This isn’t going to be a Fourth of July post that uses the occasion to attack America. Truth is, I love America. Admittedly I’ve only been there three times, which is enough to decide I like the place but not to have developed any long standing issues with it, like not being able to find a public toilet or free healthcare. And I’m not sure that New York and San Francisco are representative of the country as a whole.
But wait – is anywhere representative of the whole of America? Hawaii and Alaska seem poles apart, as are Hollywood and small town Oklahoma. It always seems slightly strange to me that the country is so polarised between two political parties, as you’d think the sheer size and diversity of the place and its population would have lead to thousands of smaller parties all fighting for radically different constituencies.
From the outside, that could well be a strange sort of strength – a national unity of sorts. Sure, I’m pretty certain that the place is rent with divisions, but there still seems to be a unifying principle behind it all. Certainly American patriotism is worn on the sleeve more than it ever is in Britain, where it’s only really brought to mind by wars, football and annoying newspapers. Sometimes the way American national pride is expressed is flat out offensive (I’m from Britain, for goodness sake, we’re a democracy too and we don’t hate freedom!), but often it’s touching, even inspiring.
But then America is an easy place to be inspired by. If you’re from the US, take a moment to consider that many of you live amid a landscape that can only be described as epic. All those deserts and mountains and beaches and vast cornfields… It’s no wonder Hollywood took off, what with all those locations in which to film.
But most of those landscapes exist within the imagination. Texas belongs to John Wayne movies, California to the Beach Boys. Maine is Stephen King’s, the South is Harper Lee’s, and New Jersey is Springsteen’s. Music and movies have created an imaginative landscape that, to outsiders perhaps, is more America than America. It’s a landscape that’s big enough to hold a lot a narratives.
And not all of those narratives are fiction – the space race, for instance, and the Civil Rights campaign. Say what you want about American politicans – I do – but it’s hard not to have respect for the likes of Neil Armstrong and Martin Luther King, people whose stories contain both the good and the bad of America.
So on the Fourth of July, America gets to celebrate its independence, and thinks a lot about freedom (and, hopefully, the responsibilities of that freedom). And I hope it’s a good day; I’m happy to be British and wouldn’t trade the BBC or NHS for anything, but I’m glad America is around. Because I also wouldn’t want to live in a world without rock and roll and footprints on the moon.