REFLECTION & CONCLUSION
America seems to be more of an idea of a place than a coherent culture reflective of what unites a diaspora of nearly three hundred million people hailing from every imaginable background. In the nation’s early years, we struggled to define ourselves culturally and this identity crisis only seems exasperated by the U.S.’s rise to that of the dominant world power.
A problem too is that it seems contradictory that the U.S. produces so many of the cultural products consumed worldwide including film, music and television, but has difficulty in defining itself. On the one hand, the U.S. guides the development of culture around the world, but continues to suffer from an identity crisis. We have a significant culture, but what exactly is it?
Cultural contradiction is so prevalent and persisting in the country that the tactic to deal with it in daily life appears to be, by and large, to simply accept contradiction. For a personal example, in public elementary school we were taught about dinosaurs, geologic history and plate tectonics, but the science teacher opted to skip the three pages on the theory of evolution by natural selection because she stated that all of us in the class should know that God had just put us here. I wondered but did not ask if there was a brontosaurus in the Garden of Eden.
A major obstacle in examining the U.S.’s identity crisis and how it affects the country as a whole is not only the complexity of the subject but also the diversity and shifting nature of U.S. culture. Where to begin?
The media, its uses and influence as the major cultural hegemonic device seemed to be the core subject for this project. From this point, I considered a consistent source of rational but dissenting perspectives as I have progressively consumed major news sources with increasing scepticism in the last decade. As a former employee of the small company co-founded by comedian Bill Hicks, I chose to examine the relevance and effects of entertainment with a political message as an alternative source of information.
The relevance of comedy and entertainment news appeared to be profoundly significant given, for example, the popularity of people such as Rush Limbaugh compounded with the fact that he does not present himself as an entertainer. But there are other talented entertainers with equally strong messages, such as Bill Hicks, who do not reach as vast an audience in the U.S. The subject that quickly became unavoidable was censorship.
In examining censorship in the U.S., a few concepts became inseparable from the discussion. These were patriotism and indecency. What counts as patriotic is difficult to decide as the country has a perpetual identity crisis. Censorship is a difficult thing to endorse or enact because it contradicts a source of patriotism, the First Amendment. What is indecency is hard to guard against because no one knows what it is.
The Soviet Union was the bogeyman that kept the U.S. in a condition of fear and perpetual war for over four decades. This fear shaped culture, politics and the average American psyche immensely over this time period. When the Cold War ended, many who had come to positions of power needed a new enemy as their power was built on fear.
The neoconservatives have been successful because they have allied themselves with conservative Christian organizations that have a consensus definition and vision on how they would like to shape America’s identity. This view is agreeable to many Americans it seems who have accepted the belief that the country is in a desperate state of moral decay.
Unfortunately, abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press and dissolving the separation between church and state is decidedly un-American if it can be agreed contradicting the Constitution is not a patriotic act. Unfortunately, neoconservative leaders like Paul Weyrich believe, “that for the right reasons lying [is] to be regarded as a permissible ‘mental reservation.’”(1) Sun Myung Moon also teaches, “lying is necessary, even under oath, when one is doing ‘God’s work.’”(2) Unfortunately, with the United States disregarding the consensus of the United Nations to invade Iraq it appears neoconservative leaders are uninterested in democracy and are willing to push their interests abroad forcibly. And unfortunately, the conclusion this author is forced to come to is that the primary goal of the neoconservative movement is power and the free exercise of power to their will under false pretenses regardless of law, and not to encourage moral behavior or protect freedom.
However, the recent media attention attracted by the FCC virtually forcing Clear Channel to drop Howard Stern’s radio show in important swing vote states appears to have backfired if this endeavor was to create more support for Bush’s re-election; if, “Between six and 10 million people are thought to have marched in up to 60 countries,” to protest the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq including cities all across the U.S.;(3) and if USA Today can publish an article stating the Bush campaign has direct connections to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s funding of diversionary smear advertisements against the Democratic candidate John Kerry;(4) there appears to be a respectable percentage of Americans possessing a healthy public conscience and that the traditional news outlets are not restricted to the point of uselessness. There is still ample possibility to practice deliberative democracy in the United States and that the history being made now will eventually define American identity.
1. Ref. 7, Brock, 2002, p. 59