I indulged some classic 20th century Americana earlier today by stopping in a McDonald’s, impulsively, to satisfy a craving for a breakfast sandwich. So what?, you say. Well, I honestly can’t recall when I last had any desire whatsoever to visit a McD’s, as well as the numerous other fast, at times freaky fast, grab-and-go “restaurants”. McD. Ray Kroc. The American success story, having started microscopically with one humble outlet 65 or so years ago, and now a global presence with those iconic golden arches that are a ubiquitous part of urban and rural landscapes. Oh, and a symbol of that above noted “Americana”.
Norman Rockwell made a living out of painting portraits of that Americana. I never caught a pleasing vibe from Norm’s work, but hey, that’s just me. Having grown up in 1950s America, perhaps I couldn’t appreciate his vision, mine being distracted by the reality of inner city Chicago. The people who populate his portraits of wholesome living in the U. S. of A. never seemed to match anyone or anything I saw with my own eyes. Thanksgiving dinner in all its wholesome glory. Baseball games. His “four freedoms”: from want, of speech, from fear, of worship, part of upholding the American way of life during the threat of losing those freedoms to fascism during WWII. I suppose it served as a bolstering form of boosterism cum propaganda as that battle of Allied vs Axis powers played out. If Rockwell lifted the spirits back home during that virtual winner-take-all tussle that played out overseas, then hooray for his contribution to such a crucial cause.
The allied forces beat back Hitler and Hirohito, paving the way for that post-war 1950s era of peace and prosperity. Suburbia! The rise of the shopping centers. See the USA in your Chevrolet. A nation on roller skates. Oh, and TELEVISION. The Hula Hoop. Rock and roll. Outdoor movie theaters. McDonald’s! And so much more Americana.
Now it’s roller “blading”, mega-malls, death metal, deep suburbia morphing into high-rise hipstervilles, 80-inch 4D flat-screen TVS, digital everything, smarter and smarter, “smart phones”. Artificial Intelligence. Drones (I saw one at a department store the other day selling for $20; really, I can buy a drone for that little and possibly inadvertently bring down a jetliner if it gets sucked into an engine). Holy shit! Talk about having freedom! Oh, and along with the digital hazedaze comes social media. Like this WordPress blog.
And so, McD’s and my indulging an egg and cheese muffin, once a cultural phemon back when, is reduced to my passing four of them along a 12 mile drive before, as stated, impulsively pulling into one and satisfying my hunger. Our cultural landscape is now so not 1950s-ish. Then again, after the carnage of WWII, with Rockwell’s “four freedoms” seemingly saved for posterity, my memory, cluttered up with my formal and informal knowledge of the cause and effects of history, I’m pretty sure the 50s, 60s, and on and on, right up to today, March 24th, 2019, have always been more an illusion of prosperity, harmony, peace, love and understanding than daily waking life. Hell, Rockwell’s freedoms mojo and the Allies sacrifice did save the world for a more civilized form of existence for all humankind (well, in theory). Peace and love? Hitler blows his brains out in a bunker, and the Third Reich is kaput. Then, barely before the ink dried on Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied forces came the Cold War and its never-ending (not in theory, but in stone cold reality) threat of global thermonuclear incineration. I guess Rockwell thought better of painting harsh realities like the mostly civilian death toll from our nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which though foreign targets, were then, in 1945, and as is still the case today, a product of the same American ingenuity–creating nuclear weaponry!–that brought us the above noted Hula Hoops and the advent of television with its mostly mind numbing content.
We’re approaching the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when those Allied forces stormed the beaches in northern France, to ultimately take back the continent from the Nazis. What kind of world would it be if the Axis forces won? Hmm. Let’s not go there…
…but recall the saying: evil triumphs when good people do nothing.
…however, on this day in late March, 2019, the freedoms that were secured by American and Allied troops seem to have been bastardized by the passing decades. As I write this, our current occupant of the White House awaits what has been a formal, two-year investigation into his possible collusion with a foreign entity that may (I’m being polite here) have influenced the shocking 2016 election outcome. Whatever that official report reveals, and I suspect it will be kept mostly under wraps, I am left with the same feeling of what was the point of saving our freedoms back then if this is what we get for it? And by “this” I mean what appears to be the inherent tendency of humankind to exploit and destroy one another? Look around. Check the newsfeeds (but try for the non-mainstream media outlets as they tend to practice actual investigative journalism, not the false equivalency template of truth vs bullshit). It’s that wounded madhouse out there. Genocide. Racism. Xenophobia. Mysogyny. Homophobia. Wealth vs poverty. And maybe worse than any of those mindsets, is the apparent willful denial of looming climate catastrosphy both here and abroad.
The more things change, the more they remain insane. In the meantime, there’s pop culture, bread and circuses, instant global communication via social media networks that appear to traffic in delusion, illusion, confusion, jealously, depression, anxiety, loneliness, alienation, and the emojis that mimic the mood of the moment.
In the words of David Byrne and the Talking Heads, “we’re on a road to nowhere”. I hope things get better, but I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re on that road to nowhere, and to quote Jerry Garcia, “what a long, strange trip its been”. Hoping I’m wrong, okay? But my eyes are wide open. That road, for better or worse, will have a McDonald’s on it, in case you need a quick fix of that good ol’, old school symbol of simpler times in the Norman Rockwell world of Americana-at-large.
Now, beam me up, Scotty. Or, are we in The Matrix? After all, believing will always precede seeing. Apparently.