Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Anti-American, Un-American, American, Feminist



Congressperson Bachman from Minnesota has raised the specter of certain members of Congress (and of Obama) as being "un-American," or "anti-American," and Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has claimed that the "folks" in small towns love America, whereas, presumably, the folks in cities don't love America. William Bennett, on his radio show, opined that "liberal feminists"don't like Palin because a) she works b) she's attractive and c) she's happy.

Oh, my, there's so much to sort out here, especially for poets.

As a poet and a literalist, I tend to interpret "un-American" as "not-American." In other words, a Swedish citizen or a Chinese citizen would qualify as un-American. However, I am aware that Senator McCarthy defined "un-American" as Communist. I think that definition (his) is too limiting. I think a capitalist who is a citizen of Great Britain could be un-American.

"Anti-American" is more difficult. An anti-American person might be one who disagrees significantly with something economic, social, political, or aesthetic about the U.S.A., or about the Western Hemisphere, which consists of North and South America, and which, bizarrely, is named after an Italian. If one concedes that both the Constitution and American traditions value dissent and disagreement, might one proceed to argue that "anti-American" is "American"?

Meanwhile, Bennett's sentiments constituted a blast from the past, especially the 1970s past, when those opposed to, unfamiliar with, or frightened by feminism liked to caricature feminists as physically unattractive, unhappy ("bitter" was a code-word back then, as was "angry," as in "she [a feminist] seems so angry"), and not traditionally employed.

My definition of feminism is pretty basic. I define it as a perspective that advocates for and values the equal treatment of women in society, economics, politics, and the arts. Therefore, I don't agree with the premise that feminists would be bothered by how attractive Palin is, assuming she is attractive, and I assume she is, within certain conventional boundaries. I think she is a physically attractive person, but I think most people are physically attractive. I don't think feminists would be opposed to Palin's working, although I am reminded of the old joke about a White feminist and a Black feminist converging at a rally; the White feminist says she is protesting so that she can achieve employment (probably middle-class employment). The Black feminist says, "I've always worked"(at jobs that weren't so great).

I think I'm an American, by virtue of having been born in the United States. I think I am anti-American to the extent I disagree with certain policies put forward by the U.S., and with certain aspects of American culture and American history. I don't think I'm un-American, but that's chiefly because I think that term is a smelly red herring dressed up as an adjective.

I'd just add that feminists, be they White, Black, male, female, or whatever, are (in my experience) in favor of employment, physical attractiveness, and contentment. That Bennett thinks otherwise makes me think he is stuck, psychologically, in a place that's about 40 years old.

If he weren't well paid and well employed by such entities as CNN, I might attempt to generate pity for Bill B. It's as if he missed a lot of history. Rip Van Bennett. I suspect Bennett started out as an academic, didn't really like academic work, teaching, and academic pay, and decided to become a professional conservative media performer--not a bad gig in the Reagan and post-Reagan era.

Now, however, the act, the gig, is wearing a little thin. Memo to Bill: "louder, funnier, and more original"--that's what your act needs. But I'm glad you're employed, attractive (in a full-figured way), and happy. A lot of people I know think you're an asshole and a fraud, but I'm not willing to go quite that far. I think you got stuck in a gig, just like the guy who had the plate-spinning act on The Ed Sullivan Show. To be a member of the Punditocracy is to be a citizen in one of Dante's circles of Hell, and I think Bill B. would understand the reference. To change myths, I think the likes of Bill Bennett and George Will sold their souls to the Conservative PR machine and to popular corporate media. The machine and the media have lived up to their ends of the bargain. Bill and George are well paid and well known. However, the part about the loss of the soul is a problem, maybe.
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