Don’t Tread On Me – America The Branded

U-S-A! U-S-A!: American visitors wear the stars spangled banner with pride on hats, t-shirts and even sunglasses as excitement builds in the Olympic Park
Taken from The Daily Mail’s website

I am on the District Line, traveling west, sitting across from a stocky young man who’s just boarded at Whitechapel. This corn-fed meal with tanned skin, mirror sunglasses, loose fitting jeans and chunky sneakers wears a t-shirt with the words ‘America, The Beautiful’ in red, white, and blue on top of a vertical star spangled banner, behind which seems to float the diaphanous image of a woman’s face that I can only assume is a feminine representation of ‘America, The Beautiful.’ I resist the urge to lean over to him and say, ‘You know, people would have known without you announcing it on your t-shirt like that. And another thing: It’s neither of the things you think it is – vaguely, subtly artistic or stylish.’

One is put in mind of the Irish poet Louis MacNiece: ‘Why,/ Must a country, like a ship or a car, be always female,/ Mother or sweetheart?’

Why is it that as a nation we feel a desperate compulsion to label ourselves?

It’s as though no one listened to Springsteen carefully enough to read irony into him.

Or as though we are still worried that someone might mistake us for being from somewhere else or belonging to some other cultural group.

No one will.

The minute we begin to speak, they know. Everybody knows. And it’s no bad thing. What is a bad thing is trying desperately to label it and somehow make it chic or cool and pretend it’s some artistic statement.

Here’s what I like: on the same tube journey, an individual boards the train in jeans and plain, off-white t-shirt, sits down and starts tapping his feet to the rhythm of whatever tuneful track is playing away in on his MP3 player. It’s then that I notice, his Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, faded, worn, ragged, but clearly patterned with Old Glory, stripes on each side, stars down the tongue. A cheeky treading with the flag, not on it, naturally, not flashing, not waving, but toe-tapping with a wonderfully tacit acknowledgement of nationality as a simple, softly spoken part of who you are.

On the tube back, a heaving, humid, flesh-wall-cramped train car. A short stocky man of some sort of East Asian heritage squeezes on (melting pot significance, not passively racist. Swear). He is wearing red Bermuda shorts, a plain blue top, red, white and blue star-shaped sunglasses, a soft, fuzzy looking Uncle Sam style top hat and a red and white striped draw-string bag slung over both shoulders with a little American flag poking chirpily out the back. This too strikes me as utterly and completely appropriate. It’s too loud to be obnoxious. This man is America personified, wearing the country, proclaiming the preamble like a big flamboyant flamingo shouting to all and sundry, ‘I am the U. S. A!’ without saying a word.

Taken from the Scavenge Costumes website

I’m not given to wearing my national colo(u)rs very often, the 4th of July being an exception some years, but I think what bothered me about the first man’s shirt, aside from the inherent and age-old sexism and the mixture of telltale labels, was the pretension that there was some conscious art in declaring your national heritage, as opposed to treating it as some part of you that is as natural as your shoe size, as innate as a sexual orientation. We are Americans and intensely proud of who we are, but I’d rather we all avoid standing in odious uncritical hand-on-heart reverence to the flag, not in front of the foreigners, most of whom have a bit of a sense of humo(u)r about their homelands.

So, bundle of contradictions that I am, that’s what I think we all need: more pride, less reverence. 


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