“The problem with Americans is they have no culture” Barry F ca. 1988
I don’t know why my friend said this. I can’t remember the discussion or the context, much less the day. But I do remember him saying those very profound words. He is perhaps the most American person I know. Originally from Indiana, his family moved around as his father sought jobs, much like the rest of the U.S. and World population. He is a Navy veteran, and wears this proudly. He is also much decorated with tattoos, and until age struck him with joint problems, was also an artist, a skin illustrator, description courtesy of Rod Steiger. Decades before personal decorations entered mainstream culture, he had multiple piercings both seen and unseen (Yes, that body part) and tattoos everywhere. He enjoys his Harley, cheeseburgers and coffee. Despite his long hair and anti-social appearance, he was also perhaps the most normal behaving of my cohort, which at the time, in our twenties, consisted of ex-junkies trying to learn how to put on our pants. His house was at least clean and livable.
His observation is profound because it is very true. And, because it is true, it has allowed a culture to be implanted.
My title is from the movie Blade Runner, and is part of a conversation between two replicants, the genetically engineered biological slave subjects of the movie. They are part the emotionally important cache of memories for one of the characters that are either implanted within or generated by the replicants as they live their brief, engineered four-year lifespan.
In a way, many Americans are much like them. Most of us are not the descendants of Massachusetts Bay and its associated Boston Brahmins, but instead are the children of great crashing waves of desperate, landless, hungry peasants symbolic of famine driven diasporas left on the beaches as the waves recede. Our ancestors landed, dusted off the sand, and were too busy working and enjoying the idea they could actually own land and eat too worry. We do not know who the hell we are and how we got here, and our ancestors never had the time to remember and tell us, as they were too busy working. Here, they at least had a chance. They were not so hungry they had to chew on leather mitts, as my grandfather once described. The problem is with no ties to the land, implanted cultural memes of patriotism and no historical context, American’s can be sold any story. Chopping down Cherry trees, not telling lies, Cherokee Princesses, the belief that no one was here or god intends us to rule or evil communists or shining city on the hill, we can be told anything because we have no history. Or, at least one that is truly told.
It is erased. The Indigenous inhabitants didn’t exist or were primitive savages digging in the ground for roots, rather than the people who had complex societies who died from biological bad luck in the evolutionary viral sweepstakes. They were not the people who built Cahokia, designed the Serpent Mound, mined copper on the Keewenaw and traded it for shells from the Gulf of Mexico and somehow brought them to the Grand Mound on the Rainy River. They were, and are, the disappeared Injun of the “Trails End.”
As colonists with the ancestry of desperate peasants, we don’t have much to emotionally base our lives on. You see this when people investigate their genealogy. It is inevitably some Royalty from the Merovingians or Tudor’s, rather than indentured servants named John. The same is true, for people feeling loss or guilt over how they got here, so they invent things such as the apocryphal Cherokee Princess who confessed on the deathbed to Indian heritage. Much laughed at, it should really be pitied. The tellers are often emotionally desperate people trying to belong to something in a world that has forced their ancestors to move every generation for 150 years. Veryone needs a home, and we will invent one if needed.
Thus the myths.
As Noam Chomsky one clarified, you never hear of someone in Italy being called “ Anti-Italian” during a political discussion. Terms like that, such as “Anti-American”, are used only in places where all cultural life is subsumed to the Nation State, as in Totalitarian states. This is a relatively new development. Culturally, this has endured in the U.S. since the propaganda project to politically move us into World War One, but up until Word War Two, people still questioned involvement in other countries, despite the constant invasion of danger zones such as Nicaragua and Mexico. Eagles, the word “Freedom”, and the Military are just part of the precious photos we use, much like the replicants. They are our false memories, our implants, creating a cultural memory to justify our existence.The methods and symbols used are still the same, and Edward Bernays would be very proud.
God forbid someone mention genocide.