Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 9, 2011

Christina Aguilera Misquotes Constitution at Tea Party Convention!

I’ve been thinking about this all week. What? Oh? No, not Christina Aguilera’s understandable slip-up on the incomprehensible¬†lyrics of our archaic National Anthem at the Super Bowl. (If you are one of my readers from another country to whom this sentence makes absolutely no sense, please see the editor’s note at the bottom of this article.)

Instead, I’ve been thinking about SEO. SEO, in the cybersphere, stands for “Search Engine Optimized.” SEO is in the news this week because AOL bought the online news amalgamator, Huffington Post, for something over $300 million. Huffpost, as it’s commonly known, has been an enormously successful enterprise thanks to their aggressive loading of headlines and story ledes with key words that are “trending” in online searches. I wrote the title of today’s blog to serve as an example of how this practice works. ¬†Even though I’m going to write about the differences between responsible reportage and pandering, I’ve packed the title with some trendy words that are likely to be picked up by search engines, so that anyone looking for articles about C.A. or the U.S. Constitution or the Tea Party movement may find my blog and click here. Of course, if they do, they’ll be utterly disappointed, because there are no photos or recordings of the beautiful and talented Ms. A., no insightful articles about the Constitution and no references to drinking tea with reactionary dolts. The Huffington Post, however, is the acknowledged world champion at the practice and, since their site makes money via advertising, the more clicks they receive, the more money they make, so they pander to any trendy topic by packing references to the latest hot items in all their articles.

I’ve written about this before. I could follow this same model of referring to current topics and celebrities and so on, although, since there’s no money to be made here, the only gain is to some weird part of my ego, and even that wouldn’t be very satisfying, since I like to think that my select body of faithful readers comes here to find out interesting stuff about California or literature or travel, or at least to get a laugh or two.

Even with my fairly lame title, I guarantee you that I’ll get a handful of hits from people who will be utterly disappointed when they find what’s not here.

This is the conundrum of writing for the Web. If you don’t write about things that people are looking for, and if you’re not an Established Author or a Celebrity, you will have a very small audience: a “select” audience, as I prefer to call you. But, since the goal of all writers is to make a lot of money and win the Nobel Prize or at least the Goncourt, Pulitzer, Man, Booker or Other prizes, you gotta have readers. Huffpost has cracked the code (although whether they ever actually win a Pulitzer — the only prize they’re likely to be qualified for — is another matter, since most of what they actually write is condensed dreck). Got clicks. Got readers. Got three hundred mil from AOL. Bingo.

I do my best with the tags I attach to each post: whether the subject of a post is Marcel Proust or Thomas Pynchon or Anza-Borrego State Park, I put in a reasonable number of relevant words and phrases that search engines will pick up so that people looking for articles on those subjects might find Under Western Skies. It’s remarkable how many hits I get that way. I wrote a piece titled “Sex Life in Ancient Rome” many months ago (which was not ABOUT that subject, per se), and it’s interesting to see how often someone finds this blog by searching for some version of that phrase. I wrote a short series about a trip to Palm Springs, including a piece about the large roadside attraction between L.A. and P.S. that consists of larger-than-life figures of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Apatosaurus. Well, lots of people, it turns out, are searching for things like “roadside attraction” and “Giant T-Rex roadside figure.” Those are accidents.

There are more sensible ways to make a living with this writing gig that do not necessarily involve blatant pandering to public taste. If I wanted to write about politics, there are oodles of political publications. There are sites and magazines that cover travel and literature and, well, everything I write about here. And I’ll do that. But, meanwhile, I’m satisfied to be here, with my select audience. Will AOL ever call? No. Who needs ’em?

Editor’s note: It is common practice at sporting events in the U.S. to play the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is a wacky set of lyrics describing the bombardment of Ft. McHenry by British ships during the War of 1812. The lyrics are as bizarre and labored an assembly of phrases as anyone can imagine, demonstrating the incredible ability of the English language to generate tortured syntax. Take the first two lines: “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?” The object referred to is the flag flying over the fort, although you kind of have to get that from the title, or you’d never guess it. The song’s author wrote this mass of doo-dah to be sung along with a popular drinking song of the era, and it’s as impossible for a non-operatic voice to sing as the lyrics are to remember. In any stadium crowd of 50,000 people, there typically are NO individuals who actually know the words or have the vocal range for this ditty, usually including whatever poor soul has been trotted out to perform it. At last week’s Super Bowl, the sacrificial lambie-pie was the pop diva, Christina Aguilera, who messed up some of the lyrics. No big deal. There’s not an American outside of our U.S. armed forces bands who has actually mastered these lyrics, nor can any American you will find tell you in what actual war, bombardment, location or era the events occurred. Still, cries to have “Blue Suede Shoes” declared the new national anthem go unheeded by an unresponsive Congress.


  1. You just get better and better. My favorite so far, although there have been many favorites. Keep doing this.


  2. I’m not sure how extensive your stat tracking is, but I’m hoping to be your first visitor viewing from an android phone. Under Western Skies looks pretty good on a screen the size of a business card.


    • Brian, to my knowledge, you ARE the first. Thanks for the feedback. I’ve seen the site on my Huckleberry, and it seems kinda so-so.


  3. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I, too, am one of those Americans who can’t seem to remember those tortured lyrics. And the music that accompanies the lyrics — ayyy yah! At least there is some consistency there: both are really bad. This mess could only have become our National Anthem by some ugly bureaucratic compromise, to wit: a Congressional Vote. (Example: I’ll vote for this lousy song if you’ll agree to fund my Bridge to Nowhere.)

    However, at least I can count myself among the distinguished few who actually did know the historical context in which our Grand Ditty was written. Perhaps the songwriter can be forgiven for trying to write in the midst of a bombardment. Hey, how well could you do in those circumstances?


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