Sunday, December 19, 2004

all gone to look for America

I'm going to first say that I do value Liberty. I value Love. I value Equality. Kinda sounds like Moulin Rouge, you know, "truth, beauty, freedom, love...Children of the Revolution" and all that. But no, it's not a hip and cynical statement but something that I do feel strongly about. Recent posts and comments, which fortunately have become clearer, made me think about America and everyone's perceptions of it. It's a complicated thing. I think we call cannont deny that we have a love/hate relationship with the country. We hate their wars and their administration, but we love their music and their movies. Their Star Trek and their Coca-Cola. It's complicated.

I just wanted to share with someone an excerpt from this commencement address I read. And yes, it's a commencement address by Bono. But seriously, as a non-American, and one who has fought his own battle with the current administration (over the African AIDS epidemic), but yet has some words that I think are very prescient.

But I don't want to make you cop to idealism, not in front of your parents, or your younger siblings. But what about Americanism? Will you cop to that at least? It's not everywhere in fashion these days, Americanism. Not very big in Europe, truth be told. No less on Ivy League college campuses. But it all depends on your definition of Americanism.

Me, I'm in love with this country called America. I'm a huge fan of America, I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to thatÅ .

I'm that kind of fan. I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude. As I said yesterday I made my pilgrimage to Independence Hall, and I love America because America is not just a country, it's an idea. You see my country, Ireland, is a great country, but it's not an idea. America is an idea, but it's an idea that brings with it some baggage, like power brings responsibility. It's an idea that brings with it equality, but equality even though it's the highest calling, is the hardest to reach. The idea that anything is possible, that's one of the reasons why I'm a fan of America. It's like hey, look there's the moon up there, lets take a walk on it, bring back a piece of it. That's the kind of America that I'm a fan of.

In 1771 your founder Mr. Franklin spent three months in Ireland and Scotland to look at the relationship they had with England to see if this could be a model for America, whether America should follow their example and remain a part of the British Empire.

Franklin was deeply, deeply distressed by what he saw. In Ireland he saw how England had put a stranglehold on Irish trade, how absentee English landlords exploited Irish tenant farmers and how those farmers in Franklin's words "lived in retched hovels of mud and straw, were clothed in rags and subsisted chiefly on potatoes." Not exactly the American dream...

So instead of Ireland becoming a model for America, America became a model for Ireland in our own struggle for independence.

When the potatoes ran out, millions of Irish men, women and children packed their bags got on a boat and showed up right here. And we're still doing it. We're not even starving anymore, loads of potatoes. In fact if there's any Irish out there, I've breaking news from Dublin, the potato famine is over you can come home now. But why are we still showing up? Because we love the idea of America.

We love the crackle and the hustle, we love the spirit that gives the finger to fate, the spirit that says there's no hurdle we can't clear and no problem we can't fix. (sound of helicopter) Oh, here comes the Brits, only joking. No problem we can't fix. So what's the problem that we want to apply all this energy and intellect to?

Every era has its defining struggle and the fate of Africa is one of ours. It's not the only one, but in the history books it's easily going to make the top five, what we did or what we did not do. It's a proving ground, as I said earlier, for the idea of equality. But whether it's this or something else, I hope you'll pick a fight and get in it. Get your boots dirty, get rough, steel your courage with a final drink there at Smoky Joe's, one last primal scream and go.

Sing the melody line you hear in your own head, remember, you don't owe anybody any explanations, you don't owe your parents any explanations, you don't owe your professors any explanations. You know I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves out or gets chased out.

But it's not. The future is not fixed, it's fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo, whatever; this is the metaphor part of the speech by the way.

But my point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Now if I were a folksinger I'd immediately launch into "If I Had a Hammer" right now get you all singing and swaying. But as I say I come from punk rock, so I'd rather have the bloody hammer right here in my fist.

That's what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it. Remember what John Adams said about Ben Franklin, "He does not hesitate at our boldest Measures but rather seems to think us too irresolute."

Well this is the time for bold measures. This is the country, and you are the generation. Thank you.

Something to think about at least.


Look inside America, she's alright, she's alright
Sitting out the distance
But I'm not trying to make her mine
Looking for America
With its kooky nights and suicide
Where the TV says it's alright
Coz' everybody's hung up on something or other.

- Blur, "Look Inside America"


At 8:36 p.m., Blogger Ewan said...

I just saw Bono on tv and i thought, "although i don't like U2, and i find Bono to be a pompous twit when he's talking about their music, i do admire what the guy does with his celebrity". And i really do.
I'm not one to ever say "I hate America". I've always been cognisent of all the American-made things i love. And alot of the way their contry is set up is to be admired. That's why i like the guys like Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, etc., who deeply love America, but acknowledge its flaws and strive to improve apon them.

Then again, i'm an Aussie, so what do i know.

At 9:59 p.m., Blogger rochelle laura knox said...

you don't like U2!!! are you serious? i didn't think it was possible not to like U2.

i generally a rather accepting person but i'm really sorry to say we cannot be friends. a true friend would like U2.

At 11:59 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Hmm . . . I've just been getting into U2; it's probably partly nationalistic pride, but I think they're a pretty good band thus far--I do worry for Bono's voice though; based on what I've heard from the new album, it's passed its prime.

As to anti-Americanism, I think that it's very important to distinguish between the government and the people. I do have to disagree with Bono, though on some level; I don't like the idea that is America. Their "freedom" so often becomes "license." There seems to be this pull that it has to be totalitarianism or total freedom. (incidentally, have you read One Dimensional Man? It's about the totalitarianism of American culture.) Why can't we try to find a balance rather than allowing the scale to tip one way or the other?

I do find it interesting that Bono left out the bit about the Irish coming to America and being totally shunned, the bit about their being signs on bars that said, "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish." Americans were just as horrible to the Irish as the British were. He seems to have a sugar-coated view of the United States in that respect.

At 1:29 a.m., Blogger Anders said...

Caitlin, I guess that's where we disagree. I do think the idea of America is great, and I think that any totalitarianism or "license" that has come of it is a perversion of the idea that was America. While it is far from perfect - is any human institution?

At 1:41 a.m., Blogger cait said...

I do agree that no human institution is perfect; however, I neither agree with the implementation of the "American Dream" nor the ideology behind it. I think that Americanism overestimates both the importance and the integrity of the individual. I do believe that the cult of the individual in western society has caused a lot more problems than it has solved.

At 2:12 a.m., Blogger Ewan said...

Sorry, but U2 will probably always be that band that I'm supposed to like but don't.


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