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June/July '03 Articles:
Mean Greenies
Editorial: Are You An Environmentalist?
Petty Acts of 'Treason'
Over-Priced Musings
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
(music reviews)

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by Morris Sullivan
Contributing Editor


My treason, initially, was unintentional. One afternoon, while dashing from one assignment to the next, I suddenly realized that I'd skipped lunch and was famished. So I went to the first mom'n pop burger joint I saw. I ordered a sandwich.

Then I asked for French fries.

The guy behind the counter raised one eyebrow and glared at me. This was during the peak of anti-French propaganda, when patriotic Americans were eschewing genuine champagne in favor of sparkling California wines and all that crap, and I had, unwittingly, committed at least a petty political indiscretion.

My decision to ask for "French" fries rather than "Freedom" fries or just "fries" was, I admit, not a conscious act of subversion. But it felt really good.

The next week, I was assigned to photograph and write about a local rodeo. The opening ceremonies began, and a patriotic song fuzzed and fizzled from the announcer's loudspeaker. I looked around and noticed most everyone else was standing. I wasn't. That felt good, too.

As we hit midsummer, Americans will once again celebrate that most sacred of all secular holidays, Independence Day. And this July 4th, thousands of Americans will once again rise united and raise our voices as we sing the same national anthem that opened the rodeo: Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

"Wait a minute," you say. Lee Greenwood didn't write the national anthem; Francis Scott Key did. And it's not 'God Bless the USA' at all–it's 'The Star Spangled Banner.'"

Technically, you are correct. A lot of Americans don't understand that these days, however. Many of us don't know much of anything about "The Star Spangled Banner," really. Ask the average American, and he'll tell you it was written during the American Revolution, the tune is based on an old English drinking song, and we've been singing it ever since. It was actually written during the War of 1812, and it didn't become the national anthem until 1931. The drinking song thing is true, as far as I can tell.

At the time, other patriotic songs were considered for the anthem, including "America the Beautiful," which was written in the 1890s. Others have been considered since. During the 1960s, for example, there was a movement to make Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" the national anthem. Guthrie had written the song decades earlier as a counterpoint to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which the US Congress apparently thinks is the national anthem–they sang it on the Capitol steps following September 11, remember?

A growing number of Americans, however, seem to think Greenwood's song would make a nice national anthem. Personally, I agree. I have mixed feelings about "Star Spangled Banner," anyway: It's hard as hell to sing unless you're drunk on English ale. Lines like "the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air" leave me a little cold. And it's a song about a flag, not about a country.

It's full of really nice metaphor, however. The imagery is good, and it uses the flag to represent the strife, struggle, and conflict that a nation's people have to survive in order to be strong, rather than just calling on "God" for strength and security.

Perhaps each generation of Americans should have its own national anthem. "God Bless the USA" would be perfect for ours. Unlike "Banner," it is full of vapid, two-dimensional, chest-thumping patriotism, thus befitting a nation that, on the whole, would rather pay not homage but lip service to concepts like "freedom."

It's a commercial song, too. While "Banner" was written in the heat of battle and is in the public domain, not only does Greenwood get paid, but the song would work just fine underscoring a Chevy Truck ad.

It's a good anthem for millennial America, but it can be even more so. When Key wrote "Banner," popular music was distributed on sheet music, and people heard it mainly by standing around the piano in the parlor during a Saturday night sing-along. Now, of course, people consume music in electronic form. So rather than making the song itself the national anthem, we should choose an official recording of it.

Therefore, I nominate the American Idol version of "God Bless the USA" to be the official millennial American national anthem. That seems completely appropriate–a commercially written, commercially produced song, generated by people who watched them on a reality TV show, then chose them via cell phone text-messaging to represent them.

This seems, to me, to represent our national state of mind very well, and an anthem should represent that state of mind. Compare it to "This Land is Your Land," for example. The song was popular during the depression, when Americans were joining labor unions, trying to break free from the robber barons that controlled their economic lives. Guthrie wrote the song to point out that America belongs not to government or industry, or even God, as Berlin's "God Bless America" suggested, but to you and me.

In today's world, that seems very naive. We live in a country that is in danger of becoming ruled by a power-grabbing autocrat who seems hell-bent on seizing control of the world's oil fields for the benefit of his rich buddies, yet we stick flags on our SUVs. We drive our SUVs to our jobs, where we work for huge corporations that screw us every chance they get, then we blame shoddy workmanship and high prices on labor unions.

Our culture is controlled by multinational corporations–artists don't produce "art" anymore, but "product"–and we buy billions of dollars worth of it. Most of the information we get comes mass-produced by TV "news networks" that are more committed to the wealth of their stockholders than to the principles of journalism–and we're perfectly content to be told what to think in 30-second sound bites.

Of course, a few treasonous individuals won't be willing to roll over and play dead while the politicians sell off America pound by pound. Some might even think it's time for Americans to take back America–that it should once again belong to you and me.

I thought about that a week or so after the rodeo. On impulse, I went to a small, independent record store and bought a Dixie Chicks CD. I don't like the Dixie Chicks–or most contemporary country music, for that matter. However, their CDs were being burned and banned all over the country because they had expressed "shame" about our President and his war.

Now, the Dixie Chicks aren't hurting for money. They're anything but freedom fighters, probably, and I didn't check, but they probably get paid by Sony or some corporation just like them. Still, I got some small satisfaction from committing that petty little act of treason. And I had an idea.

You know, now that we've taken Baghdad, antiwar activities have all but died away. That's not good. In fact, perhaps the best time to mobilize against war is when it's not a big issue. The military doesn't go to sleep during peacetime, so antiwar activists shouldn't get complacent now.

Already, Bush is waving his big Texan pecker at Iran. If you wait until he starts blaming Iran's leadership for September 11 to act, it'll be too late–the die will have been cast. Activists should be working today against America's conquest of the Middle East.

Peace vigils probably won't go over too big right now, of course. And demonstrations have a tendency to be counterproductive; it's too easy for people to write the demonstrators off as nut cases. And like terrorism and wars against it, real treason usually just produces more, stronger enemies.

So I recommend committing petty acts of treason. Boycotts and (I think I made this word up) pro-cotts are a good way to have a tangible effect. Ride a bike or walk more instead of putting more gas in your SUV, for example. Read a newspaper, preferably one not owned by a major conglomerate, instead of watching the news on Fox or CNN. Contribute to the campaigns of politicians that were against the war. Quit your job at Verizon and take a cut in pay to work at a smaller, independent company–then work your ass off to make the company succeed.

These things may seem silly, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, you know. And if enough of us commit such little treasons, maybe one day this land again will belong to you and me.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

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Previous Notes from the Cultural Wasteland Columns

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