Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Monstrous Musings: Patriotic Monstrosity

"Natalie Wilson is literature and women’s studies scholar and author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She is currently writing a book examining the Twilight cultural phenomenon from a feminist perspective, forthcoming from McFarland in 2010. Her interest in vampires and werewolves dates back to her childhood fascination with all types of monsters."

I have been reading a number of novels dealing with nuclear holocaust lately such as Z is for Zachariah, Alas, Babylon, and On the Beach. I have also long immersed myself in dystopian future worlds such as those envisioned in The Handmaid’s Tale, V for Vendetta, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, He, She, and It, and, most recently, Divergent.  These novels, in various ways, serve as meditations on the dangers of patriotism and nationalism. While these words are supposed to mean different things, there is a slippage between them in current times, one that melds the love of one’s country (patriotism) to the desire for power over others and other countries (nationalism). I call this melding “patriotic monstrosity.”

While the term monster has many meanings, the definitions I am thinking of most is “a threatening force” – as when patriotism is used to threaten other nations, often by attempting to bomb them into submission.

The definition of monstrous as “a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty” is also fitting of recent U.S. patriotism as it has become, in many ways, a nation of ugliness, wickedness, and cruelty. U.S.“patriotism” is no longer of the type that loves one’s place of birth and its traditions, but the type that claims “you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. 'cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way” (as put by Toby Keith in his song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”).

This type of patriotism is the kind that leads to the nightmare scenarios envisioned in the novels above – to nuclear war, planetary devastation, and the annihilation of the human race.

Seeing as July 4th is the patriotic holiday extraordinaire in the U.S. where one can find people decked out in red, white, and blue waving flags and waxing non-poetically (and quite often very drunkenly) about the supposed greatness that is America, it seems fitting to pause and think about just how monstrous our patriotism has become on this, the day after “Independence Day.”

We might consider, for example, at what cost U.S.“independence” comes. To name a few costs, we might think about rampant militarization, the violent and costly fortification of borders, the global sweatshop necessitated by our zealous consumerism (itself framed as patriotic), and the vilification of all those people’s and places not deemed “truly American.”

More specific to the the 4th itself, we might consider the cost of those epic fireworks displays, which, according to Daily Finance cost anywhere from $10,000 (for small town displays) to several million (for the type of “Patriotic firepower” launched in New York last night where “an average of 1,600 shells were launched per minute”). Is the cost of such displays prudent at a time when U.S. schools are crumbling and those in service professions are being stripped of their already meager salaries and benefits?

With the highest incarceration rate in the world and soaring rates of poverty, unemployment, and rampant sweatshop/slave labor, many in the U.S. are neither free nor independent. And, given the exhortation to be patriotic or else, US citizens are not even free to NOT be patriotic, not without being accused of being traitors or put on watch lists (even when one is president accusations of not being “properly patriotic” fly). 

Patriotic monstrosity also abounds in everyday life. For example, a man down the street from me drives his monster truck with two over-sized American flags flying phallic-style on full-sized flag poles from the truckbed . He guns the pedal in our community and nearly hit my son on his skateboard one day. Wouldn’t want to let those flags sag in order to avoid a young skater – maybe if my son had on a flag t-shirt and toted a gun in his belt he would have been safer.

This “taste of freedom” as parodied by Eli Braden in his satire on American patriotism, is not only monstrously gross, but also monstrously cannibalistic – we are a nation “eating” our own in the name of power and empire. Sadly, far too many Americans have the attitude documented in Braden’s opening line:

“Well, I’m a grade-A -bad-ass American dude, love it or leave it is my fuckin attitude. You pussy liberals are all fucking gay. I will blow your head off if you get in my way.”

Sadly, this patriotic monstrosity is, like the blob in the infamous 1958 B-movie, oozing across the nation. Perhaps the recent aptly titled “Red, White, and Dead Zombie Walk” that took place in Seattle July 2 will become a daily event, with Americans, zombies all, hungry for the brains that  the patriotic fervor of our times has drained from so many…