chapter ii

chapter ii

6.30.2009

Team America


The closer we get to the weekend it seems probable that work will be a bit "watered down"... what with images of beaches, lakes, not to mention a paid holiday on the brain. July 4th seems like a mirage in the distance. If work is the desert, Fourth of July is an ice cold cocktail on the horizon.

Stores are pushing patriotism in the form of picnic-ware and Hebrew Nationals. Martha Stewart is tweeting how to be the hostess with the mostest and The History Channel has been playing a variety of different specials. There have been specials on the founding fathers, and on the encrypted codes in the dollar bill. And then of course the scandals, sex, and lies born in the bedroom of the White House, a personal fave.

One scandal for instance involved FDR's love affairs. To a country in crisis, FDR was a strong character guiding people through a hopelessly dark time. He fit the bill people require of a president with a wife, family, and dog. Only, Eleanor and Franklin basically lived seperate lives. After an initial affair they slept in different bedrooms and Franklin eventually built Eleanor a seperate cottage to live in. She lived there with two other women, and their initials comprised the three letter monogram on the towels... And his most famously photographed dog Fala? A gift from his mistress. But his public image gave no hint that he was in fact a philandering parapalegic. There are very few photos that even exist of him in a wheelchair, funny enough they were taken by his mistress at the time.
On the one hand as they revealed these White House "secrets" it was hard not to feel a bit of anxiety about the lies, the facade...and the underlying reality and truth. It's one of those ideas so clearly demonstrated by Andy Warhol's silkscreened images. Those famous and colorful images of Marilyn Monroe that have become so iconic but are so bound to tragedy.

But, while it seems at first like a fault of our culture, and it sometimes is, there is an element of it that seems to ring true in accordance with what makes this country really great.
It's clearly put into perspective in this book that I'm reading (thanks, Lauren) called "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet."

The book's narrator and central character is a twelve year old cartographer who maps everything from facial expressions, to boredom, to the bugs he finds on his Montana ranch. His obsession with recording things is connected to history as well as a basic human need to do so. "Since Neolithic times we had been marking down representations on cave walls, in the dirt, on parchments, trees, napkins, even our own skin so that we could remember where we have been, where we want to be going, where we should be going." Then he goes on to say, "Since making my first maps of shaking hands with God, I had learned that the representation was not the real thing, but in a way this dissonance was what made it so good: the distance between the map and the territory allowed us breathing room to figure out where we stood." He even observes that the first maps drawn of the country were highly inflated by hopes for great opportunity rather than topographical accuracy.
So while it's important to pay close attention to the truth of an image in our highly visual culture, it's also important to appreciate the collective human desire to use images to inspire hope. Think of those perfect Greek sculptures, it's the same thing.

Human fallibility is a given but not the goal or the point. These idealized versions serve a purpose- however inaccurate, they can encourage people to be better. And for that, for living in a country that encourages people to be better is much better than being told you are less. We are really lucky. Happy Fourth!

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