Friday, July 9, 2010

Homosexuality and Hollywood

Earlier this month NBC faced protests from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) as the wedding contest held on the Today show each year excluded same sex couples. NBC argued that it excluded same sex couples as any couple who wins must be able to legally marry in New York, a state which does not yet recognise same sex unions. In turn, GLAAD argued that New York does recognise same sex unions licensed by other states. As of today, NBC relented its stand and will now allow same sex couples to participate in the annual wedding contest on Today. The fact that NBC will now allow same sex couples to participate in the wedding contest on Today shows how much things have changed in the past several years. The fact that NBC initially excluded same sex couples from the contest shows how little things have changed.

As a heterosexual male, I have never experienced discrimination because of my sexual orientation, but as a pop culture historian I know all too well that such discrimination was the norm for most of the histories of the movie and television industries. In fact, there was a time when homosexuality was considered the kiss of death for any actor, particularly those  frequently cast as romantic leads or action heroes. Although it has often been reported otherwise, many film historians believe that Rock Hudson's marriage to agent Henry Wilson's secretary Phyllis Gates was simply meant to dismiss any possible rumours that Mr. Hudson was gay (which he was). Tab Hunter's alleged romances with Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood, with whom he was both close friends, were simply publicity ploys created by Warner Brothers to stave off any talk that Mr. Hunter was gay (which he was). Although it might not seem so today, Messrs. Hudson and Hunter were lucky in that, while they had to be a part of romances that existed only in the minds of studio publicity departments, they were still able to see whomever they wished, even if it was in total secrecy. Tommy Kirk, star of such Disney films as  Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, and Swiss Family Robinson, was not so lucky. In 1963 Walt Disney Productions chose not to renew Tommy Kirk's contract after word reached the studio that he was involved in an affair with another boy. Reportedly, it was Walt Disney himself who fired Mr. Kirk. Because of pressure from movie goers, Walt Disney Productions would hire Tommy Kirk to star in the sequel to the enormously successful Monkey's Uncle, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. It was the last movie he made for the studio. Patsy Kelly was not so lucky. While it is quite likely that much of the reason that her career started to suffer in the Forties was because of her habit of getting tossed out of restaurants and other public venues, it seems more likely that much of the reasons studios began avoiding her was Miss Kelly's habit of announcing, quite loudly, that she was a lesbian.

The simple fact is that during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studios believed that even an accusation of homosexuality made towards an actor was box office poison. To a large degree it is understandable why the studios would believe this. Laws against sexual relations between members of the same sex existed in the British Colonies even before the United States of America won its independence. Similar laws against sexual relations between members of the same sex existed in nearly every state of the Union well into the Seventies. By the 20th Century homosexuality was not only regarded as immoral and criminal, but as a mental illness as well. Until 1973 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) included homosexuality as a mental disorder. For much of the 20th Century the United States government regarded homosexuals as security risks. The U.S. State Department even listed them as such in a report issued in 1950. From 1947 to 1950 4,380 people were discharged from the military, 420 government employees were fired, and 1,700 federal job applications were denied due to the simple suspicion of homosexuality. Indeed, at this point in American history homosexuality was taboo. It was rarely mentioned by name and certainly never in polite society. A man or woman even suspected of homosexuality could be denied housing, fired from their jobs, and shunned by nearly everyone. Given the fact that homosexuals were pariahs in the United States for much of the 20th Century, the studios may well have been right in their assumption that a revelation of homosexuality could destroy an actor's career.

Today it would seem that attitudes towards homosexuality in Hollywood and the United States has changed considerably. In 2003 actor Richard Chamerlain revealed that he was a homosexual in his autobiography Shattered Love. The revelation certainly did not hurt his career, as he has acted regularly since then (most recently in an episode of Leverage). Actor Neil Patrick Harris announced that he was gay in 2006. Since then his career as only grown, from hosting the Tony Awards to starring in Joss Whedon's web mini-series Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog to performing the opening to the 82nd Academy Awards to continuing to play the very heterosexual Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. If there is walking proof that homosexuality is no longer a stigma in the United States, it would seem to be Neil Patrick Harris.

That having been said, I think to some degree homosexuality remains a stigma, both in the United States and Hollywood. The plain truth is that Richard Chamberlain's days as a leading man ended years ago, while Neil Patrick Harris is primarily a comic actor, singer, and dancer. While homosexuality may be accepted in character actors and comic actors, I have to wonder that it would be tolerated in a leading man, particularly a romantic lead or action star. In her excellent overview of the movie Victim (1961) on her blog Discovering Dirk Bogarde, Kate Gabrielle mentions the fact that she has received comments from readers of the blog to the effect that Sir Dirk Bogarde was "such a great actor, it's a shame he was gay." Indeed, one need look no further than Anne Heche's career to see how the revelation of even bisexuality can be very damaging. Prior to Miss Heche's relationship with comedian Ellen Degeneres, which started in 1997, she starred in such feature films as The Juror (1996) and Donnie Brasco (1997), in which she played a wife and mother. Afterwards Miss Heche's career faltered, so that at best she received smaller roles in feature films (such as John Q) and starring roles in TV movies (Silver Bells). The reason Anne Heche's career faltered may have been her relationship with Ellen Degeneres. According to Rebecca Sullivan, a professor in pop culture at the University of Calgary, "People are very resistant to accepting a gay actor in a straight role." Given what happened to Anne Heche's career, one can guess what would happen if a male romantic lead or action star came out of the closet. Audiences would no longer accept him in roles as the lead of romantic comedies or as the lead of action movie. In other words, if Matthew McConaughey announced tomorrow that he was gay, we should probably never again expect to see him as a romantic lead or an action star.

Of course, here it must be pointed out that a double standard exists both among the Hollywood studios and movie goers. While both studios and audiences seem to be unable to accept a homosexual in a straight role, both studios and audiences seem more than willing to accept a straight actor in a gay role. A perfect example of this is Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks is undeniably straight. He has been married to actress Rita Wilson since 1988 and the couple had two sons together. Despite the fact that Tom Hanks is heterosexual, however, audiences accepted him playing a homosexual in the movie Philadelphia (1993). Indeed, he even won the Oscar for Best Actor in the role. Similarly, no one questioned Heath Ledger or Jake Gyllenhaal's performances in Brokeback Mountain, even though both actors were straight. In fact, both actors were nominated for Oscars. At no point did anyone say that they found Tom Hanks, Heath Ledger, or Jake Gyllenhaal unconvincing as straight actors playing gay characters.

The fact that such a double standard exists at all should perhaps be considered ludicrous insofar as many gay actors have convincingly played straight characters over the years. In fact, it must be pointed out that both Sir Dirk Bogarde and Rock Hudson made their livings as both romantic leads and stars in thrillers and action films. Sir Dirk Bogarde played the extremely heterosexual Dr. Simon Sparrow in the highly successful Doctor series of films in the Fifties and Sixties, and starred in many other romantic comedies as well. Rock Hudson played the male lead opposite Doris Day in Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers, three of the greatest Sixties sex comedies of all time. To this day people find their performances in these and other films convincing, despite the fact that both Sir Dirk Bogarde and Rock Hudson were gay. Indeed, it must be pointed out that Rock Hudson and Sir Dirk Bogarde were not alone in their ability to convincingly play straight characters. Tab Hunter, Kerwin Matthews, Peter Wyngarde, and many other gay actors convincingly played straight characters over the years.

Beyond the fact that I believe discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong, I must also say that acting is called "acting" for a reason. Acting can perhaps most simply be defined as representing a character other than oneself on the stage or screen. Because of this, an actor or actress can play characters who might be nothing like himself or herself in real life. Does anyone believe that Sir Antony Hopkins must regularly kill and eat human beings because he played Hannibal Lector so well? Does anyone beleive that Russell Crowe has actually participated in gladiatorial battles to the death because he played Maximus so well? I rather doubt it. A good actor can assume roles totally unlike himself or herself in real life and be quite convincing in doing so. It was then unnecessary for Sir Dirk Bogarde or Rock Hudson to be straight to play straight roles, just as it is unnecessary for Tom Hanks or Jake Gyllenhaal to be gay to play gay roles. A good actor can play nearly any role offered to him or her, even if the character is not like himself or herself in real life.

Looking at the careers of such actors as Tommy Kirk, Tab Hunter, Sir Dirk Bogarde, and Rock Hudson, I think we can safely say that when it comes to giving good performances, it is talent and not sexual orientation that matters. Indeed, I would say that gay actors should be treated no differently from straight actors because of their sexuality. It seems to me that sexual orientation has no real impact on an individual's talent, which means that it should not be used as a means of casting actors in various roles. While sexuality is a big part of who we are as human beings, it is not this monolithic factor in our lives with an incredible amount of impact on the work we do or the talent we have. In the end, perhaps, we should not discuss gay actors or straight actors, but simply actors, period.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The 2010 Emmy Nominations

Today the nominations for the 62nd Annual Emmy Awards was announced. As usual, today's nominations were a mixed bag. Oh, there were those shows which everyone expected to be nominated and truly deserve to be nominated. There were those that absolutely did not deserve nominations. And, sadly, there were those shows that deserved to be nominated but were for some reason snubbed.

This can be particularly demonstrated by looking at the Outstanding Comedy Series category. NBC's great new comedy Community was not nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series. For that matter, none of its actors were nominated in the actor and actress categories. Now, quite frankly, aside from 30 Rock, I think Community is easily the funniest comedy on television right now. While Community was not nominated, the chronically unfunny Curb Your Enthusiasm was nominated, and Larry David was nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Comedy Series. Quite frankly, to me this is a grave miscarriage of justice. Indeed, I think years from now television historians will be looking back at the 2010 Emmy Awards and wondering, "What were they thinking?!"

Of course, in some respects the various Drama categories are even worse. Two shows that absolutely should not have been nominated were nominated: The Good Wife and Friday Night Lights. Now I will admit. The Good Wife is a well executed show. And I will admit, Julianna Margulies does give a good performance in the lead role. That having been said, in the end the show is very derivative, with little to differentiate it from any number of legal dramas which have preceded it. As to Friday Night Lights, while critics seem to love this show for some reason, I do not see that it is any better than any number of teen dramas that air on The CW. Friday Night Lights should have been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. Kyle Chandler should not have been nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. I can think of any number of dramas and casts of dramas which deserved to be nominated more than Friday Night Lights, and I am now worried that next year I might see One Tree Hill nominated for Outstanding Drama Series!

I must say that I am somewhat more happy with the Outstanding  Variety, Comedy, or Music category. The all too short lived The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien received a nomination (take that, NBC!). I was shocked, however, that Saturday Night Live was nominated. Sadly, this was not one of the show's better seasons, with the exception of a few episodes (the one with Betty White was fantastic). I was also shocked that The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was not nominated. Craig Ferguson is easily the funniest host on television, so much so that I can say he actually deserved to be nominated more than John Stewart or Stephen Colbert (both of whom are very funny guys themselves). At least I can be happy that the Academy of Arts and Sciences had the good sense not to nominate the incredibly unfunny Jay Leno...

While I have griped a good deal in this post, I must admit that for the most part I am happy with this year's nominations. Mad Men (easily the best show on television), 30 Rock, and The Office all received nominations this year (Mad Men received several). And many of my favourite actors, including Hugh Laurie, Jon Hamm, Tina Fey, and January Jones were all nominated. Now I can only hope that, even though it was nominated, Friday Night Lights won't somehow win in a category!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

NBC, I Told You So

In January I predicted that Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show would be a disaster of catastrophic proportions.Indeed, in the early months of this year Leno became the most reviled person in television, surpassed perhaps only by NBC President Jeff Zucker and once legendary NBC executive Dick Ebersol. Those who favoured Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show over NBC retaining Conan O'Brien seemed about as rare as the dodo bird. Quite simply, NBC seemed poised for a ratings disaster, while any repuations Zucker and Ebersol might have had for great programming decisions was ruined once and for all. Quite simply, they had made one of the great mistakes in television history.

NBC trumpeted Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show as if he was Napoleon returning from Elba, all the while viewers and critics predicted his return would be closer akin to the introduction of New Coke. In truth it seems as if both NBC and its naysayers were wrong. Leno's ratings were not the triumph that NBC apparently thought it would be. At the same time, however, they were not as low as many of us thought they would be. In fact, even though Leno's ratings were lower than Conan O'Brien's ratings had been, he was still beating David Letterman and his ratings were hardly catastrophic. I am guessing NBC was disappointed that their beloved Jay had not proven to be the ratings giant they had thought he would be. I am also guessing that Conan's supporters and Leno's critics were disappointed that Jay's ratings were not the catastrophe they should have been (I know that I was). Now, however, it seems that those of us who predicted Leno's return to late night would be a catastrophe were right, it was simply our timing that was wrong.

It seems that in the second quarter of this year, the first full quarter on which Jay Leno has been hosting The Tonight Show, he posted his lowest ratings since 1993. Indeed, these ratings are actually lower than the ratings Conan O'Brien recieved during his all too short stint as the host of The Tonight Show. What is worse, ABC's Nightline, once a consistent third behind The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman, now regularly beats both The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman in the ratings. It would then seem that those of us who predicted Jay Leno's return to The Tonight Show would be a disaster were absolutely right.

This situation is made all the more worse for NBC in that the network is paying Jay Leno $30 million per year, nearly twice that they played Conan O'Brien, which was only $15 million per year. And while it is hard to believe for many of us given the quality of the show these days, Leno has a production staff larger than that Mr. O'Brien had, a fact which could actually mean The Tonight Show now loses more money than it takes in! Given that television networks exist primarily to make money, this is hardly an ideal situation for NBC.

The folly in NBC returning Jay Leno to The Tonight Show is even reflected in the Emmy nominations issued this morning. The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien was nominated for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series. Neither The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (which won the award only once, in 1995) nor The Late Show with David Letterman (nominated several times and winning several times) were nominated. It would seem that it is not only viewers who prefer Mr. O'Brien to Leno, but the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as well!

What makes all of this a greater folly on NBC's part is that they should have known better than to return Jay Leno to The Tonight Show. Jay Leno's primetime show was such a catastrophe that it not only drew extremely low ratings itself, but if torpedoed the ratings for the late night news programmes of NBC affiliates nationwide and even affected the ratings of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien--that Mr. O'Brien did as well as he did in the ratings only proves just how loyal and large his following is. Even worse than Jay Leno's prime time disaster, the moment NBC he announced he would be returning to The Tonight Show, he became one of the most reviled figures in television history. In fact, the only people who still liked Leno seemed to be NBC and his fans, mostly middle aged to elderly women (hardly the 18-49 demographic for whom NBC and the other networks lust). In NBC deciding to go ahead and return Jay Leno amidst the numerous protests at this return was not only foolhardy, it was downright stupid. It would seem to be one of the greatest mistakes in programming history (alongside giving Jay Leno a primetime series to begin with).

Tragically for NBC, this could not have come at a worse time. NBC is about to be taken over by monolithic cable company Comcast in a $28 billion deal. I rather suspect that Comcast is not pleased by the fact that NBC returned Jay Leno to The Tonight Show when good sense dictated they keep Conan O'Brien. And they are probably even less pleased with the results of that decision, the fact that The Tonight Show is losing money hand over fist. If I were Jeff Zucker or Dick Ebersol, I would be very worried about my job. Indeed, I think both Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol, particularly Ebsersol (who not only appears to have lost all programming savvy, but appears to be an outright jerk as well), should issue an apology to both Conan O'Brien and television viewers. Most of all, I would ditch Jay Leno at the earliest opportunity. It is true he has a two year contract with NBC. It is true it would cost NBC a good deal of money to fire Leno now. That having been said, it might cost NBC less to send Leno packing than to keep him on the air!

What makes all of this utterly sad is that NBC has such an illustrious history. NBC is the oldest broadcast network in the United States and one of the oldest in the world (in fact, only the BBC may be older). In 1929 it was NBC who aired what may have been the first nationally broadcast sitcom (admittedly, it was Amos 'n' Andy). n 1939 NBC became the first network to air regularly scheduled television broadcasts. NBC was the first to offer an early morning news programme (The Today Show), the first to offer a late night programme (Broadway Open House), the first to broadcast a programme in colour in 1953, and the first to broadcast in stereo in 1984. NBC was the network which first broadcast such classic shows as Mr. Peepers, Dragnet, Peter Gunn, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, and Crime Story. It does cause me a bit of pain to see how Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol drove the nation's oldest and one of its most esteemed networks to an all time low. I can only imagine company founder General David Sarnoff is spinning in his grave. I can only hope that the network comes to its senses and not only fires Jay Leno, but apologise to Conan O'Brien and their viewers for the mess they have made. Maybe then, and maybe only then, they could salvage something out of a catastrophe they created.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Movie Producer Elliott Kastner R.I.P.

Elliott Kastner, an executive producer on more than 70 movies, passed on June 30 at the age of 80.

Elliott Kastner was born on January 7, 1930 in New York City. He attended the University of Miami and also served in the United States Army. At some point, whether before or after his time in the Army, Mr. Kastner worked in the mail room at the William Morris Agency. In 1959 he moved to Los Angeles and went to work for MCA, then the most powerful agency in the United States. It was after MCA merged with Decca Records, which then owned Universal Pictures, that Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA, appointed Elliott Kastner vice president of production for Universal. Mr. Kastner remained with the studio for two years before going out on his own as an independent producer.

The first film Elliott Kastner produced was Bus Riley's Back in Town (1965). For the rest of the Sixties he produced such films as Harper (1966), Kaleidoscope (1966), the classic war film Where Eagles Dare (1968), and The Walking Stick (1970). In the Seventies he produced such films as When Eight Bells Toll (1971),11 Harrowhouse (1974), an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, (1975), Swashbuckler (1976), The Big Sleep (1978), and Mr. Horn (1979). In the Eighties, Nineties, and Naughts he produced such films as Oxford Blues (1984), Heat (1986), Angel Heart (1987), Jack's Back (1988), Frank & Jesse (1995), and Sweet November (2001).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Defence of "The Star Spangled Banner"

Before anything else, I wish my fellow Americans a happy "4th of July!" It is this day that brings me to this post, on a subject that has concerned me for literally years. For many years--in fact, ever since I was a child--there have been those who have argued that "America the Beautiful"  should replace "The Star Spangled Banner" as the national anthem of the United States of America. In fact, I am not exactly sure when the movement to make "America the Beautiful" our national anthem began. Regardless, it is something I oppose with nearly every fibre of my being.

To examine this issue, it might do well to know the history of the two songs. "The Star Spangled Banner" has its origins in a poem written by Francis Scott Key entitled "The Defence of Fort McHenry." Mr. Key wrote the poem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by ships of the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812, seeing that the American flag was still flying over the fort afterwards (that flag is now enshrined in the Smithsonian). The poem's words were eventually set to the tune of "The Anacreontic Song," the official song of the Anacreontic Society in London, often attributed to John Stafford Smith and written in the 1760's. For some time during the 19th Century, "The Star Spangled Banner" competed with "My Country 'Tis of Thee (sung to the tune of "God Save the Queen") and "Hail, Columbia (now forgotten)" as the country's unofficial, national anthem. As the 19th Century passed, "The Star Spangled Banner" began to grow in popularity. It started being played at 4th of July celebrations and other public events. On July 27, 1889 then Secretary of the Navy enacted General Order #374, which made "The Star Spangled Banner" the official tune to which would the Navy would raise flags. As early as 1897 it was played on opening day of baseball season in Philadelphia. In 1898 it would be played for the first time at the Polo Grounds in New York City. It was in 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson issued the order that "The Star Spangled Banner" be played before military ceremonies and other important occasions. It was on March 3, 1931 that President Herbert Hoover signed the bill that made "The Star Spangled Banner" the official national anthem of the United States of America.

As to "America the Beautiful," its origins rest in the poem "America," written by Katherine Lee Bates. Miss Bates was inspired to write the poem after a train trip from Wellesy College in Massachusetts to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1893. The poem was published under the title "America" in 1895 in The Congregationalist, a church publication. For many years it was sung to a variety of tunes, including "Auld Lang Syne." Its modern tune came about in 1910 Samuel A. Ward set the poem to the tune of the hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem," at which point it was given its current title. Over the years it would prove rather popular, with notable versions, including ones by Ray Charles, Tennessee Earnie Ford, Judy Garland, and Elvis Presley.

There were those who argued for "America the Beautiful" as the national anthem even before the United States had a national anthem. As early as the 1920's there were those who argued for the adoption of "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem, although at that point there were many more who favoured "The Star Spangled Banner." At no point since then  has there not been at least a few people who have argued on behalf of "America the Beautiful" as the national anthem of the United States of America, but the idea would not really begin to pick up steam until the Eighties, when a majority of readers responding to a 1989 Parade magazine poll voted for "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem. The idea grew more popular in the Nineties, and reached a peak in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. The movement to make "America the Beautiful" our national anthem would lose some steam afterwards, although it remains quite popular to this day.

As to why anyone would want to change our national anthem from "The Star Spangled Banner" to "America the Beautiful," the song's proponents have presented various arguments over the years. One that is quite popular is that "The Star Spangled Banner" is simply difficult to sing. To properly sing "The Star Spangled Banner" it takes a vocal range of around an octave and a half, something most people do not possess. While I must admit it can be a difficult song to sing, to me this is not a valid argument for several reasons. The first is that if "The Star Spangled Banner" is hard to sing as it stands now, why don't we simply sing it in the original key of G minor in which the original tune was composed? This argument has been made by Garrison Kellor, who points out that this can be managed by the average singer with little problem. Second, the argument that "Star Spangled Banner" is hard to sing ignores the fact that "America the Beautiful" is even harder to sing. Indeed, the chorus of "America the Beautiful" is difficult for the average person to sing without sounding like he or she is shouting! Only a handful of singers have ever sung "America the Beautiful" properly, and many more (even professional singers) have not. Third, I do not think we should choose our national anthem according to how hard it is to sing. Human beings vary in their ability to sing, and there are some for whom even "The Star Spangled Banner" sung in G minor would be a stretch. If we were to choose our national anthem according to something every, single American could sing, then we would  have to ditch both "The Star Spangled Banner" and the even more difficult to sing  "America the Beautiful" in favour of a rap song or spoken poem.

Second, there are those who object to the imagery of war present in "The Star Spangled Banner." Indeed, the lyrics describe "bombs bursting in air" and "the rocket's red glare." This is natural, given that the lyrics are based on a real life incident that occurred in an actual war. Here it must be pointed out, however, that while "The Star Spangled Banner" describes a situation during a war, it in no way glorifies war. Indeed, what it is describing is the defence of American soil against an attack from an enemy and our victory against that enemy. The British attack on Fort McHenry was essentially an attempt to invade Baltimore--the fort lying in the city's harbour. Had we not won the battle, the British would have taken Baltimore. Many of my fellow Americans seem to forget the significance of the War of 1812. Not only was it the last time that another country invaded American soil, but it is quite possible that had the United States lost the war, it could have simply become a collection of British colonies again. While "The Star Spangled Banner" does reference war, then, it is describing a pivotal moment in our history when we were defending our nation in a battle on which the survival of that nation depended. I can think of nothing more inspiring than that.

While it seems to me that objections to "The Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem simply are not valid, it seems to me that there are objections to making "America the Beautiful" our national anthem which are quite valid, beyond the fact that it is hard to sing. Indeed, I must point out that unlike "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" frequently mentions "God." Now here I must emphatically state that I am not against organised religion (in fact, I consider myself very religious), but the fact remains that in the United States we have these ideas of separation of church and state as well as freedom of religion. The use of the word "God" in a national anthem is then unacceptable. The fact is that not every American is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. There are many who are atheists or agnostics, and many more who belong to other faiths who might have many gods or simply one god, whom they do not call "God." In using the word "God," then, "American the Beautiful" would then seem to favour Christianity, Islam and  Judaism over other faiths. For a country built upon both separation of church and state and freedom of religion , this is unacceptable.

Of course, other lyrics in the song are objectionable for similar reasons. Among its lines are "Oh, beautiful for pilgrim's feet." Now the Pilgrims were a religious sect which left Britain to practise their brand of Christianity without concerns from the Church of England. As a religious sect the Pilgrims hardly represent all Americans. Just as the Pilgrims left England so they could practise their religion as they saw fit, others left England for other reasons. My ancestors on my mother's side were Cavaliers fleeing the Cromwellian tyranny. Indeed, Jamestown was settled before the arrival of the Pilgrims on American shores. The reference to pilgrim's feet is then objectionable as it refers to a religious group (taking us back to the separation of church and state) and it hardly represents every one of the settlers in what would become the United States (the vast majority of us whose forebears did not come over on the Mayflower).

Beyond these objections, I have those of my own, which I must admit are subjective rather than objective. As I said earlier, I find "The Star Spangled Banner" very inspiring as it describes the defence of the United States against an enemy. Indeed, it includes the lines "land of the free and the home of the brave," invoking the ideal character of the country. While "The Star Spangled Banner" speaks to our character, however, all "America the Beautiful" mostly does is speak of the grandeur of the countryside itself. True, there are lines which speak of "a thoroughfare of freedom" and "thy liberty in law," but these seems to be lost amidst the references to "fruited plains" and "alabaster cities." While "The Star Spangled Banner" addresses the American soul, "America the Beautiful" simply addresses its landscape. It is little more than a travelogue of the United States as it existed in the 1890's. I do not find this particularly rousing myself (and here I must apologise to my Canadian friends, but I find "O Canada" uninspiring for the same reasons). It speaks to nothing of the idealised character of our country or even national pride.

To sum it up, "America the Beautiful" is difficult to sing. If made our national anthem it would violate the separation of church and state. And it says nothing of the character of our country or national pride. On the other hand, "The Star Spangled Banner" is easier to sing (especially in G minor), it does not violate the seperation of church and state, and it says a good deal about our national character and national pride. It is for that reason I do not understand why anyone would want to adopt "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem. I for one am not inspired by it. I feel no pride when I hear it. On the other hand, even if it was not custom to do so, I would rise to my feet for "The Star Spangled Banner." Not only is "The Star Spangled Banner" a more ideal national anthem than "America the Beautiful," to me it is a far superior song.