The United States of America, land of my birth, land of my wounded pride, is 231 years old today. More or less. They voted on independence on July 2nd, back in Philly in 1776, and then it wasn’t until the next week that they announced it, and then King George III didn’t hear about it until August or so. Also, we’d been fighting the British troops since April of 1775, or 1770 if you want to go with the Boston Massacre as a start date, although that was more of a snowball fight gone wrong than a serious bout of armed resistance. The point is that big things like countries really don’t have a “Day One,” and especially not a constantly evolving mass like the United States.
An experiment – that’s what Jefferson called it. Ben Franklin reportedly said that the new country was “A republic, if you can keep it.” This is the sort of thing I remind myself of whenever, for instance, the President pardons Scooter Libby. Or when I have to explain to people who live here why what Scooter Libby did was really bad to begin with. Or when the people’s eyes start to glaze over after the first sentence, because explaining the implications of Plamegate is a lot tougher than saying, for instance, “blowjob intern omg.”
In other words, I’m not feeling all too patriotic right now. We’re at war, and a particularly stupid war at that, being fought in a particularly stupid way. There are no jobs and health care is a pipe dream. The system seems rigged so that the most idiotic, mean spirited people win, and if you question why that is, you get called anti-American. Gas is super-expensive, we haven’t signed the Kyoto treaty, and I haven’t seen a good movie since Borat. Which was, incidentally, about a foreigner coming here to satirize us.
There’s not really a lot I like about the country as a whole right now, and it pains me to say that, because I want to be patriotic. I want to believe that we’re doing the right thing and that we’re still the best country in the world, a land of opportunity for all. I can’t bring myself to believe that, though, because it feels naive.
However, in the interest of cheering myself up, here’s a list of things I like about this place anyway:
1) Skippy Peanut Butter.
The creamy kind. In the UK, you can’t really get proper, fake, sweet peanut butter, chock full of preservatives and chemicals. My friend Pam missed that the most when she was living there. Every time I smear an unnaturally brown globule of pseudo-PB on an apple or a pretzel, it’s like a Boston Tea Party in my mouth. Yumm.
2) The Boston Tea Party. The ride at Canobie Lake Park in the great state of New Hampshire, that is. I went on it three times last saturday and got freakin’ drenched.
3) The Simpsons. Like it or not, people around the world love The Simpsons. It’s a style of comedy we Americans do really well. If most British comedy is based on manners and class and a rebellion against stodginess and arbitrary rules, then the best American comedy is based on the lack of any such structure, and the deflating of our occasionally willful ignorance. In other words, The Simpsons is proof that we, as a country, get our own joke.
4) We invent neat stuff. Everything that makes the world we live in the world we live in, for better or for worse, was probably cooked up here. I personally like the fact that the birth of mass communication took place two miles from my apartment, all because Alexander Graham Bell spilled some stuff and couldn’t be bothered to clean it up himself.
Here’s Al gettin’ frisky with his invention. “Watson, come here, I want you,” said he. Inventor slashfic writers, take note.
6) Ice cream and chocolate you can afford. Time was, only rich people had cavities.
7) We chose to go to the moon and to do the other things, not because they were easy, but because they were hard. To paraphrase some kid from Brookline.
8) Shows like “Lost” and “The X-Files” Both shows draw from a rich vein of paranoia, a sense of a perfect world with cracks in its surface, and the sense that there’s more beneath the surface than They want you to think. Post-Watergate/9-11, our national mythos has sort of been either Trust No One or Live Together, Die Alone, hasn’t it? We do really, really well with paranoia here.
10) The American History Museum at the Smithsonian. Where you can find Archie Bunker’s chair and the original Star Spangled Banner, in the same building.
Both faded, both relics of the past, both significant in their own way. If that doesn’t sum us up as a country, I don’t know what does. They also have a neat Olde Tyme ice cream parlor.