the world all of a sudden? For Trump, it’s all about power. Political theorist Antonio Gramsci describes the concept of hegemony, whereby the people in power create a Weltanschauung (world view) to manipulate the views of a society. When a constituent group absorbs the Weltanschauung of a political leader they give consent to any political action informed by that world view.
Entertaining the Troops
Trump’s campaign strategy is one of entertainment and deliberate historical moments. Switching between demands and a cheerleader-like call and response, he express who we (Americans) are, how we think, and the state of our political position within the world. He masterfully galvanizes support and generates spirit in between aggressive language, threats of cowardice, and aspirations of honor.
Fiercely free, that’s who!
Merriam-Webster defines fierce as “violently hostile or aggressive in temperament.” Here we see the concept of aggression being used as a source of pride.
The USA chant originated at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich during a USA versus USSR basketball game. It was popularized during the 1980 Winter games in Lake Placid when the USA beat the soviets in the “Miracle on Ice” gold medal hockey game. In both cases, the chant arose from the Cold War rivalry. The chant implies the continuation of this rivalry—telling at a time when the American relationship with Putin’s Russia is being tried. We see the old rivalry showing up again in pop culture with movies like the remade Man from U.N.C.L.E. and TV shows like The Americans.
Our colors don’t run
See “Cowardice are you serious”
Students: Shaz Bhola, Anu Khosla and Sam Baker
Class: Logo Insignifica, Spring 2016
Instructor: Mark Kingsley