That Reagan remains a bête noire for the left is nothing new, but blaming Reagan for the current state of music is taking tortured logic to the extreme.
Mellencamp twice blames his dissatisfaction with today’s music on our 40th president, claiming “Reagan’s much-vaunted trickle-down theory that wealth trickled down to the masses from the elite to the top” is the cause for the current "American Idol"-ization of music. Grasping at straws a second time, Mellencamp writes, “Left with no real choice except that business model that Reagan propagated and the country embraced, there is only ‘The Man’ to deal with.”
What Mellencamp has worked up are not the issues before Congress and the courts, such as royalties for performance artists and lost revenue from file-sharing. No, Mellencamp is angry that record companies and radio stations treat their businesses as businesses, that compact discs were ever created and that radio has become so homogeneous that we’re subjected to Mariah Carey every 15 minutes.
Admittedly, his last complaint is fair, but it’s hard to see how the Gipper is any more responsible for Mariah’s ubiquity than he is for Mellencamp's "This is Our Country" Chevy ads running in commercial breaks in every televised sporting event last year.
But it’s not only the state of the music business that distresses Mellencamp; it’s the music itself — and not just Mariah.
Harkening back to the days of the Greenwich Village folk music scene and the soul movement that culminated in Wattstax, Mellencamp laments, “People remember when music existed as an art that motivated social movements.” Perhaps Mellencamp should acquaint himself with P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign, will.i.am’s "Yes We Can" paean to Barack Obama or the music of Rage Against the Machine and Green Day.
That Mellencamp’s efforts failed to motivate Democratic primary voters to support his choice for president, John Edwards, had more to do with Edwards than any corporate structure in the music business. Similarly, that Mellencamp hasn’t had a hit song since somewhere around the Reagan administration has nothing to do with Reagan himself.
The music business has changed dramatically over the past decades. Some of this has been positive (iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.), some negative (Nickelback). But complaining about it without providing any substantive ideas is merely blowing in the wind. And the naïve notion that we will somehow return back to some “WKRP in Cincinnati” ideal is about as likely as returning to the payola system.
That won’t stop John Cougar and other entertainers on the left from laying blame wherever they can, even on Ronald Reagan.
Ah, but ain’t that America?