From predatory policing to cancel culture with a touch of schadenfreude, a few lessons from the revelation of the rock legend’s DUI last year. What kind of world are we living in?
Yesterday, the news broke that bonafide music legend, Bruce Springsteen, was arrested in November for suspicion of DUI, reckless driving, and consuming alcohol in a closed area, whatever precisely that means. Adding the requisite insult to injury, the rocker was locked up on his home turf, at Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, NJ.
According to the New York Post, Springsteen was riding his motorcycle on the Sandy Hook peninsula when he stopped to take pictures with fans. For anyone that lives in NJ, this is hardly an uncommon occurrence; as one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world, Bruce sightings are frequent in the area as is his penchant for stopping and chatting.
Sandy Hook itself is a narrow peninsula with a strip of beach on both sides, literally one straight road in and out, about 15 miles north of Springsteen’s old stomping ground in Asbury Park, NJ. The Boss has been known to frequent Sandy Hook for motorcycle rides and, unlike most superstars of his stature, he usually travels without any entourage, making him easily accessible to just about anyone that recognizes him.
This particular time, however, he was unaware that the cops were watching the encounter, looking to write some tickets or make some arrests.
While still sitting on his motorcycle, one of the fans he was chatting with asked him if he wanted a shot of tequila. Bruce said yes, did one shot, and then the Park Police promptly pulled him over as soon as he left the scene. “Bruce stopped, took the pictures, then a fan offered him a shot of liquor, which he took, while sitting on his bike, which was stationary,” the New York Post quotes a source close to the rocker. “Park Police saw what happened and they immediately pulled Springsteen over as he drove away.”
Additional reporting by USA Today indicates Springsteen’s blood alcohol content was only .02 percent, one quarter of the legal limit in New Jersey and about what you would expect after a single shot of tequila. The National Park Service says he was cooperative throughout the process, and he will soon appear in Federal Court in Newark, NJ, Gateway National Recreation area being US government land.
Reaction from the fan community was muted. “The reaction I’m getting from fellow fans is one of disappointment and caution,” said John Kelly of the Brucebook Facebook group. “Lots of people concurring that he is just like us — fallible.” Audrey Hunn of the Calling Bruce Springsteen Fans! Facebook group said something similar, “He is a fine man who has spent his life sharing his ‘magic trick’ with his fans and of late more of his personal self than ever before. He is a human being with flaws just like the rest of us.”
The corporate community was not so forgiving, however. Less than three days after Springsteen appeared in his first ever commercial, Jeep yanked the ad, “The Middle,” which had close to 40,000,000 views as of Tuesday, from YouTube. In a statement, they noted it “would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate,” but “it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established.”
Me? I’m wondering if we needed any more evidence that the world has, in fact, lost its freaking mind. Rarely does a single story about a celebrity touch on so many peripheral issues, from predatory policing to a general lack of anything resembling common sense.
First, if anyone has ever wondered why many of us on both the right and the left have concerns about police tactics circa 2021, this is it. If the Park Police on Sandy Hook are surveilling aging rock stars who might have had a sip of alcohol and then promptly arresting them without anything resembling real probable cause, what do you think they are doing to average people, much less poor white, black, and brown people?
I’m not trying to minimize the danger of DUI, but this case is far from that: There is no indication that the police observed any behavior indicating Springsteen was intoxicated. There was no traffic incident. He was not speeding, swerving, or involved in any accident. Rather, the police witnessed him taking what they believed to be one single shot, which they would’ve known wasn’t enough to be charged, and then they laid in wait to arrest him.
Think of the other ways this could have been handled. I understand that cops have a job to do, but they couldn’t have just stopped him and said they saw him have a drink and can’t let him drive away on his own?
Of course, Springsteen is fabulously wealthy and has an army of lawyers. He will be fine, but what will happen to you the next time you have a glass of wine with your significant other at dinner? This isn’t the way driving under the influence was supposed to work when they started cracking down during the 1980’s. The goal back then was public safety, or at least they said it was. Today, they’re raising money from frivolous arrests, as they are with many other minor infractions.
How do I know it’s frivolous? That brings me to the second point: Common sense appears to be at an all time low. It’s inconceivable that an experienced police officer can’t tell the difference between one drink and drunk. There’s no doubt in my mind that they knew Springsteen wasn’t a risk to public safety, but they arrested him anyway on the off chance the breathalyzer returned a winning number for them.
They cared nothing for a citizen’s wasted time, embarrassment, and expense. Again, this is Bruce Springsteen, and he can obviously handle it, but what about you? What about a 21 year old black man in a disadvantaged neighborhood? I’m sure the Boss, to paraphrase his own lyrics, will look back on this and it will all seem funny, but the same cannot be said about most people in the same predicament.
Let me put this another way: If they’re going to lock up one of the most highest profile people in the world in his own backyard for the crime of having one drink, what exactly would they not do to the rest of us? Generally speaking, I’m a big believer in the equal application of the law, but imagine these cops arresting and charging a living legend without pausing to think what the hell am I doing here, is it worth it?
If they’ll do that to Bruce, they’ll do much worse to you. Moreover, it seems to me that policing like this necessarily leads to conflicts. Springsteen was cooperative throughout, but he also has nothing to lose. It’s not hard to imagine someone else getting agitated over such a minor incident, leading to a major incident.
Then there’s Jeep’s immediate reaction, effectively cancelling the ad in less than 24 hours based purely on an accusation. There was no court appearance or statement from Springsteen, much less an actual conviction on the charges, and yet an ad viewed almost 40,000,000 times, one they presumably spent millions of dollars to produce and air, was unceremoniously yanked. This is after Jeep was the fifth most talked about brand of the Super Bowl, generating 147,000 engagements, an increase 11 fold from their previous numbers.
Ironically, the content of the ad itself was about finding common ground in the middle. In the commercial, Springsteen intones, “It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear. Now fear has never been the best of who we are, and as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few, it belongs to us all. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, it’s what connects us, and we need that connection. We need the middle.” The singer turned gravelly voiced combination of sage and pitchman concludes, “We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground, so we can get there. We can make it to the mountaintop through the desert, and we will cross this divide. Our light has always found its way through the darkness. And there’s hope on the road up ahead.”
Apparently, that “common ground” in the “middle” doesn’t include basic American conceptions of fairness like due process or just due consideration and deliberation. Cancel culture moves too fast for such considerations as we race into the “road up ahead.” If this incident is any indication, the road up ahead leads right off a cliff.
Can someone, anyone just wait at least day until the facts are in?
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there’s also a little schadenfreude in play here, at least from my perspective. The Boss is one of my idols, but even I can’t say it’s not a little “sadly” funny to see him publicly embarrassed for something that could happen to any of us out on a Friday night with our loved ones, and then dumped from his latest venture less than three full days into it without any consideration of the facts. Moreover, Bruce is as far from the middle on the left as I am on the right, listening to him proclaim the necessity of the middle is more than a little delusional.
When I step back, however, I wonder what kind of world we are living in. Seriously, if a 71-year old rock legend can’t have a single shot of tequila with a fan and take off on his motorcycle into a Jersey sunset, what’s the point of it all?