An American Fourth of July in London

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Fourth of July is great. Really great. It's a Great American Holiday (tm). It is a celebration of strongly-worded letters and moral imperative. It commemorates an allegory of democracy, when a brave band of thinkers created a truly republican government that represents the interests of all the people, and Stood Up For What They Believed In in the face of a big hefty global empire. It is about smashing through the steel ceiling of economic oppression and giving white guys everywhere the freedom to make their own futures. (That said, many of the white guys were, for the time, fairly excited about equal rights for everybody, including ladies and non-white people [except for the non-white people who were already there], but theoretically they were in favor of universal civil rights. Mostly.)

So that's good! But there's a problem with the allegory, and that is that it's the national myth and it needs a bad guy. To prove how free, equal and good the United States is, the myth has to set up another country as the antithetical Bad Guys, to represent tyranny, oppression, and general dickishness. In the American founding myth, that's the Brits. And that's awkward.

In 1776

That black-and-white allegorical underpinning of the holiday is why there is only one way to describe the tone of the citywide American barbecue I attended in Battersea Park: sheepish.

As I walked through the west gate, a couple was looking over their shoulders as they read the map, as if a south London mob were about to turn up and yell at them for generalizing about their ancestors.

Picnickers at tables were hunched over, elbows tucked in to protect their internal organs. Rather than spread out by the lake, attendees clustered under the trees, seeking shelter and protection from the changing, threatening sky.

We knew the Independence Myth about the Big Bad Briton wasn't true, and we knew they knew we knew.

That's the problem with making other people the supervillains in your mythology: you have to actually deal with them the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, because of globalization, and how it turns out there really isn't such a thing as a nation of Bad People.*

If, however, we refit the national myth so it focuses on Bad Ideas (economic interests trumping humanist ones, disinterested or oppressive governments) versus Good Ideas (equality, voting, strongly-worded letters), not only do we stop vilifying perfectly nice other nations, but we are better equipped to stop ourselves when we are in danger of committing Bad Ideas.

For example!

Bad Idea: Lying signs

(there was in fact a nice big picnic, as I said)

Good Idea: Barbecue

Great Idea: These shoes

Those are my good-luck Patriot Shoes. I wore them on election night with a Michelle Obama-style Carolina blue sheath dress, and look what happened! Freedom happened, y'all.

Happy Good Idea Day.

*There can still be groups of ideologically-linked bad people, of course. Like Al-Qaeda, and Duke fans.


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