One last thing on oil: The Chant, baby, chant solution

Posted by Rob Walker on October 31, 2008
Posted Under: America,Olde News

Speaking of oil … I just read the phrase “drill, baby, drill” for the millionth time, and it finally occurred to me to stop and think from whence this pro-oil chant is derived.

That would be, if I’m not mistaken, “burn, baby, burn,” a phrase associated with the 1960s riots. According to BlogCritics Magazine (about which I actually know nothing, it’s just the first useful thing that Google took me to), a 1965 Newsweek article about the Watts riots included “one of the first” print references to that phrase. BlogCritics continues:

Made infamous by the riots, [the phrase] was first used by a disc jockey known as Magnificent Montague when he was working in New York and Chicago in ’63 and ’64.  He’s shout it any time a piece of soul music got him excited, and he brought it with him to Los Angeles where his listeners appropriated it for the arson that marked the riots.  During those terrible days, his station manager and even Mayor Yorty asked Magnificent Montague to give up his slogan.  He did, at least while the fires were hot, changing to:  “Have Mercy, Los Angeles!”

At first I thought, well, obviously the people chanting “Drill, baby, drill” don’t know or aren’t thinking about the phrase they are referencing.

But another possibility occurs to me.  It’s obviously a fantasy that America’s much-discussed “dependence on foreign oil” is something that can be significantly changed by domestic drilling, no matter what deregulation occurs. But maybe the chanters know that  — and are invoking the rioters of the 1960s intentionally.

That is, maybe they simply believe in the power of destructive spectacle: If we burn it all down or in this case drill it all to nothing, then somehow, from the ashes, from the ruins, a productive revolution of some kind emerges at some unspecified time in the future. Or if it doesn’t, at least some kind of pent-up emotion, or rage, has been released and spent. And when that catharsis is complete, we can sift through wreckage and the ashes and the spent remains, and start over.

If so, I can only say quote the Magnificent Montague: “Have mercy.”

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

And here I only associated the phrase with the song “Disco Inferno” from 70s Top 40 radio. I’ve never studied the riots of the 60s, though I probably should because they are much of the reason my family moved out of Detroit.

More on topic, crowds pick up chants fed to them, and “build sustainable energy sources that don’t destroy our environment!” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. But this is the first election cycle that I’ve heard this particular chant, and I wonder if it’s simply a new tactic designed to put a populist face on the subject, all other prior tactics having failed. “The people demand it!” may be more compelling than “we have to save ourselves from dependency” or “we can do this safely”–boring messages that all translate back to “we could make a killing up there.”

Written By chip on October 31st, 2008 @ 9:58 am

Interesting idea, Rob, but I think that gives the chanters way too much credit. I would argue there is no way all those folks at McCain-Palin rallies yelling “drill, baby, drill” are (a) that ecologically minded or (b) think more than a couple years down the road. If this election has proved anything, it’s that paper-thin ideas — even, or especially, if incorrect (viz. Obama is a Muslim) — when repeated, become dogma. Many keep saying that drilling in the U.S. will be of little benefit in the long run, but it makes no headway.

LIke Chip, I, too, figured the chant to be a derivation from that song. Not that anybody using it is necessarily thinking about that, but the association gives the idea of offshore drilling an upbeat feel.

Written By Braulio on October 31st, 2008 @ 10:56 am

Yeah. My analysis of the chanters referring to riots was supposed to be funny, but upon re-reading … well, that didn’t come across, and that’s what happens sometimes when I bang these things out in five minutes. Ah well. Anyway, I’m quite sure y’all are right that they are thinking of the disco song, or mostly likely of nothing specific.

I am a little surprised that it carries no associate to the riots at all though. I’m not exactly a history buff, but that stuff was … a big deal.

Anyway, I’ll work on a good chant for the eco friendly.

Written By Rob Walker on November 1st, 2008 @ 3:52 pm
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