“The good old days, the good old days,
we all so fondly speak of—
which, if they ever should come back,
no one could stand a week of.”
When I was a kid, my father had a shelf of language books—joke books, grammar commentaries, collections of limericks, and the like. This shelf was, for a time, in a bookcase located in what I used as my bedroom on the weekends Dad had visitation. A good many of the poetry collections were rather ribald, and Dad commanded that I not read these once I had read about half of a volume and started looking various things up in the dictionary that were decidedly, in Dad’s words, blue. Of course this meant I read them all the more fervently, especially once he moved them to a higher shelf, until, in exasperation (and with not a little nagging from his then-wife), he took them to some other place altogether. By the time I was old enough to ask where they had gone and be answered, he’d plum forgotten where he’d put the books in the several moves he’d had since. I have no idea what happened to those—save one, which has somehow come to me and is sitting on my own language shelf—but oddly, the above rhyme is the only one I remember from all that secret reading.
I’m not sure if that’s a shame or a gift.
I think of it often, though, especially on holidays of commemoration. Don’t misunderstand me: I wish all of my American readers a very cordial (and slightly belated) Independence Day, and I tip my hat to any British readers who know better than to take the celebrations personally. But I’m always rather amused by the fervor with which Americans greet the 4th of July, proclaiming the greatness of this Grand Experiment as a beacon to the world, perhaps having lost a bit of luster but right as rain if only it would get a good shine.
I went with a friend of mine to see The Lone Ranger yesterday—I have a fondness for the old radio show, so I was curious to see how it would fare under the weight of Disney’s Pirates flair. It wasn’t that great a film; it was entertaining, sure, but in a scattered sort of way. I will say, however, that whoever decided to release this on Independence Day was a genius.
Whether intentionally or not, it’s a discomforting film. If you don’t know, The Lone Ranger was originally a 30s radio show following the adventures of Kemosabe/John Reid and Tonto, his Indian [Native American] sidekick, through the American West in the late 19th century. As you can imagine, this made good use of the ideas of cowboys and Indians—both to uphold and to shatter the ideas of heroes and “savages.” And here’s the discomforting; how do you bring that kind of relationship into the very politically correct 21st century?
There is no way to film that kind of storyline without at least a nod to the treacherous, blood-filled history between European settlers and Native Americans. And I must say, in credit to Disney, they don’t actively try to hide this (though they are right ready with a joke line on the heels of any scene of Native American slaughter).
So to have this film of the Great American West and its white-hatted heroes parading out nostalgic storylines from the Golden Age of Radio and Television on the holiday of American stubbornness and desperation against the British Empire is one thing, but to then couple that with such a dark chapter in the nation’s history as the near-eradication of the indigenous peoples in the name of “progress,” “Christianization,” or “civilization” is just a brilliant stroke, I think. Because America is great; I’m still living here, and while my heart is forever elsewhere, I don’t mind it so much. But it isn’t perfect, and it never has been, and I feel like we gloss that sometimes.
I don’t want to rag on the country, especially on what is effectively its birthday. That’s just mean. I have great respect for what some people do with this holiday: there are those who don’t forget how displeased we are with a government that spies, and those who are keeping close tabs on the American response to Egypt, and others who are very aware that celebrating a day of freedom and independence probably means we should still have things that feel like freedom and independence. But I do find it interesting that, on this day, we talk about the beauty of the red, white, and blue and we praise the bravery of our soldiers and we talk about the founding fathers as if we have any real idea what they were thinking at the moment of shaking their historical fists at King George. We speak of the brilliance and spirit of the good old days and how that is our model, our aspiration, and (while I realize I’m mixing historical time periods) yet we can be so much better than that time. The good old days weren’t perfect, just as the current days aren’t perfect, and when we say things like “God Bless America” we should be asking ourselves if we want God in the other countries, too, or if we want God’s blessings to cement us as what we are or stretch us to being a country worthy of the world stage on which we place ourselves.
In the spirit of every age longing for the one before, I give you a 1950s show that feels like a smash between 12 Angry Men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Twilight Zone. It’s an hour, which I know no one has, but take it anyway and watch this. Seriously. It’s worth it. (Also, there are hilarious oldey-timey commercials, which are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.) Westinghouse Studio One presents: An Almanac of Liberty, with dramatic music.
And have a happy and safe holiday weekend; seek freedom, and ask yourself from what you need to be independent.
And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44, ASV)