maureen dowd’s idiot wind
A good friend of mine brought this insipid Maureen Dowd op-ed to my attention and I just have to retort. Basically, she accuses Bob Dylan of selling-out hardcore by playing a censored set in China. People can think what they want about Dylan’s “censored set controversy” but if you’re going to argue that he sold out, and argue it in The New York Times no less, at least be able to formulate a solid argument.
It seems to me that the strongest argument in her article is the countering one made by Sean Wilentz. Dylan isn’t the “protest singer” he once was, and has worked for decades to distance himself from that mantle. Dowd’s argument is naive and shows not just a lack of understanding of who Dylan is but also a desire to frame him in purely nostalgic terms. People have a really hard time with the fact that Dylan isn’t this righteous crusader anymore. (Of course he claims he never really was, which is probably true). It’s sort of like if a 69 year-old Superman hung up his cape and decided to just hit the lecture circuit instead of saving the world. Society has mythologized Dylan so much that people are constantly let down by his general mortality. He’s just a guy, a hugely talented guy, who has had an amazing career and continues to produce quality work while simultaneously reaping the benefit of his zenith era. Can you really blame him?
Personally, I don’t have a problem with Bob playing a censored set. I didn’t think he was going to be the lone artist that broke the oppression of the Chinese government. And I’m sure if you polled the Chinese citizens a great majority of them (who’ve never had a chance to see the legend play live) would rather have him play a censored set than no set at all. I think it’s a fine inroad in China, a chink in their armor, just to let him play at all. I am not trying to downplay the disturbing gravity of Chinese oppression, but as a politically-aware Dylan fanatic I really don’t see it as an outrage.
And I certainly don’t see this as an occasion to invoke against him his own brilliant damnation from “Masters of War,” but nice closing potshot there Maureen. . .
UPDATE: On May 13 Dylan posted a letter on his website clarifying the controversy.