Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Everywhere people are remembering where they were on this day ten years ago. It's easy to recall how we first heard the news, but harder to think of where we were as a nation before the Twin Towers, before the second Iraq war, before the Afghanistan adventure, before our crushing budget deficits, before a six fold increase in the price of gold, before the Tsunami, before the near sinking of New Orleans, before the ascendency of Barack Obama, before the Tea Party, before this year's unprecedented string of weather related emergencies and disasters, and most of all, before the rise and fall of America's good name in the hearts of our allies all over the world.
Some things only seem new. Our disgust with Congress may be peaking, but I found kindred skepticism the other night when I watched the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Worry over the national debt has been with us ever since "that man", Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sought to combat joblessness with public works projects. And wars of choice didn't begin with George W. Bush--"Remember the Maine!"
We have felt despair before; is it worse now? What would combat it? I see three potential sources of hope. The first is dialogue. Yes, TV pundits are abrasive, and many people believe harebrained conspiracy theories rather than reputable news sources, but as we approach the next election, I think we can expect a greater audience for the exchange of political ideas and information than ever before. What will result? I have no idea, but my hope is that we will reach a consensus, or as politicians like to call it, a mandate that will enable us to effect changes.
The second is an economic rebound. The financial markets have been fluctuating by as much as 3% in a day, which is distressing. However, the fact that good news causes rallies, however short lived, is evidence of dormant faith in our economic potential. The capital is there, looking for opportunity, and the demand for our goods and services, both here and abroad, is enormous. Our economic downturn is not born of want. This gives me hope.
My third wellspring is more reflective. Our continent is truly blessed, our values are the world's highest, and our society is the most admired. We don't always respect our environment as we should, or live up to what we profess, but I place my hope in our desire to retain our leadership role. In other words, I place my hope in the fact that Americans are not given to despair.
Map, by Jasper Johns, 1961. Johns is a much heralded artist and a gray eminence among the New York art scene. Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom earlier this year. His most famous works are of the American Flag. I find his work coy, patriotic in one context and ironic in the next. Click on the picture for a closer look.