When we last left Michael Medved, he was halfway through a Quinn Martin epilogue, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hippies murdered the Melting Pot.
By that time the tribalism of the ‘60’s had become a more or less permanent feature of our national life with identity politics and jostling interest groups taking the place of any homogenizing notion of Americanism.
As you probably recall from junior high civics class, the children of immigrants have traditionally been eager to assimilate mainstream American culture and idioms. But thanks to tie-dye, Shindig!, and Annie Greensprings Strawberry wine, no child of foreign born parents has eaten a hamburger or learned to speak English since June 2, 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the U.S.
African-Americans, feminists, Latinos, gays, Asians, the disabled, hippies, Native Americans – each aggrieved segment of society demanded justice and redress, competing for recognition as the most victimized and gypped.
Uh, Mike? I think the Gypsies just won.
The competitive victimhood encouraged even privileged people to affiliate with some marginalized cohort or synthetically assembled “community,” and to shun any assimilation into the bland American middle.
To protest this trend, Michael has severed all links with Orthodox Judaism and now, whenever he is asked to state his religious affiliation, proudly responds, “Miracle Whip.”
With all the suffering subgroups clamoring so colorfully for recognition and sympathy, the once respected mainstream looked suddenly, simultaneously, guilty and boring. “Black is Beautiful” and “Never Trust Anyone Over Thirty” became trendy slogans, while any suggestions that “White is Beautiful” or demands to “Respect Your Elders” drew only derision and hostility.
Among other ubiquitous phrases that mysteriously fell into disuse around this time were “Free, White and 21,” “That’s Mighty White of You,” and “Whites Only.” An effort was made to compete with the Negroes by defiantly chanting ”White is Beautiful (after Memorial Day and Before Labor Day)!” but it never really caught on, and Western Civilization knew the jig was up.
The old national motto, “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one – sounded intolerant, disrespectful of difference and diversity, as the ideal of a melting pot gave way to a “gorgeous multicultural mosaic.”
Remember when the country was torn asunder over “E Pluribus Unum?” Black against white? Brother against brother? Football team against Latin Club? Personally, I think it should have led to a bigger conflict than it did, but it was harder to pronounce than “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!” Fortunately, New York Mayor David Dinkins arrived on horseback to restore order and arrange people of different skin tones together to create a picture.
The concept of an overarching, unifying, non-ironic definition of American identity looked less and less plausible.In 1904, Broadway giant George M. Cohan proudly and tunefully identified himself as –
“….a Yankee Doodle Dandy
A Yankee Doodle do or die.
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam
Born on the Fourth of July.”
The American tragedy is that today, Dandy’s are hard to come by. And you can search the land from sea to shining sea without finding anyone whose dream it is to be a Doodle. Like the Shakers, the Doodles have all died off, save for those few who left the sect in the mid-80s to become Peppers.
Compared to other world powers, America deserves guilt less but struggles with it more. Our French cousins celebrate Bastille Day with abandon, joy and unapologetic pride, despite the ugly stains on the Tricolor. For Mexicans and for Mexican immigrants in the United States, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t provide an occasion for brooding meditation on the pain and disappointment and injustice that’s always characterized our turbulent neighbor to the south.
Probably because Cinco de Mayo is an exceedingly minor occasion in Mexico, while in the U.S. it’s a particularly tedious workday for immigrants who have to deal with white people crowding into Chi-Chis and El Toritos to get caca-faced on two-for-one Hornitos shooters.
Ironically, the one national holiday observed in America with the most unalloyed elation and pugnacious pleasure is St. Patrick’s Day, which seldom, even in the most boozy stupor, gives rise to remorse over the failings and foibles of the children of Eire.
Ironic? On the contrary, it’s the Melting Pot in action. Americans don’t care where a holiday comes from, so long as its divorced from it’s original meaning and provides an excuse to drink until you pass out in a pond of your own puke.
Some might explain this American penchant for harsh self-criticism as a product of our higher ideals and more lofty aspirations. Through most of its long, tortured history, no one ever really expected Russia to serve as a “light to the nations” or a “shining city on a hill.” The United States, on the other hand, has long expected to remake the world in our image, and often succeeded in that endeavor. The fact that we have attempted more shouldn’t obscure the fact that we’ve also achieved more, and stumbled less other nations with significant roles in world affairs. In baseball, even the most fearsome (and well-paid) power hitters will strike out occasionally, or hit into double plays. It’s inevitable to feel special frustration when All Stars fail to deliver, but these high expectations shouldn’t focus attention on failures alone, and obscure all the home-runs and solid hits delivered the rest of the time. The soaring ambitions of the United States didn’t lead to humanity- crushing disasters, but instead helped to inspire more success for more people – Americans as well as others—than logic or experience would have deemed possible.
I’m no semiotician like that Protein Wisdom guy, so I couldn’t tell you the precise term for this style of rhetoric, but I’m pretty sure that in geology it’s called “outgassing.”
Acceptance of the bitter lies about America undermines the ongoing aspiration that alone can power the United States in its continued role as the mighty engine of human betterment.
Remember: Rigorous self-improvement is impossible unless you deny your flaws.
*pace Scott Kurtz, this allows America to forget all about slavery, broken treaties, the Gilded Age, and that one night when they boned Lois Lane.
Posted by scott on December 7th, 2007