Smoke and mirrors, stripes and stars à first beat lands on nothing
Stolen for the cross in the name of God
Bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud à first beat lands on nothing
Written to the pages of the law, good lord
Delving deeper, the words, specifically the nouns, denote and connote very different things in these four lines. This is the foundation for the deeper meaning that I explore in the other, more complex degrees. The words “smoke and mirrors” have a very similar denotation and connotation because the metaphor they represent is directly related to their function and qualities in the physical world. Smoke obscures, while mirrors reflect. Combine the two and you have a very confusing situation, and that’s the connotation. “Stripes and stars” is a little more complex but the phrase is well known in America so the connotation is very clear. The denotation refers to the physical shapes stripes and stars represent, but the fact that our flag is designed with them gives it much more meaning. Our flag represents the liberty, freedom, and justice we as Americans demand and take pride in, which makes this an especially powerful metaphor that plays an important role in the songs meaning. Furthermore, there are several references to higher powers such as “cross”, “God”, and “lord” in which the denotation and connotation are also similar (cross has a denotation to Christianity, the founding religion in America). The “pages of the law” denote and connote similar but subtly different concepts as well. The physical pages in the codes of law, that the United States adopted and continuously revises, is the denotation of the phrase, however, the connotation implies an inherent moral code that is based on the American values of freedom, liberty, and equality. One of the most essential characteristics in Uncle Sam Goddam is the use of parataxis and contradiction to compare totally unrelated ideas in an effort to make effective social commentary. The first contradiction he exposes is between American pride in liberty and freedom and a magic trick of lies and confusion. He uses “smoke and mirrors” to directly contradict the American ideal of “stripes and stars” in the opening sentence to this verse. It is a bold comparison to make and it identifies exactly where he is taking the song in the following five minutes. Furthermore, Ali continues by incorporating the line “stolen for the cross in the name of God”, a contradiction within itself due to the biblical laws that prohibit stealing in any form, especially stealing things for the God whose commandments you wish to uphold. However, the most striking comparison is between the violent acts in the third line to the laws of our nation. Brother Ali expressly states that “bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud” are written in our code of laws, which he uses to both shock and intrigue the reader. The law upholds virtues that guide citizens down peaceful, moral lives, while the violent acts, that Brother Ali says are written in law, do not support that moral code at all. Brother Ali incorporates extreme contradictions into this opening verse to catch the reader’s attention and lay the framework for the rest of the song. The contradictions bring up the theory that the heinous crimes we strive to expel from society are inherently ingrained in our culture. We’ve fostered great hate (he doesn’t say what kind of hate yet) and that has undermined any sense of liberty we pride ourselves on.