Tuesday, May 3

Patriotism


My goals for this blog never included any sort of a political slant, and in fact I generally shy away from political discussions in my everyday life. I just do not feel comfortable wearing my politics on my sleeve. I think politics are dirty and volatile and I’m more likely to talk to strangers about sex than I am to talk about how and why I voted last term. One thing I have no problem with wearing, however, is my patriotism and my love for many things (but not all things) American (hence my undying love for American flag clothing, particularly bikinis).

In light of Sunday night’s announcement that U.S. forces killed anti-American terrorist Osama bin Laden, there has been a lot of talk of patriotism and what it means that we all feel such a swell of American pride when we’ve murdered one of our enemies. It’s my opinion that what many of us are feeling isn’t really patriotism, but rather a solidarity with our countrymen that Americans in America don’t often feel. We’re a highly individualistic culture, so rather than relate to each other over simply being American, we often have to find smaller, niche-ier things that we feel compose each and every one of us as individuals, but also, in turn, allow us to relate to each other. “Oh, you like such and such writer? I like such and such writer!” Like that. It is generally very hard for us as Americans to relate to or even agree with one another because we are all so vastly different.

However, very few Americans celebrate or pardon the September 11th attacks. In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of us, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, politics, etc., all thought it was a pretty fucked up thing to do. 9/11 brought many of us together because we all thought it was totally horrible and we all took it personally. It’s not a feeling of American pride or patriotism that did that, but rather a solidarity and collectivism brought on by a similar emotion that most people felt. The death of Osama bin Laden has done the same thing. We are all of the same mind that his death and the fact the world now has one less bad guy is a good thing. It’s not a patriotic feeling, but a collective one that is easily misconstrued as patriotism.

What I struggle with here isn’t the celebration of a murder (because I didn’t celebrate it), but rather the sudden explosion of American pride that people are feeling. Many of my apologetically-American, hyper-liberal friends are even feeling especially patriotic lately when they generally have nothing good to say about our country. I find that upsetting. There are many, many things about America to be proud of and the bottom of that list is us killing Osama bin Laden.

You know what makes me proud of America? We elected a non-white person to our highest government office. When is that going to happen in the ultra-liberal countries of Europe? When is a minority going to be president or prime minister of other countries that we consider to be more progressive than our own? Maybe we haven’t elected a woman and we still treat many of our minorities like second class citizens, but we’re not the only ones, and God dammit, we’ve got a black man in the White House and I think that’s amazing. That’s something to be proud of.

The thing that really makes me feel patriotic is American arts, and if you’re an American and listening to great American music, watching great American movies/plays, reading great American writing, or looking at great American art doesn’t make you totally psyched to be one of us, that’s sad and I think maybe you should leave because you're a bummer. Our national identity, our totally crazy amalgam of people from different backgrounds and cultures and ideas, it’s all incredible and it makes for incredible art. We are special! There is no other culture like our own and it's great.

Personally, my favorite thing ever is American writers. Nothing makes me more prideful or patriotic or, honestly, even a little nationally biased, than our writers. So what, we haven’t got Shakespeare up to bat, but we’ve got Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, Li-Young Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Langston Hughes, Raymond Carver, Shirley Jackson, Ellen Gilchrist, and Toni Morrison who, okay maybe this is crazy and you’ll disagree, but I’m honestly starting to believe she may be the greatest author to ever live and write. And these are just my favorite American writers! There are so many great American authors to be proud of.

And there are so many great American things and people and ideas to be proud of, and none of them are murders or wars. There is plenty to be ashamed of in our past, and we’re never going to escape or rise above those things. God, I can’t even list all the terrible shit that is in America’s past or present, and there’s going to be plenty more in the future, but we are not a country with a single story and there is so much more to our national makeup than politics and government and war. America is not simple or black/white or uncomplicated or untroubled, but nobody and nothing is.

This is a really great talk that I've been thinking about since I first saw it a couple months ago in class and I definitely had it on my mind when I wrote this. I hope you'll watch it and take it to heart because it's very inspiring and it's important to remember that there is good and bad in everything, and if you start buying a single American story you’re missing out on countless other American stories, and many of them won’t depress you or make you feel ashamed.


1 comment:

jason said...

This is the most wonderful commentary on patriotism I've ever read. We are millions of stories. You (and the video) also make me realize that Ramon has taught me the same thing about Mexico.

I love American literature. What other literature has such a range of flavors, has such courage when it comes to ethnic and religious ambiguities, and can be so critical without falling back on the traditional models of cultural criticism?

The secretary of the Nobel prize committee, discussing why American authors won't be chosen for the Nobel, said:

"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world ... not the United States."

"The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."


But I think we are the only major source of literature that still has a native sense of the poetry of prose. At least our "ignorance" in literature keeps us from obsessing about identity, leaving energy to explore our own language and place, which, going back to the purpose of this blog entry, have a million different histories.