Friday, July 1, 2011
The united state of America
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” – The Statue of Liberty
My employer has given me next Monday off so that I can spend the day visit with family, drink beer, eat hot dogs and maybe catch some fireworks. This is how we Americans celebrate our nation’s 1776 declaration of independence from Great Britain.
While most of us enjoy our Fourth of July holiday, we won’t be forgetting that lots of things in the United States have ground to a halt. Red and blue, young and old, rich and poor, Americans are united in one observation: we seem to be speeding to hell in a handbasket.
The problem is that we can’t agree on who wove that basket and sent it on its way. Some people think that it’s the poor, the immigrants and the people who create regulations. Some people think it’s the people on Wall Street and the CEOs of giant corporations. And some people think it’s God Himself, who must be angry at America for allowing abortion and gay marriage.
My son – a young actor – is in the cast of “Myth America,” now showing at Broom Street Theater: a local venue for “non-traditional experimental … entertainment without censorship.” (He’s the blond hippie on the far right.) Written by Callen Harty and directed by Matt Kenyon, the irreverent satire somehow merges tacky jokes about transvestites and masturbation with thoughtful commentary about the nation we all think we live in.
The play reminds us that even though Republican Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann believes the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly to end slavery,” half of the men who wrote our Constitution owned slaves, and in Article 1, Section 2 of the document they decreed that a slave would count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of voting representation.
Further, the play reveals what might be news to a lot of Americans: the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln was deeply torn about the issue of slavery. As he wrote to Horace Greeley in 1842, “If I could save the Union without freeing ANY slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing ALL the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would do that.”
One skit leads the audience through seven generations of the fictitious American Corporation, which first grows wealthy on the backs of indentured servants and then discriminates against the Irish, Asians, Hispanics and other “foreigners” who have come to America in search of the better life they’ve heard about.
But the most poignant moments of “Myth America” happen toward the end, when to the tune of Smile Empty Soul’s “This is War” (“Now it’s down to this, just you and me / I’ll blow your fucking head off for my country”), the cast lays bare the extent to which the United States has depended on violence to serve its interests. Reciting a literally endless list of armed conflicts through the years – with an ironic backdrop of U.S. Presidents’ quotes about peace – each member of the cast rolls up on the floor; they’re then covered with a bloody flag and mourned by Lady Liberty.
As a proud parent, I’ve seen the play more than once and I plan to see it again before closing night. Someone on the other side of political debate might assume that when I leave the theater, I’m filled with hatred for the United States. But they would be wrong.
The truth is, I’m filled with pride that (at least right now) I live in a country where my son can be in a play like this and not fear arrest or torture. And I’m relieved that (at least right now) I can still investigate the “real” history of the United States, the bad as well as the good, and even blog about it without hearing a knock on my door. (USA PATRIOT Act be damned.)
Like most Americans right now, I fear for the future of my country – even though my fellow Americans disagree about what we should fear. But I still believe in the IDEA of America. The fact is, America has never been the nation we believed that it was. But unlike many other countries, it was founded upon an ideal, a concept, that I believe in with all my heart.
And that’s what I’ll be celebrating on Independence Day.