Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America, or "It's The 4th Of July, But Not Really In Chile"

To all of you Americans out there, Happy Independence Day!

To all of you non-Americans, Happy 4th of July! This day means nothing to you other than that 233 years ago, the homogenizing force that is The United States began its upward ascent toward (practically) worldwide cultural and nuclear domination. But if firepower and military transcendence isn't significant enough to make you raise your glass, consider it the "Pre-Birth" of such miracles as Britney Spears*, the Automobile, Electricity, and the late Michael Jackson. R.I.P.

July 4th, 1776 is the day our nation started owning yours. You should be celebrating.

That sounds awfully rude, I'm sorry - but I had nothing to do with it! I was merely a random collection of genes roaming the hillsides of England, Germany, and Scotland. I was an allele riding sidesaddle on a camel's back somewhere in the Middle East; just a twinkle in some Arab Nomad's eye. Little idea did I have that I’d someday be symbolically part of a future empire.

If anything, I hate the fact that America has somehow become the dominant player in worldwide culture-making. It frightens me to think that we all might end up listening to the same music, while wearing the same clothes, while drinking he same Starbucks latte. I fear that the fat people in “Wall-E” who ride around in personal hovercrafts drinking mind-corroding Jammer Juice (or whatever it’s called) aren’t so very far off the mark.

But it's a strange dichotomy, this mind of mine. Allow me to explain:

Since moving to Chile, my appreciation for things like Starbucks, Facebook, and the music of Jon Bon Jovi has only increased. Firstly, because there is very little good, accessible coffee in this city. Most readily available is Nescafe – and drinking is like craving a decadent piece of chocolate cake and being offered a stale gumball. Secondly, because Facebook has allowed me to both stay connected to old friends and make new ones. Thirdly, because the two times I’ve been out at dance clubs the abundance American 80s hits makes me feel so very much at home. Song after song, I revel in memories of sloppy nights in shitty karaoke bars. These things are decidedly American innovations, and I am glad they’re here. Never before have I felt so happy living on a prayer.

But simultaneously, it is unbelievably refreshing to be thousands of miles away from strip malls, Hummers, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I hate these things with a red, fiery passion. They are pit-stains on an otherwise perfectly good t-shirt that mark my homeland as a place full of gas-guzzling, over-indulgent consumers. But nevertheless, these things are real. So it makes me happy to be experiencing the best (and at some point, the worst) of another place.

With that, I’ve chosen to celebrate not the things that America makes, but rather the things that make me American. And today, the day my country became a country, it is Independence. It’s a quality to be proud of, and this July 4th, my first ever away from home, has been an exercise of such independence. There is something significant, I believe, to knowing there is a BBQ four thousand miles away with my name on it, and a big tub full of ice cold beers, and a tacky midway I could be strolling down somewhere, yet choosing to step out alone into the great big world…and hoping it all goes OK.

I miss my BBQ very dearly and hope to soon encounter one here in Chile, but it’s hardly what makes America, America.* I hope you’ve been able to drink a lot of beer, and eat a burger, and win some corny stuffed animals at a fair. I’m glad to be celebrating in my own little way.

And I’m glad to be doing it here.

*Actually, Britney Spears is more like a nasty, bloody sludge of cultural After-birth.

**I think it has something to do with McDonalds.


RichterSauce said...

America misses you!!

Kelly said...

hooooly crap, how did i not even know you moved?!
i'd love to hear all about chile, that's FAB!!

Gadsden's Snake said...

I am reading this piece over a year later and it is still as true as ever. You have managed to wrap up our greatness and weakness in one short yet brilliantly entertaining article. Kudos!