Sunday, July 01, 2007


Since the "fourth of July" is going to last for about 7 days this year, I feel obliged to say something about patriotism.

We sat in the Koussevitzky Shed at Tanglewood Saturday evening in the audience for the live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor's star guest was James Taylor. We have never seen the show before, not even when it comes to us because the tickets sell out months in advance. But this year some friends who are big fans of the show bought tickets for a van-full of us back in February. We made a day of it with the picnic on lawn and the whole nine yards.

The entire Tanglewood grounds were packed, around 13,000 people according to a Tanglewood employee we know. Keillor could run for president in Massachusetts and get away with it. He really had a knack for working a crowd. His wireless mic must have an incredible range because he walked through the crowd to open the show, all the way to the back of the shed and stood on benches to wave to the sea of folks with lawn tickets.

This crowd was not quite a slice of Massachusetts. Readers of The Boston Globe would have outnumbered readers of the Herald. Keillor got plenty of applause for jokes that mentioned the Redsox in a favorable way. Plenty of other material in the show reflected that Keillor or his writers knew the sympathies of the audience. The one joke that tells much about that knowledge was a skit in which James Taylor's worst secret fear was revealed: that George Bush was a fan.

So I am left to wonder, and hope someone can explain, how Keillor could get that audience on its feet to sing the corniest patriotic tunes [ the show started with the national anthem and later, we did a great job on America The Beautiful] and run a nominal 2 hour show a full hour longer with encores of equally sentimental favorites. These people are, by comparison to the crowd YOU happen to be standing amongst, fairly liberal but you could have heard the same warmth for patriotic songs in Dakota or Kansas. What is patriotism? Its just what you were taught: loving your country, having a good feeling about the place you come from.

I just said two things in that last sentence and first is everybody's claim but in particular conservatives and especially the Bush league: love of country, whatever that means. But the second is exactly what the neocons have sullied and deprived us of: how can we be proud of being a country that tortures people, spies on its citizens and stages deadly invasions of other countries on false premises? Keillor made us feel good but its a kind of parlor trick in which we feel good about a country to be found mostly in songs and memories. At least he can make us feel good. He knows those memories and can spin a yarn that leads us back to them. That Bush and the petty fascists that prop him up have made those old favorites ring more hollow than ever before is something I don't intend to let anyone forget.


Sheherezade said...

I'll dodge your question on what is patriotism and answer a closely related question of why the waving of American flags has always made me a bit uncomfortable. The things I love and hate about my country are many and complex. If I could cover the flag with 8 point font, then perhaps I could fly it and it would represent my views, but just the 'go USA' flying of the stars and stripes reminds me too much of 'go red sox'.

GreenSmile said...

very interesting. That spectator sport analogy is something I have run into with another observer of american politics. The idea that people root for a team whether it is winning or losing because they have boiled it down to a proxy for their own identity or ego seems to fit the way a lot of politics get packaged and supported...reduction to symbolic and symplified "my team" psychology. If you can't fit nuance into the narative, pretty soon, you can't even fit truth into it.

pissed off patricia said...

I have some mixed feeling about this patriotism deal. I love my country and all that, but I'm having trouble celebrating anything as long as this damned war continues.

Naomi said...

My mother - drunk or sober...

THAT'S patriotism! Enabling, strained loyalty, image over content, hiding family secrets - you can add your own and you'll be right! America needs an intervention.

GreenSmile said...

Ouch. Brain on holiday. Did not want to think and I have a Naomi and a Patricia making me think.


I am not quite ready to go as far as "my mother drunk or sober". That was our standard retort to the flag wavers when we protested the Viet Nam war. Not everybody who loves their country is blind to or even tolerant of the failures of character or of policy in the nation's conduct.

it is true that patriotism is a very loaded word. it is probable that it gets heavily misused when politicians want to use our emotions to blur the vital distinction between feeling like a good citizen and acting like one. Emotion is not a trustworthy mechanism, its just all we have when you get down to it.

It may sound like I am making a case that their is good patriotism and bad...not quite. And, perhaps in agreement with you both, I see one inescapable flaw in patriotism: it gets touted for uniting the country but by exactly that same means, it divides the world.

myrrhlin said...

i have similar mixed feelings when it comes to the military at public events. I respect the people who make up the military a great deal, but it makes me uncomfortable to see uniformed military "perform," like during a rodeo I saw last week. (It doesn't bother me at events organized by the state or federal government.)

I think it's the sneaky feeling there's "sales" going on here, and the military shouldn't be sullied with the ugliness of that. The rodeo event gets to associate itself with something everybody loves, so it can't hurt them, right? I am appallingly cynical to think this way? And the sense that the military "endorses" the event or its organizers... I don't want the military "endorsing" anything other than the USA in its entirety!

Rule of thumb: if there's a corporate sponsor, or the organizer is a profit-making entity, then the military shouldn't be there.

Our flag and patriotism has been abused so much, and so much pain and suffering inflicted (on people the world over, including our own) in the name of that flag and blind patriotism, that I have a hard time displaying my feelings openly. Like religion, for me, patriotism is intensely personal and celebrated quietly, privately, so there is no tinge of nationalism. Historically, nationalism has been responsible for far more evil in this world than good.

GreenSmile said...

You can bet Myrrhlin, that there is a recruitment motive in viturally any public spectacle to which members of the military and their shiny dangerous toys are invited...or which they themselves stage.

There don't have to be brochures or men with clipboards and forms sitting at tables for the message to get through. Veterans day parades that had only old veterans might be an exception. Veterans come down on both sides of the issue regarding nationalism but all the flag waving drowns out the distinctions and pretty soon patriotism blurs in to chauvinsim and nationalism.

That love of country might better be held as a personal matter is would avoid the manipulations of mob psychology or sports-fan fanaticism. Metaphorically, perhaps such a distinction of patriotisms would be like the distinction between sex as in "sex sells" and sex as an element in a couples relationship: the one has no nuance whatsoever and is nothing more than the noisey and bland teasing promise of the other which is rewarding but more complex, hardly without effort and the outside world needs only a few quiet tokens to see what sort of relationship exits.

donna said...