When you and I think of America, there are probably some things that will come to both our minds: apple pie, baseball, handguns, microwaveable burritos, etc.
But there are probably some things I’ll think of that you won’t. I think of unions, the rise of feminism, and cinema/film/movies that have been an important part of the country’s history, social and otherwise. You might point to our technological prowess, our military superiority, and the availability of cheap, salty, tasty, all-American, beef-patty, cheddar cheese, and bacon burgers.
Neither of us is necessarily wrong. History is inherently human, producing biases and favoritism. What we tend to favor as being an integral part of the history of our great(est) country directly informs our current worldview of the US of A. There’s no better time than July 4th to have a frank discussion on just why the history of the nation – and especially how we approach it – has a tremendous impact on how people live, work, and vote.
This is why people care so much about what goes into our history books, and don’t seem to particularly care if it’s true or not. Perception of history informs reality, so if you think America is the de facto greatest country in the world, founded on Christian principles that lead other people to hate for no particular reason, you’re going to agree that we need to be spending trillions of dollars a year on security for terror concerns that kill fewer Americans yearly than living room furniture.
But instead of delving into a deep discussion about the rift in modern US society and how history and perception inform that debate, let’s take a look at patriotism in pop culture and just what it can tell us.
No true July 4th would be complete without America, Fuck Yeah!
Perhaps the standard bearer of satirical patriotic songs, but brilliant for the believability of the message. America was built on a wide variety of things: porno, books, Bed Bath & Beyond, and slavery, just to name a few. All these things sloshing together somehow make the greatest country in the history of mankind, which will kindly bomb you if you dare fuck with us.
Next, the speech from Independence Day.
You’d vote for Bill Pullman. I might as well, if he had a decent budget plan. In this speech, he brings a call to arms on July 4th, highlighting that the fight this time is not for the country, but for mankind. Of course, that is the exact idea that America has built itself upon – a united group of different people who stand not just for themselves and their flag, but for a series of ideals that should be applied across the world – in the name of freedom, liberty, and access to cheap, reliable ammo.
Then there’s the other side of the coin – the trailer for Born on the Fourth of July.
In what I consider to be Oliver Stone’s best movie by far, Tom Cruise plays an all-American boy who grows up in a small town with dreams of fighting heroically for his country. He goes into the Marines, is wounded in Vietnam, and comes back to face the reality of a country very different from the one he previously imagined. The movie confronts the horrifying realities of war, the lives of veterans in the US, and patriotism, while offering two very different views of American life.
It’s not all war and rah-rah stuff though. Here’s a clip from a woefully under-appreciated movie: Dave.
This is a movie from 1993 that has a tremendous impact on 2012. The feeling of too many problems to tackle, unemployment concerns, and lastly, a wide range of reactions from talking heads. This includes everything from support, to doubt, to accusations of communism … sound familiar? It shows that even something as simple as “let’s create jobs” will yield any number of opinions and viewpoints, now magnified by modern media.
And of course, there’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Jimmy makes a stand against corruption, drawing on the ideals the country was founded on. Not just liberty and fair play, but fighting for what’s right no matter the odds. Of course, he does this with a filibuster, which has become so routinely abused that it is in serious risk of being abolished.
These clips illustrate some common themes, including plenty of buzzwords that you’ll hear a lot on the Fourth, like freedom and liberty. But they also help highlight some of the subtle differences that can manifest themselves in very different ways. Liberty can be fought for against internal as well as external forces, or it can be a fight against something like unemployment. Patriotism can win wars (against the British or aliens, depending on the century), but it has a darker side that veterans live with every day.
As you’re out enjoying fireworks and hot dogs, realize that the things we choose to celebrate – and the things we choose not to – are part of a long history of ideas, perception and choices that make America what it is. Now if you’ll excuse me....