Saturday, July 04, 2009
The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.
If society fits you comfortably enough, you call it freedom.
The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?
I guess I need to begin this with a couple of explanations. First, allow me to assure you I had planned to use this photograph and caption for a couple of days before Alaska's governor dropped her bomb upon the nation yesterday. The illustration is from the Sarah Palin 2008 calendar for the month of July. Therefore the photo of a possibly naked (but probably bikini-suited, also flag-designed) body wrapped in Old Glory is not something dug up from beauty pageant days by a frothing liberal. Either she or her staff did it for her own commercial calendar.
Second, the caption by Sinclair Lewis was not on the calendar---but added by a blogger, possibly frothing at the time. Maybe Sinclair Lewis was agitated when he wrote that in his last major work, It Can't Happen Here, but our first Nobel Prize winner for literature was a pretty in-control guy...except for alcohol. Author of Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and Dodsworth, Sinclair Lewis offered insight into American behavior and values that probably would benefit us to read again today.
I use the illustration because of clothing we're bound to see worn on this day at parades and celebrations. Over the past 8 or 9 years, I've noticed conservatives and particularly Evangelicals decorate themselves with the United States flag at work and at play. Sarah Palin does too, and I'm sure wanted to identify herself with such people in her calendar. But I remember a time when you could be scorned by the very same conservatives and Evangelicals, and maybe land in jail, for wearing the flag.
Abbie Hoffman was a co-founder back in the early 1960s of a group called the Youth International Party...usually referred to as the Yippies. Abbie used to wear a shirt made from a flag that would be completely in conservative style today, but which caused outrage just 40 years ago. You can see it here http://panderwatch.com/2008/05/15/obamas-flag-pin-flip-flop-pander-or-potent-symbol/ in a discussion about the Obama flag pin controversy. Hoffman, and I believe Jerry Rubin, the other co-founder and also member of the Chicago Seven, were accused of desecrating the flag by wearing it. How did things get so turned around in just 40 years?
Well, many things have gotten turned around in those same 40 years. We might want to ponder some of these changes in style---economic, political, diplomatic---on this 4th. Maybe it would be good to read the Declaration of Independence aloud at the picnic table. Conservative talk show hosts are recommending it, and it seems like good advice. However, they also are flirting with gatherings and demonstrations today to encourage revolution against our elected government. These same people would have shouted treason at anyone suggesting that 5 years ago. Even disagreement was cause for questioning one's patriotism and loyalty.
These are strange times, and we appear to be staggering under the load of 9/11. We've never been very good at accepting tragedy. We're a comedy nation...and we know only to lash out when challenged. The Greeks thought tragedy was a more important teacher than comedy, but we disagree. Sinclair Lewis introduced "boosters" in Babbitt, and I guess we didn't catch the satire long enough to avoid a trade of citizenship for consumerism.
I'm going to be marching in a 4th of July parade in a couple of hours here in Athens, Ohio. I won't be in the military contigents, but rather a group of theater folk celebrating a new production of Oliver that somehow I've gotten myself into. Charles Dickens, who wrote Oliver Twist when he was in his 20s, had been dead for 15 years before Sinclair Lewis was born. Wouldn't it be wonderful to imagine a conversation between the two? Someone want to write a play? Time to go, but if you want a witty view of Governor Palin's appearance yesterday, I suggest Gail Collins' column in the New York Times this morning. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/04/opinion/04collins.html?_r=1&th&emc=th Have a safe and sane Fourth!