So Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” His name is now enshrined among a list of laureates that includes luminaries like T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
It’s a tremendous honor for the legendary singer-songwriter, that’s for sure. But it’s also stirred up its share of controversy. I won’t debate Dylan’s award—I’ll leave that to my esteemed colleagues Andrew Klavan and Ron Radosh—except to say two quick things. First, when the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to people like Yasser Arafat and Barack Obama, did it dim the luster of the prizes in other categories? And second, I like the idea of songs like “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Saved” (and, apologies to Andrew, even “It Ain’t Me, Babe”) joining the pantheon of Nobel Prize-winning literature.
But now that the reliably left-leaning Nobel Prize Committee has given Dylan an award, a funny thing has happened. The left has begun to turn on Dylan for being less than the predictable leftist they have expected him to be.
The first example comes to us from that cherished source of unbiased news, Al Jazeera. In a recent editorial, French sociologist and “media critic” Ali Saad takes the media to task for reporting the news of Bob Dylan’s award without mentioning that he—gasp—supports Israel. Saad gripes that:
…media outlets, both Arab and international, framed the story without taking issue with Dylan’s pro-Israel stance and instead portrayed him exclusively through the prism of his constructed image as defender of the oppressed.
Saad goes on to cite “Neighborhood Bully,” an early ’80s tune from Dylan that expresses support for the nation of Israel.
The song, that Stephen Holden described in The New York Times in 1983 as “an outspoken defence of Israel“, begins by stating two key precepts emphasising the Israeli perspective: first by comparing Israel to a man in exile whose enemies unjustly “claim he’s on their land”, a sentence that serves as a scolding to those who refute the legitimacy of Israel’s historic claim to Palestine’s land. Then, by metaphorically presenting Israel as a man “outnumbered by a million to one”, which postulates the frequent representation of Israel as the underdog of the Middle East.
Such a stance by an anti-war activist raises serious doubts over Dylan’s commitment to humanity and morality.
It doesn’t take much to see that Ali Saad is viewing Bob Dylan through a particular prism that few others see. As a man of Jewish heritage who has expressed deep respect for that faith, Dylan’s support for Israel—a truly oppressed nation if there ever was one—makes perfect sense. Here Saad is also ignoring the fact that the Nobel Prize is for Dylan’s artistry, not for his ideology.
In addition to Ali Saad and Al Jazeera’s hand-wringing over Israel, the Nobel folks are up in arms over the fact that Dylan hasn’t properly kowtowed to them over their bestowal of the prize. From Ultimate Classic Rock:
Bob Dylan‘s decision to not acknowledge having won the Nobel Prize for Literature, unsurprisingly, isn’t sitting too well with the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the prize. Calling it “an unprecedented situation,” an academy member has lashed out at Dylan for ignoring their attempts to contact him.
“It’s impolite and arrogant,” Per Wastberg, a Swedish writer said on SVT public television, as reported by The Guardian.
Yesterday, we reported that Dylan has rebuffed every attempt by the committee to contact him, either directly or through someone described as his “closest collaborator.” He even removed the acknowledgement of the prize from his website. They are remaining optimistic that Dylan will attend the ceremony on Dec. 10, at which point he will be given an 18-carat gold medal and a check for approximately $900,000. As of now, Dylan’s current tour is scheduled to conclude on November 23.
Here’s the thing: this organization has given a prize not to a novelist or traditional poet or some other bookish type, but to a rock star. To boot, Dylan isn’t exactly known for his sunny disposition—after all, this is a guy who even beat up a stalker in 1971—and he is probably processing the news in his own iconoclastic way. The Swedish Academy should understand that when they reach outside academia for an award, they shouldn’t necessarily expect an academic treatment in return.
The truth about Bob Dylan is that he has always defied expectations—”going electric,” converting to Christianity, performing for the pope—and even in his old age, he continues to march to his own beat. The Left shouldn’t expect him to start falling in line now.