Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Define This"

I dare anyone to try and define America. It's understood that every two to four years, we like to examine what and who we are as a country. After we've argued for a few months we go back to downloading movies and putting a fresh coat of paint on our ATV's. The country is too diverse and just too damn big to define. This is the only nation on earth that isn't as much a country as an idea. Uruguay doesn't need to be defined. Why do we?

We shouldn't bother. I do, however, like to notice differences between our society and other around the globe. Granted, I've never been anywhere. Sure. Throw that in my face. But I have encountered plenty of observers from other countries and managed to make a few observations of my own. One in particular:

We are funnier.

Well, it's not to say that other countries don't have senses of humor. I know they do. But we're funnier. Americans are caught in a little rut lately. We really like to hate ourselves and some of us firmly believe we have the worst, nastiest culture in the history of mankind.

To that I say: read a book.

I want to write down my two favorite anecdotes from World War II. Whenever anyone pisses on this country I try to use my background in history to illustrate that we have had some seriously horrible events in our past, but compared to the rest of the world, we're probably still ahead of the game. Even after the Bush presidency.

This is a description of armies crossing into the border into an Eastern European nation during the war. I may be off a little on the geography, but the sentiment is the same. A woman described the invaders:

"When the Germans came, they brought terror. They rounded us up and killed us. When the Soviets came, they brought fear. They rounded us up and put us to work in camps. When the Americans came, they freed us. They brought blankets and chocolate."

The second one is more about our attitude. I think it's been tarnished this decade, but its one that's still essentially the same. America is a New country. Tradition is not really our thing. A German citizen discerns the different styles of marching of soldiers from different nations:

"Germans walk like they own the world. The British walk like they want to own the world. And Americans walk like they don't give a shit who owns the world."

The world still likes us, folks. We represent hope to a lot of countries out there that would kill for our problems. One of the things they love is that we have the time and imagination to be funny. Ever exchange jokes with a recent immigrant from Asia or Europe? Not exactly Don Rickles. I realize comedy is based on joint experience, but Americans seems to have a much deeper well than a lot of places. We laugh at others as well as ourselves. We have planted, grown, groomed and reaped the harvest of sarcasm. Man, if we couldn't claim the lightbulb, the PC, the blues and the atomic bomb, we should as hell could snag that title.

Our culture, as lame as it can get sometimes, goes out into the world. Some people argue that we poison the world with our crap. No more than anything else that enters their country for sale. If people don't like it, they don't buy it. They are adults, too.

Maybe we are spoiled by the joy and mirth and fart jokes we produce by the truckload. But in certain dark corners of the world, it means way more than anyone understands on the IMDB message boards. There is hope. One day, your biggest problems might be that your kids eat too much and the commercialization of your holidays and that you tire of M Night Shyamalan's rehashing of the same old scripts every damn year. Good, down-home American problems. Like mom used to make.

I think we need a little dose of that pride in our country. Actual pride. Not flag waving, mindless pride. The pride that you have on your good days when you look back on your day or your week or your life and reconcile with all the mistakes and screw-ups and realize you've done more good than all the crap you keep remembering over and over.

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