There’s No Tim in Team: A Modest Proposal for the Political Influence of Entertainers

While growing up in a country that relentlessly bombards youth with the social conditioning to be obsessed with ice hockey, it’s not surprising that I spent a large chunk of my allowance collecting hockey cards (the rest was spent, of course, on comic books and 5 cent candies). I had a lot of great ones – a card commemorating Wayne Gretzky’s “1000th point,” heck, I think I had the card of every Edmonton Oiler that was later sold off or traded for a profit at a loss to the community. Yep, I had a pretty big collection. Also, I think I have bitterness issues still resonating from the late 1980s and early 90s.

This card is tucked up under my 50 mission Cap

Another card that stands out in my mind is one of the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the White House after they won the Stanley Cup. I remember thinking it was pretty cool that the team was being recognized for what they’d achieved together; and like most I was also a bit taken aback by Jaromír Jágr’s haircut. Since then, whether I liked the team or not, or liked the President or not, I’ve always gotten a kick out of seeing athletes visit the White House when they’ve done something pretty darn remarkable. Not bad for a bunch of entertainers. And also since then, perhaps most importantly, Jágr’s mullet now has its own facebook page.

wait until he grows out the back

So when I heard that Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tim Thomas publicly backed out of his team’s visit in the wake of their Stanley Cup victory over the Vancouver Canucks, I thought it was pretty stupid – and this was before I even knew about his political inclinations. First, he was part of a team, and this took away from what they had done together. He made it all about him – which is kind of ridiculous, ESPECIALLY since he did not even score a single goal the entire season (Not that I’ve checked the stats, I’m just guessing since he’s a goaltender). Second, it was a tradition that excluded partisan politics – it wasn’t like President Obama got to pick who he invited to his house. I had a friend that won a NCAA championship during the Bush Jr. years and his team went without complaint – they disregarded political affiliations and acted like a team – which is why they were there in the first place.

But as silly as I thought Thomas was, I thought it was even more nuts that people were actually listening to him. This is a guy that blocks fast moving pieces of hard rubber for a living. If he’s a spokesperson for anybody, it’s rich, white millionaires. He’s lucky enough to be a successful athlete in a sport that society happens to deem important. Even so, these things shouldn’t make his political opinions worth listening to any more than, say, the guy who asked you for change on your way to work this morning. The only difference between the two is Thomas was able to exploit his position by pushing his political beliefs – and have an impact. Did the guy asking for spare change give you a diatribe on the current political climate when you told him you only had a credit card? And if he did, did you take him seriously? Did you immediately alert the news media? Probably not. But really, why is somebody so high up in the entertainment industry, who you likely don’t know, worth listening to anymore than the guy right there on the street beside you? To answer my own rhetorical question: he’s not.

And so while I was up on my high horse, thinking about how much better I am than Thomas even though I have no Stanley Cups, Olympic medals, or even money, I got to comparing Thomas to all the musicians that make politics an important part of their careers – and why I was ok with them speaking up about issues, but not a millionaire skating around on ice. So this what my thought process – in point form:

1. A lot of musicians start playing music because they feel strongly about politics, one way or another. I’m just guessing, but I bet Thomas didn’t get into ice hockey because he was worried about the nuclear arms race, global warming, or how minorities are treated. He probably noticed how hockey is fun to play, and if you’re good at it you can watch money, attention, and people you’re attracted to roll in. This is different from musicians because people get into it because if you’re good at performing, you can watch money, attention, and people you’re attracted to roll in AND it gives you an outlet of personal expression and the ability to raise political issues. See, totally different.

2. While some musicians should be listened to on what they have to say, others shouldn’t. A good trifecta litmus test to tell the difference can be done by looking at their attitude and track record. For example:

MacKaye may have DIY embedded in his genetic code

  • Have they ever played a concert for the late Colonel Gaddafi or members of his family? If yes, then listen to Thomas before you listen to them – even if they give the money earned back once they “find out” who they played for. If that’s really the case, then it shows a complete lack of awareness and willingness  to do anything for a cheque – which is, afterall, the pinnacle of the entertainment industry anyways and puts them in the same league as a pro-athlete.

Oh, it was THAT Gaddafi?

  • Do they say they know nothing about politics?If yes, or no, this one is tricky either way. Cause it could mean the truth, and they don’t know anything, but the media still hounds them for answers on questions like “you have a number one dance remix, so what should be done about the Greek economic situation?” Or, “Those sure were a lot of pyrotechnics at the show tonight, how does that relate to the current tensions between Russia and Georgia?” For some reason, the media thinks these musicians’ celebrity equates with expertise in global affairs. This could also be what led Thomas to think the same thing, and he deserved the influence that comes a media megaphone.Alternatively, musicians like Duff McKagan thinks it’s bollocks for entertainers to have that kind of instant power, and he comments in his autobiography on how bizarre it was for him to suddenly be asked political questions, just because he was in a popular rock band (It’s So Easy, p. 215). And this was a guy that grew up playing in punk bands that were inherently political, and were saying things against racism and injustice. If a musician thinks maybe they shouldn’t say something just because they have a platform, maybe they do have something interesting to say afterall.

3. What would make things easier, musician or athlete, if they kept their politics inside what make them successful in the first place. So if you’re in a band, let your music do the talking for you. Take a page from Woody Guthrie and later punks, and write songs that explain how you feel about an event, issue, or particularly bad Presidential candidate. And the media, why then, they could ask you about those songs and then you could explain to them your reasons for saying what you say. Like, “this song is about the impact of the recession on American familes, and this is why I wrote it…”  And if you’re Tim Thomas, you could say “I made that glove save as a pertinent example of how American values are being stifled by the overblown excess of big government.”

Then, you can leave it up to the fan to decide for themselves what they think about what you’re saying. Even then, of course, entertainers are still going to face criticism. I was listening to the radio the other day, and the alternative station in town had a listener call in to complain that Green Day isn’t good anymore since they started singing about politics instead of girls. Apparently, like this listener, musicians aren’t allowed to grow up. The DJ readily agreed, and lamented that life would be better if politics was just kept out of music, as if the audience should dictate what people were allowed to sing about. Really? Ok, let’s see…so, if an artist was to follow that logic…

Sorry Picasso, but can you just stick to painting a guitar next time?

I think that’s where the line should be drawn. Entertainers, whether they’re musicians or professional athletes, Democrat or Republican, coffee or tea drinker, they should be able to use their talent to express their outlook, but shouldn’t exploit their social position to influence people just because they have the platform to do it. Sure, use a song or a glove save. But using an event decidedly non-political to promote a political agenda isn’t very sportsmanlike. Pick the proper place, time, and event – and always remember what team you’re on.

Explore posts in the same categories: Matters of Debate, Punk and Politics

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3 Comments on “There’s No Tim in Team: A Modest Proposal for the Political Influence of Entertainers”

  1. William A. Gilgan Says:

    I think it’s sad when an artist decides that their songs can’t be used by a politician that they don’t agree with. A good song is a good song. If I found out that Premier Redford liked the song ‘Man! I feel like a Woman’ by Shania Twain and found it inspirational, I would not assume Shania was a Redford supporter or even a Progressive Conservative. In my mind (most) artists and entertainers are not a solid foundation for political mindset and furthermore, art is something that is given, not taken back. Shame on you, Tim Thomas, You were asked to the White House because people were proud of you and felt you’d earned it.

  2. When i posted this article on my facebook page, there were a few comments I thought worth sharing below:

    Alex: I strongly disagree with Tim’s politics, but I also don’t think he should be forced to obey the NHL status quo of having no relevant voice outside of hockey. I respect anyone’s right to make a political statement, even if the foundation of their soapbox is built on irrelevant fame.

    Erin: I agree with Alex but what gets me about Tim Thomas is he makes a big splash with his political statements, going on about them on his twitter feed and facebook page (obviously wanting the public to hear them) but come media time and questions he gets defensive and refuses to answer. If you’re gonna stand on a soapbox be prepared to stand on it even when it’s not convenient for you.

    Rylan: Alex I definitively see what you’re saying – the reason why it took me so long to put this article up was because I was really questioning my usual attitude that any political statement is an important political statement, because it brings opinions into the public arena. But now I’m not so sure.

    My big problem with Tim Thomas IS that he doesn’t seem to have a relevant voice outside of hockey. He exploited an event that was for his team – not just him. Back when I was a semi-elite-ish athlete I would have never dreamt of doing something like that, and I back then I was much more politically engaged than I am today.

    And as for making a political statement – what exactly is that these days? Apparently all it has to be is a quick image or sound-bite for the press, and then let them run with it. This isn’t self-immolation, or standing in front of a tank, having a bed-in, or doing much of anything yourself really. And such a tendency, I think, indicates we’re in an extreme age of spectacle, where there’s no substance, real debate, or engagement with different ideas or values other then the ones you already have.

    Everything is becoming more tribalized – from where we get our information to who we interact with, and Tim Thomas’s “political statement” feeds right into this. Like you pointed out Erin, Thomas doesn’t back up anything he says, because he doesn’t need to anymore. The political discourse isn’t being shaped by facts (if it ever was) and instead we get celebrities on both sides of the spectrum weighing in on issues they don’t really have any expertise in, but because of their influence get to help shape the conversation. I guess that’s what I don’t like. I think we need less Tim Thomas and more Brigette Marcelle, but that might just be my own biases coming out as I rant, so I think I’ll stop here.

    Alex: I completely agree with the problematic lack of discourse surrounding his statements. It is absurd. I guess you could call it twitterfeed culture, which seems to be the real culprit here. You guys are right, Tim does nothing to further explain his actions/comments, and add context to the situation. However, is he really given a proper forum and invited to do so? The public clamp down on Tim’s actions seems like an overt form of social-normative censorship, to me. I read into the situation as a sort of intellectual discrimination, where Tim’s views are considered unfounded because he’s a hockey player. Perhaps they are unfounded, and he’s a loud mouth douche. But perhaps not. He could be an extremely informed citizen with relevant views and opinions. Unfortunately, we’ll never know due to the tribalized media forum he’s operating in.

    On another note, thanks for the writing dude. Love this!

    Rylan: Aye, that might be true. It’s disappointing we haven’t seen Thomas back things up – not supporting his comments has fueled the backlash, and maybe even led to intellectual discrimination (which you’re right to point out may have already been there before he even said anything). It’s certainly caused a lot of criticism for a lack of rigor. I’ve noticed when there’s been similar things arise in the media – but the folks in question are usually able to, if they want to, find a way to clarify what they said to the public pretty easily. To clear things up, maybe I should ask him if he wants to do a blog post!

    And thank you for the comments Alex! – you’ve brought up a lot of stuff that didn’t even cross my mind, and shows why one side should never get to dictate the whole conversation. I might post this stuff as a comment on the blog article, if that’s alright.

    Alex: Totally cool with me, I suppose I probably should’ve commented there to begin with! The question I’m left with is, is Tim’s lack of response generated by: A) his fear of the heated public response, B) advice from his publicist, or C) his inability or unwillingness to do more than make an ape-like follow-up statement. Tough to say, haha.

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