Dw. Dunphy On… The American Myth

Written by Current Events, Dw. Dunphy On...

It’s 2009, kids, and welcome back to another year of Popdose madness. So… How was your holiday season?

Mine was pretty good. In fact, I would say mine was better than it’s been for many years. I involved myself in various “Secret Santa” projects to help assist some of the folks who weren’t going to have anything for their kids during Christmas. It’s easy to dismiss the notion of ‘canceling Christmas’ as a lame plot device for a cheaply animated holiday special, or a sitcom bereft of ideas, or of another Disney scheme to whore out Miley Cyrus (I mean, come on, it’s gone way too far now.) Yet I was surrounded by stories of people not only considering canceling Christmas, but who had no choice.

I did what I could — which, in the grand scheme of things, was like throwing stones into the sea to turn the tide — but the chance to stave off the hardening cynicism of a child or two confronted with harsh realities, if only for one more season, helped to alleviate my own. During this time, though, I was constantly reminded of what I now consider a flat-out American myth. With the disturbance of our current global financial crisis front and center, I could not help but think of those legends of Depression-era generosity, the magnanimous arm-in-arm unification later found in Frank Capra films (critically derided as Capra-corn) and how we know, deep in our gut, it just couldn’t have been that cut and dried.

That was the nice thing about the good ol’ days and their inherent ignorance – you had newspapers to inform you of what was wrong with the world, but aside from that, there was a state of insulation. Sure, you knew times were horribly tough, but it wasn’t shoved in your face like it is today. We have drenched ourselves with so much media and so much information, as well as the need to make things seem as bad as possible to keep the audience glued to the channel or site, that there’s no way we could fashion such an “apple pie, we’re in this together” sort of mythology now, right? Our impression of the past, then, is based upon not what we know, but what we don’t know. Aside from the monologues about Wall Street fat cats plunging from their offices to their deaths, stricken with the reality of a crashing market and the prospect of having to live among the common folk, we are given a sense of camaraderie about the hard-working, upright, moral populace who shared what they had, did what they could for their fellow man and soldiered on with unwavering confidence in a brighter tomorrow, sepia-tones and triumphal background music intact.

So to say that the horrors visited upon us in 2009 are a new wrinkle is to deny the simple truth that we just know about more of them. Human nature, both the best and worst of it, has been a constant through time. Murder, victimization, bigotry, and the heartless advantage-taking of those in distress surely were a part of that idealized tableau. Let’s also reconsider that the good that was going on then, the good we’ve been made aware of, is just as constant today. It’s going on.

I’ll let you in on a story of Christmas 2008. I went down to my sister’s on the 22nd or the 23rd of December to do caroling with her and my nieces. I find the act of caroling slightly awkward — the whole thing about door-to-door “performance” (which is being generous; I sounded awful that night) but I went for it nonetheless, and was glad I did afterward. People seemed appreciative that this particular holiday tradition hadn’t completely vaporized in the new realities. Some gave a buck here and a buck there, but that didn’t matter to me. That wasn’t the point.

My youngest niece, on the other hand, kept a running tally of what we were taking in. It was getting on my nerves, to be honest with you. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to wreck the moment, but it didn’t set right with me. We found ourselves at the end of our walk — which, by the way, was freaking freezing and my toes have yet to fully recover — at a house with no lights outside. The family inside couldn’t afford to burn that electricity for frivolity. Unemployment, and the rising cost of everything combined with the monetary income of nothing, had, in real life, canceled Christmas for this family. My niece insisted we had to go there, she was practically hell-bent on it. A young girl, roughly the same age as my niece, opens the door. The song is sung and she hands over the money she reaped from the previous houses. I’m struck.

Moments before, I was silently stewing about how she just didn’t get it, how she was reducing something as innocent as caroling into a money-making scheme; then, blam, she sinks my battleship. The American myth — or, better phrased, this myth of the better part of human nature — is in fact alive and well. It’s just not getting the coverage it deserves. I tried to do a little something-something for them the next day, but without the example that was set for me, I wouldn’t have known and certainly couldn’t have tried.

And now the holidays are over and we’re back in our shirts, ties, and formalities. Trees are either being disassembled or thrown to the curb, looking like skeletons and smelling less like pine and more like driftwood. Life goes on. But if I could make a suggestion before we go much further and my sarcastic, snarky side overshadows this moment of classic Capra-corn, could I persuade you to consider making this year more like the myth and less like the ice cold reality we know is there? For those with a tendency to cook massive meals although only two will eat it, would you mind maybe trucking a portion down the street to neighbors fallen on hard times? If you have a massive DVD collection, would you consider lending some to a neighbor you trust will take care of and return them? They might need the escapism about now. And now, more than ever, don’t forget to wave “hello” just so others might know that they’re not as invisible and inconsequential as they might feel. There will always be bad in the world, and there will always be good. It’s just a matter of personal expression that could tip that scale.

Someone said I should link Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to this post. I told them to wash my car with their tongue. I said I was getting there, people. I didn’t say I arrived.

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Next week, I won’t be quite this heavy. In fact, I’ll be as light as the forthcoming reissues of the Alan Parsons Project. Come on back and I’ll try not to sneakily insert “Games People Play”, “Time” and “Don’t Answer Me” into the text statements like I think I’m clever or something…