Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love
The bloviated pickup truck torments and bears down on the meek and gutless Prius. Professional football, a game of collisions, military-like might, and aggressive hysteria reigns supreme as America’s #1 pastime. As a nation, we struggle to understand and address conflict in the Middle East and throughout the world, yet we fail to grasp its complexity and always come up short on diplomacy, with a former president who negotiated for peace but was made to look awkwardly out-of-step by a national segment more comfortable with military ‘solutions’ and Obama’s faux macho ‘ruff-tuff creampuff’ successor. A larger and larger share of our entertainment dollar goes to superhero and disaster movies reliant on a continual escalation of special-effects violence. Even metal-industrial music that speaks compellingly against a militarized society does so with the loud, head-banging sounds of menace.
Budweiser can’t simply seduce you with how much better a burger tastes alongside one of their beers. They have to show you how beer, in this case, can get down on the gridiron with wine and pummel it. The sad, crowning achievement of 21st Century capitalism has been the mechanisms to meet the legal demands of equity and fairness in the workplace yet still sustain a killer instinct against competitors and even cutthroat tactics within the ranks of a corporation…we used to dump on mean Microsoft but today’s badass is Amazon. Even when we are being compassionate, we don’t describe the beauty and the miraculous process of human healing, on TV commercials for medical centers we fight and battle sickness and disease as if it were the latest super-villain in an Avengers movie…Cancer, we are coming to get you. Only in a nation where the warrior mentality is so admired could a bully like Donald Trump win an election.
Own it. I’ve been struggling to figure out how American culture is changing, and I believe that these characteristics have always been there, are stubbornly ingrained in our national psyche. The way we are being shown that you solve a problem is that you kick its ass with whatever solution you favor. We accomplish things by destroying whatever stands in our way. Advertisements for the armed forces used to try and distract us from the small print of killing and instead emphasize travel, skills training, ‘being all you can be’, support for an eventual college education, finding yourself, and yeah, the amorphous ‘defending the nation’. But whether it’s ads for the military or our entertainment industry, after two generations of numbingly violent video games and movies, and the true horror of 9/11, our overall cultural milieu has returned to a form where special-effects disaster and war movies routinely show buildings and cities being leveled with only the most cartoonish of human responses to what in reality would be the most excruciating of agonies…after all that, we’ve come to accept killing as merely a job duty vaguely connected to some national value of ‘defending freedom,’ and a heroic act. And this image of the military—we kill people and break things (with no apologies…thank you, Mike Huckabee!)—is in fact more honest, and honesty compels us to admit that the United States of America is a warlike nation.
George Herbert Walker Bush’s call for a kinder, gentler nation was the most profound and unpopular idea he ever had. Look anywhere you like—at politics, entertainment, consumer culture, business, science, human services, race, rights, environment, religion…and our public perceptions in all these areas. Perceptions and expressions in the 2010’s are not kind and gentle, they are mean and pugilistic. We are belligerents, it’s how we do things.
Freedom of speech and thought and the relative freedom to organize give allow causes that oppose this assertion, but such valiant champions often seem to simply perpetuate a thin mythology of America the Peace-Lover and our denial of facts to the contrary. Consider the following:
- Australia has a society and origins very similar to ours: A British colony, a place to offload prisoners; Western, modern and industrialized, some guarantees of human rights; a successful market economy. Yet Australia got there without ever waging war against Great Britain, a war we glorify as essential to our national narrative, a war we claim we had to fight.
- The enslavement of African-Americans was a daily violence that was undone only by the bloodiest of conflicts—our Civil War left 600,000 American soldiers dead, killed by other Americans, and with the uncounted civilians, a final death toll that may have even exceeded a million.
- Though there are no shortages of justifications, it was the United States that both developed and had the temerity to drop atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this after the Tokyo Air Raid that had already killed 100,000 people and crippled Japan’s military.
- We attacked Vietnam and Iraq in unnecessary wars; unnecessary for different reasons, but provoked by the same bellicose warriors disguised as capitalists (or vice versa) who have driven us to war time and again.
We have our share of peace movements, and despite the success of the antiwar movement that hastened the end to the Vietnam War, such accomplishments and even the image of America as a bringer of peace seem to be more the exception than the rule. Did not Bush’s war in Iraq bear witness to the largest international demonstration for peace in history? And to what avail?
The hippie movement, contemporaneous with the Vietnam War, created a cultural identity whose first principle was peace. But despite its more than 15 minutes of fame and its lasting influence, it tends to be viewed as an oddity and not as a world view most Americans share.
The myth that we are peace-loving has gone from the naive to the deceptive to the ridiculous. We get things done in the US by destroying whatever stands in our way. But I guess that admitting you have a problem is the first step… [stay tuned for Part 2, same time, same station, next week]