--President Barack Obama's speech at the DNC on July 27, 2004.
A few months ago I posted a weeks-long rant on Facebook using my "status update." Part of it was boredom with the Facebook “status update," part of it was playfulness, part of it was just an ongoing experiment in “meaning." Parts might be pretentious, parts might be sanctimonious, parts might be nonsensical, and parts might have multiple interpretations, insinuations, innuendos, and double-entendres. (I know I pushed the limits of good taste many times, but hey, I consider barbaric imperialism in poor taste and if a few off-color comments help me purge the wheat of my friends-list of some thin-skinned chaff then you can bet I'll overdo it--just to be sure. Glass parking lot, betches.)
In any case, some of you asked what the whole thing was about, and I prolly mumbled stuff about context and non-sequiturs and jarring juxtapositions and the ongoing emergence of ephemeral meaning and subverting the signified and yes, no, I don't know, just wait 'til I'm done and then I'll gather them all together and you can take them like lumps of Silly Putty and mold your own malleable meanings of them. Well, today supposedly marks a new dawn in the US and here they are, my present to you, please take them.
But first, a note on their genesis:
It all started at Naan N Curry, after my Switchback reading at the Cantina SF. Sarah Palin's stupid remarks had prompted a backlash, at last!, to eight years of love-it-or-leave-it-ism. Both me and animikwaan had read different newspaper articles that day about the meaning of being American, or patriotic, or anti-American, whatehaveyou. Hers, by Jeff Chang in the San Francisco Chronicle, discussed the change in race-based legal restrictions on US citizenship over time and ends with the observation (which, having studied the topic for years, I must agree with) that immigrants embrace and embody “American ideals"with the fervor of religious converts: they actively choose that which most of us are passively born into, so theirs is a tested, galvanized faith in comparison to our “well I just do it that way 'cause my daddy and my daddy's daddy did it that way." Mine, by I'd Rather Not Say in the New York Times talked about how cool the rest of the world will think America is for electing a black man. Both animikwaan and agreed that, for all its faults, the US of A is pretty alright in a lot of ways.
I'd taken the next morning off from work to take my bike out for a spin, and as I headed up Highway 1 past Stinson Beach towards Pt. Reyes Station, I was still ruminating on the previous night's discussion while thinking about the Grateful Dead. (What? I can't think of Marin County without thinking of the Grateful Dead, it's just automatic!) So then I was like, “Man, these fools who call Obama and San Francisco and New York unamerican are the same idiots who would have called the Grateful Dead unamerican and that's just stupid, I mean, they are Americana defined. And what about napalm? (The Grateful Dead thought led to a cognitive association with Vietnam, thus napalm...I suppose.) I bet those same people would disavow napalm just as soon as they'd wash their hands of the Dead. But what do they make of these redwood trees? These redwood trees they're so happy to chop down, these impediments to progress, these sage beings whose seeds first broke through the ground to taste sunlight over 2,500 years ago, before the 'word made flesh' was even a twinkle in his daddy's eye..."And then I just ran with it and didn't stop until election day, long after even I had grown tired of the exercise.
In any case, America and Americana—the mythology, the folklore, the promise, the hypocrisy--have been a couple of my primary interests for a long time. Thing is, I really bought all that propaganda they feed you in school...and I still do. I'm not one to go for American exceptionalism—despite what you hear on Fox News, there are a lot of places in the world where things are as good, if not better, than we have them here. (For instance, many Americans like to bash Pakistan for being backwards and oppressive to women, but they had a female chief-executive twenty years ago. And before we get too self-congratulatory, let's face it, the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's president in 1994 was a way bigger deal than Obama.)
I'll leave you with two quotes by quintessentially American authors who worked during another time when the words “America"and “American"were being refined and redefined, when our young nation was asserting its own cultural identity, distinct from its European roots.
The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them—that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.
--Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall
assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
I cite Whitman because those lines of his have long served as one of my most basic artistic credos—when I praise or criticize “America," I include myself in that praise or criticism.
Things have changed in the past few days and months. I could not have made many of these statements a year ago without fear of a visit from men in black suits. I still go to sleep sometimes wondering if a SWAT team is going to kick down my door, put a mask over my head, and whisk me away to a cold, damp cell where I'll eat cockroaches between the torture sessions, and I still hesitate to make a statement like “Harbeer is unamerican as uncritical
support of the Israeli right wing."
So here it is. I'm tempted to footnote a few of the more obscure allusions but this preface has gone on for long enough. Feel free to ask me if you have a question about a specific line. I think my favorite is “Harbeer is unamerican as a drag queen with a broken heel.”
Yes. They hate us for our freedom—religious zealots of every stripe. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke and gawd bless America (which is a hemisphere, not just a country.)
Harbeer is headed out on a ride. Vroom vroom!
Harbeer is as unamerican as setting the cruise control to 9 mph over the speed limit, the Grateful Dead, and napalm.
Harbeer is as unamerican as bugs on the windshield.
Harbeer is unamerican as a needle in a haystack.
Harbeer is unamerican as bloody Marys for breakfast.
Harbeer is unamerican as your mom.
Harbeer is unamerican as spotted owls, herds of buffalo, and redwood trees that are older than Jesus.
Harbeer is unamerican as potable tap water (with flouride!)
Harbeer is unamerican as pie in the sky when you die.
Harbeer is unamerican as Canada Dry ginger ale.
Harbeer is unamerican as your maxxed out credit card.
Harbeer is unamerican as bicycles, carpools, and public transportation.
Harbeer is unamerican as the corn on Donald Rumsfeld's pinky toe.
Harbeer is unamerican as the girl from Ipanema.
[Note: I was thinking about anti-immigrant sentiment when I made this and the next statement. “Illegal aliens" can be worthy of songs and sitcoms, in some cases, but why not others?]
Harbeer is unamerican as My Favorite Martian.
Harbeer is unamerican as Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and the siege of Falluja.
Harbeer is proud to be unamerican.
Harbeer is unamerican as humble pie.
Harbeer is unamerican as boxcutters boxcutters boxcutters.
[Note: I was channeling Ginsberg's "boxcars boxcars boxcars” and thinking of my days as a puppeteer after 9/11, when I, a man who looks Arabic to some, often found myself heading to the hardware store to replace misplaced boxcutters and the uneasy feeling I always had a the store.]
Harbeer is unamerican as crack cocaine, selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, and individually wrapped slices of pasteurized process cheese food.
Harbeer is unamerican as brunch and siestas and a joyride in a hotwired car whilst blaring "Cat Scratch Fever."
Harbeer is unamerican as mommy's little helper with a side of ranch.
Harbeer is unamerican as tofurkey...or turducken...or whichever one of those is more unamerican than the other.
Harbeer is unamerican as cereal killers for breakfast.
Harbeer is unamerican as Jim Crow and Joe Camel.
[Note: this was me playing with the Joe the Plumber” meme.]
Harbeer is unamerican as putting those 22'' platinum spinners on layaway and peanut butter and caviar on toasted Wonder Bread with fresh Tang.
Harbeer is unamerican as ripping your pants right in the ass when you're wearing pink underwear, wah!!!
Harbeer is unamerican as PacManistan, happy endings, and no interest 'til 2012.
Harbeer is unamerican as flavored lube, third party candidates, and science.
Harbeer is unamerican as cheating on your taxes and stealing office supplies from work.
Harbeer is unamerican as chop suey, nachos, and chicken tikka masala.
[Note: These are all faux-authentic ethnic dishes...not that there's anything wrong with that. Syncretism.]
Harbeer is unamerican as that-not-so-fresh feeling.
Harbeer is unamerican as playing hooky, necking at inspiration point, and laying a wreath for Johnny at Dead Man's Curve.
Harbeer is unamerican as a drag queen with a broken heel, the bubble gum stuck to the bottom of your school desk, and prices that end in $x.99.
Harbeer is unamerican as the Fatal Blue Screen of death and Windows crashing one week before your thesis is due, yay! (Mac users may gloat starting...now.)
Harbeer is unamerican as beating a dead horse with Rex Kwan Do. Harbeer is renouncing his unamericanness and going as Uncle Sam for Halloween.
Harbeer is unamerican as elastic waistbands, pleated jeans, puffy-paint unicorn t-shirts, the electoral college, and quitting while you're ahead.
Harbeer is unamerican as stripes with polka dots and depleted uranium munitions.
is unamerican as singing Billy Joel whilst riding your motorcycle in the rain--how crazy is that?
Harbeer is unamerican as the ozone layer and those pesky phytoplankton turrists.
Harbeer is unamerican as George Washington's cherry trees, an atheist in a foxhole, this one and even "that one.”
Harbeer is unamerican as pagan holidays, uncut cocks, fake tits, and taking yourself too seriously. Happy Halloween, betches. Trick AND treat.
Harbeer is unamerican as double coupons, shame for breast-feeding in public, and jacking up supermarket prices so you can offer a "discount" for your data-mining purposes.
Harbeer is unamerican as twittering and doing laundry whilst revising the great american novel and awaiting the medical cannabis delivery man.
Harbeer is unamerican as hopscotch and double-dutch and open fire hydrants in the summertime.
Harbeer is unamerican as narcissism, or solipsism, even, as facebook, as irony, as earnesticity.
Harbeer is unamerican as jeebus.
Harbeer bin ein Berliner.
Harbeer is flavor-dipt and rolled in unamerican sprinkles.
Harbeer is unamerican as gas, grass and ass, as well as Little Boy and Fat Man.
Harbeer is unamerican as uncleared samples and the Fair Use doctrine.
Harbeer is unamerican as bootstraps bootstraps bootstraps and the myth of the self-made man.
Harbeer is unamerican as Manifest Destiny, End of Continent Sadness, native American genocide, slavery and the middle passage, and the trope of the angry young man.
Harbeer is unamerican as Liquid Plummr, flying the Confederate flag at the statehouse, Elvis whistling Dixie, Clearasil, and a golf course in the desert.
Harbeer is unamerican as the majority of Americans who see through the voting sham.
Harbeer is unamerican as none of the above.
Harbeer is unamerican as ”I voted!” stickers in three laguages--two of them communist languages--with a white star on a RED field???
Harbeer is unamerican as selling your soul to the devil and painting the White House black.
Harbeer is unamerican as whoopie cushions and fake doody and election hysteria.
Harbeer is unamerican as having (a full draft of) your thesis due in 24 hours when the whole world is celebrating history, wah!
Harbeer is unamerican as boring riffs of experiMENTAL “poetry” that go on way to long and prompt his friends to change their FB settings to ignore his uncouth tirade.