Democrats, break up with Bruce Springsteen

There are a lot of good reasons not to conflate fandom with political action, and for political movements not to treat pop-cultural icons and institutions as being their allies. For starters, it cheapens our relationship to both: We should have a clearer sense of our politicians’ persons and policies than comparing them to the Avengers, superheroes here to knock down our enemies, or delighting at which rock stars they’re friends with, and there are certainly more thoughtful ways to engage with Springsteen’s music than treating him like some sweaty, guitar-wielding statesman.

It also risks reducing politics itself to fan worship, a troubling prospect for democracy. In a famous essay written in the mid-1930s, the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin extolled the liberatory possibilities of mass culture while also warning of its potentially nefarious uses in the political realm, arguing that a medium like film’s ability to turn politicians into aesthetic objects for mass consumption made it a powerful vehicle for fascism. Ironically, in 2008 it was Obama himself whom Republicans attacked as being an empty celebrity as opposed to a serious politician. Then, of course, in 2016, the Republican Party began its still ongoing love affair with Donald Trump, one of the purest embodiments of celebrity culture in American history.

The fundamental goal of politics should be to make people’s lives better. In its best instances popular culture makes our lives better as well, but to imagine that as being its fundamental goal is deeply naïve.