The New American Prototype
The phrase “kinds of Americans” directly addresses the American character because our very diversity defines us. The Puritan settler, the African slave, the Diaspora Jew, the Irish, Italian, Asian, Hispanic – Americans all, immigrants from the world over convening here to embrace constructs of freedom, ownership, pride, opinion, stardom, and chaos. The American character is an ever-changing thing, with the will to succeed on American terms perhaps the only underlying denominator.
Our vastness daunts an easy assemblage of traits. We are all in search of the perfect Hollywood ending, a climax that demands a sequel, something bold and bright as well as subtle and complex. America appears to be the land of instant gratification. That is an illusion. The real America is a long fluid body of toil and labor, competition and struggle, earnestness and wit, expectation and revision. America yearns to be as much fun as it claims to be. Here’s a scenario: Unless we are forced to survive Armageddon or endure a radical police state, America helps lead civilization to a deeper sense of what it means to be alive, to a redefinition of pleasure.
The 21st century American prototype is the individual who has synthesized the dualities of our first 230 years and effectively transcends them. Classically speaking, then, the character’s pronoun is masculine, although a woman may well be more capable of resolving issues on the patriarchal battleground. Modern feminism produced a sensitive American guy, and he is not about to go away. Our new man is both Man and Woman in terms of psychological balance. He is fully conscious of his sexuality as a function of the ubiquitous light and dark. He has taken in the whole legacy of sex and violence as it has been issued back to him, not just as history but as pop culture, the rendering of history as an endless stream of story-telling from Hollywood. From the comforts of his home and hearth, the conscious American perceives why sports, movies, and music have as much if not more of a profound influence on the American psyche than war itself. Because -- in spite of the real horrors of poverty and war -- for the typical consumer, entertainment is the prevailing venue for the playing out of American ideas, archetypes, myths, and pleasures.
The conscious American knows that liberation is the true goal here, that life is not about existing to be passively (and constantly) entertained, but about fulfillment. There is a huge prize just waiting to be claimed at the end of the endless shopping spree. Most people wear themselves out before they can get to it…but the American people will persevere toward this awesome metaphysical reward, and, given half a chance, will grasp it. This American seeks a grand unification – a moral equivalent to the unified field theory that conjoins particles and waves. He has played through the archetypes; he can rise above them even as he acts them out. Thus he is both the huckster and the rube; town man and countryman; farmer and cowboy; master and slave; Christian and atheist; the Individual and the mass; idealist and cynic. This character is honest without being offensive, a humble albeit shrewd judge of character, strong yet flexible, and prosperous as a result of his generosity as well as his hard work.
This American sounds too good to be true. But he is true. Call him the collective unconscious of the American people, if you will. Proof that this hero must characterize the future of American leadership is found in the complaint of all the other countries: That America is just too darn young. Where – ask the Europeans, the Muslims, the tribal ancients – do those upstarts get off remaking the whole world in their image? In terms of cultural age, America has barely reached adolescence! And like reckless Saturday night teen-agers, American hormones have wreaked havoc all over the global face. For every Jimmy Stewart, there’s been a Darth Vader. For every charitable outpour, there’s been an insulting moral judgment. For every reconstruction in the name of democracy, there’s been a destruction of a country’s old ways that stinks of cultural fascism. But America is a modern child, and like toddlers adapting immediately to their parents’ newfangled computer, new Americans are processing history at a more rapid rate than older, more traditional cultures. The computer in the collective American brain realizes that we have to posit a genuine leadership of well-being - and quickly, before the rest of the world keeps on making the same mistakes we did on the way to the top, literally moving the race towards extinction.
America appears to be calcified in its adolescence – the old Puritan guard is reflected on the right by the consolidation of Fundamentalist hype-mongers, and on the left by a largely tacit support of what is still an old power and submission dialectic dressed up in the fashion of the day. Fascism, quietly or overtly, fascinates them all. The future of democracy depends on our ability to provide the next generation with compassionate wisdom on physiological as well as intellectual levels. The sexual maturation of the American character may well be defined by new people coming of age who, while growing up, saw through the pornography around them as irrelevant to a sincere conception of love. The keys to our morality, our political character - our behavior in all senses of the word - are to be found in knowledge too much ignored regarding the interconnections between intricacies of breathing, cell structure formation, diet, emotional responses, psychology of love, and perceptions of what is fair and worthwhile.
Meanwhile, we must interpret the strata of Americans so disconnected from reality as to still see problems strictly in terms of Good and Evil, or, rather, Winners and Losers. In them as well is a desire to do right…to dominate with justice, as it were. They only need to learn that partnership is superior to domination. The lesson has to be taught by degrees – and actually more Americans are aware of this shift in healing modalities than it seems. National government must catch up to it, for all the while a tremendous embrace of ancient and reinterpreted traditions in American arts and sciences has already made this country’s multiculturalism an adventure packed with promise and wonder.
A sense of entitlement to moral authority comes in many shapes and guises. Our calcified American adolescent has been with us for all the generations since World War II. The clear-cut triumph over such a blatantly foul movement as Nazism handed this society its license to unrestricted fun. Our Founding Fathers did not claim moral superiority in our Constitution, but we found it anyway in the easy snowballing of the traits that characterize any adolescence: delusions of power and immortality; a penchant for rude behavior and territorialism, especially towards parents or anybody else outside the prevailing clique; and the clumsy deeds and gestures often referred to as “growing pains”. No reason on earth prevents a big, broad-chested, conquering American male NOT to think that he is always right, that all his generosity and wrath thereof is predicated on that one indisputable logic! But to grow out of this phase, we must reclaim respect for our parents. We must partner with our global elders in an attempt to try something very new -- a softening of the realpolitik that defeats both terrorism and militarism.
The American is a born frontiersman. An indomitable will led him here in the first place. Just as a healthy child breaks free from his parents in shifting levels of security and independence, the American brainchild rebelled against and won his liberation from Mother England. His naïve conquest of freedom, his savage lust to settle state after state ‘til he hit the California coast, proved himself to himself. His protean brain chemistry was riddled by lovelessness, but his ability to achieve under no uncertain terms never failed. Well, that frontier’s been settled. The new American frontier is the landscape of consciousness. Consumerism is not turning out to be an end to itself. History must roll on, and, as the need to stave off further catastrophes becomes increasingly obvious, Americans will invent new strategies for survival. Racial and religious wars must be rendered obsolete. To do so, the culture will slowly accrete entertainment and politics with values that dip back into the really original American character, when native peoples cherished the earth and thought of deity as Great Spirit (it is the spirit of the language rather than the language itself that must change). Entertainment culture places each ethnic type side by side, emphasizing similarities as well as distinctions, leveling the field so broadly that inevitably everyone understands. We shall eventually (painfully, then joyfully) outgrow our adolescence as one people. We are not meant to exist as polarized peoples. The American people can heal the ideational cancer of our own divisiveness. The United States are moods as well as locations. We belong to them all.
Consciousness is the next big commodity.
© SaveLove Music 2003 (ASCAP)