what is anti-american
March 2, 2003 07:55 PM

Many people who feel themselves patriotic feel an obligation to be so blindly. To be patriotic is to think - no, to not think - only that your country is the greatest, best best best thing ever. This is true, I think, primarily in America, where the idea of patriotism appears to have outgrown itself. Instead of an idea, it appears to many people as tangible fact.

Perhaps, lacking a distinct mythology, Americans have forgotten how to treat symbols as symbols. So much of our popular culture is literal. And simplified to a degree that permits transmission in as many media as possible.

I read this article about Toni Smith, a college basketball player who turns her back on the flag in protest of the possible war on Iraq and the social inequities in the US. I read this article because someone at the office saw a picture and was so appalled he had to share. She's a bad American. Yankee go home. Love it or leave it. These colors don't run. Push it or shove it. [Er, wait, maybe that last one isn't exactly a slogan.]

I'm not appalled. It's appalling for a college student to have no political views. That is, in my opinion, being a bad American. The flag, though, that's just a representation of the people - including that girl - who make up a country. It's also a symbol of the government, which is democratically elected and does not require fealty. And, if the people around you ignore something you think is important, a gesture towards a symbol they won't ignore is powerful.

I've said before that the function of any democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. And, if you believe the hype, America is all about Betsy Ross, the mother of invention, independent spirit and all that: exactly the qualities one expresses when publicly and creatively shunning a symbol. What, exactly, is anti-American about that?

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