Wednesday: Popular American Culture and Politics

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.

Have you listened to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals sing “Ah, Mary”?

“She’s skilled at the art of deception and she knows it.  She’s got dirty money that she plays with all the time.  She waters the garden but maybe she just likes the hoses.  She puts herself just a notch above humankind.”

The song goes on like that – check it out here – for two frightening verses and two concerning refrains and you keep thinking, “Who is this Mary character?” Until it dawns on you – she’s America.

Now, I’m all for flag waving, pro-USA, historical-site-seeing, Lincoln-loving patriotism.  But Grace here has a point.  What about when God-Blessed-America gets a little too big for her britches?  How have we collectively overlooked the sex, lies, and destroyed videotapes that are the collateral damage of international might? 

It’s not really all that surprising that Americans can perpetuate the unselfconscious lie that everything is as sweet as apple pie in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I mean, we go gew-gew over the models in magazines and never stop to think twice about the fact that those girls will never eat bacon until they retire.  They subsist on nicotine and lettuce leaves and Diet Coke, but we forget about that when we’re admiring the silhouette of the latest haute designs. 

National identity ignorance, or American Exceptionalism, is just an escalation of the little everyday lies we tell ourselves.  America’s the best.  Even though we pay millions to support a congress that can’t seem to get anything accomplished.  Even though we have elected officials who think women’s bodies are pre-programmed to launch a defensive strike to prevent rapist insemination.  Even though we have elected officials who think if too many people gather on one end of an island, it will tip over.  Even though we have elected officials who don’t know the difference between John Wayne the serial killer and John Wayne the movie star cowboy.  Even though we have elected officials who think that other officials, elected by Americans, can be “un-American.” 

Every person lives a life with personality quirks.  Hypocrisy isn’t so much a rampant quality trait as a given.  But how can we blast “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and not second-guess ourselves just a bit?  When we think about OPEC deals and defining other nations as “Axis of Evil”?  When we think about the starving and homeless on our own streets, and the corporations-or-are-they-people-too who chuck money into special interest groups and proceed to plant weeds in tax loopholes the size of Floridian sinkholes? 

We all make up America, whether we live the New York minute or we toil in the breadbasket.  It’s not surprising that our identity crises are compounding with every bill that hits Congress.  But aren’t you just the least bit worried that all our fierce perpetuation of self-ignorance is going to catch up with us sooner rather than later? 

And then how will our garden grow?



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