Thursday, August 05, 2004

How many Americas are there?

First, there was the North and the South. Then, a few years ago, it was Red America and Blue America. Now, there is John Edwards class-conscious meme of two Americas.

But the bipolar divisions can be so much richer: Democratic and Republican. Minority and majority. Black and white. Pro-choice and Anti-abortion. Vanilla and chocolate. Tortes and apple pies. Starbucks and Maxwell House. Walmart and Target. Organic versus processed. Poor versus rich. West versus East. New York City and Bentonville. LA and Portland. Flatlanders and hill people. Country and city. The New York Times and Fox News. Old and young. Minis and Hummers. Urban renovators and exurban McMansioneers. Greens and liberaterians. Federalists and socialists. Patriots and patriots. The NRA and gun victims. On and on and on.

Really though, there is only one "America" that gives the symbology life: the world of the big box store and pure consumption. Commerce is what creates our society and what drives it, from television to the names of roads built into new developments. The utopian ideal of a society where everyone has the same opportunities is simply the kitsch that our presidential candidates spin in different directions--bootstrappers versus nurturers. And in the classic truth of kitsch, this flag-waving picture simply hides the shit.

The shit is that there are more Americas than any of us know what to do with. It's not just about red and blue, or city and country, or black and white. Rather, the division is much broader, region to region, or even state to state. Cultures and even language change. Signifiers change. Political and social concerns change. All of it to such an extreme that it does not seem inaccurate to say that a Mainer and an Arkansan share nothing more in national identity than the ability to shop in the same stores, eat the same foods, and watch the same television shows. This is not to say that the shibboleth of national identity cannot evolve into a cohesive, nuanced culture, but it's not going to happen as long as our ethos relies on consumerist lemmings doing the bidding of brand managers.

In other news, so many of us are apoplectic over the lies and slander of Fox News, but what of the New York Times's kid glove approach to Bush's lies. Sure, they apologized for their coverage of the lead-up to war--but as a cursory survey of the blogosphere and the AP wire will show, they have let too many follow-up stories pass without notice. Sandy Berger anyone?