BY JONATHAN VALANIA So, the National Constitution Center went and did a dumb thing. They went and told 14-year-old Ayla Potamkin [pictured below, far right] that her love-letter-in-song to America would be featured in last week’s Liberty Medal award ceremony. More accurately, they told her rich-man father, he of the Potamkin auto dealer empire. Or even more accurately, her rich-man father’s proxies, consigliere-to-the-powerful Ed Rendell and advertising exec Elliott Curson, no doubt completing the circle of some unspoken quid pro quo started years ago, presumably when Rendell was still a political actor. But, to be clear, that’s just speculation.
The song is called “America” and it’s all about how awesome America is, and how lucky Ayla is to be living in the USA, which is so awesome. Although you wouldn’t know it unless she told you, the song was inspired by the tragic shooting of Malala Yousafzai, I guess in much the same way that Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was inspired by the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Ayla is only 14, and far be it from me to discourage a young person from daring to dream of pop stardom, so I’ll put on my kid gloves along with my music critic hat and say that as solipsistic auto-tuned odes to how frickin’ awesome America is go, the song’s not bad. At the very least, it could sell a lot of six-packs and pick-up trucks. Who knows, maybe she’ll grow up to be the next Taylor Swift, because Lord knows we’ll need a new one sooner or later. I wish her luck.
(Let me be clear: Ayla is a minor and shouldn’t be expected to know better. My ire is not directed at her, rather it is directed at all the grown-ups in this silly saga who SHOULD know better.)
To accompany the song, the NCC commissioned local advertising honcho Elliott Curson to create a video [SEE BELOW] for the song, full of rippling stars and stripes, the Liberty Bell, the Statue Of Liberty, American soldiers, amber waves of grain, and an (by Pakistani cultural standards) immodestly-clad, cornsilk-haired, blue-eyed ingenue — you know, images that totally encapsulate the life experience of a young Muslim woman like Malala, and how she defied the Taliban and stood up for the right of young girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan to get an education. And then got shot in the face by Taliban assassins on her school bus and left for dead. Eureka! You nailed it again, Curson! It’s Miller time!
(Here’s a better idea for a Liberty Medal award ceremony tribute video, instead “America, F*ck Yeah!” how about a collection of taped testimonials from world leaders, humanitarians and human rights activists attesting to the extraordinary courage, incredible suffering and triumph of the will that is Malala’s story. Am I right? Of course I am. And I’m not even an advertising whiz!)
Well, when Malala’s advisors saw the video shortly before the ceremony, they had a hard time seeing how the song and the video had anything to do with Malala and was at best culturally tone deaf and at worst obnoxiously self-serving and jingoistic — like going to accept the Nobel Peace Prize (which Malala also won this year) and having to sit through some bronzed Nordic teen named Sven sing “HOORAY FOR SWEDEN!” Sensing how poorly this would play on the world stage for any number of cultural, religious and geopolitical reasons that should have been patently obvious to the people that hand out Liberty Medals to people all over the world, Malala’s handlers asked that the song and the video be dropped from the ceremony, and the NCC, after what was no doubt some heated internal discussion, wisely acceded to the wishes of their honored guest. Because, hindsight being 20/20, the video and the song should have never been greenlighted for the ceremony in the first place.
And that would be the end of it, right?
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