Advertising in the public interest
September 11, 2009 9:54 AM   Subscribe

"What if America wasn't America?" That was the question posed by a series of ads broadcast in the wake of the September 11th attacks, ads which depicted a dystopian America bereft of liberty: Library - Diner - Church. Together with more positive ads like Remember Freedom and I Am an American, they encouraged frightened viewers to cherish their freedoms and defend against division and prejudice in the face of terrorism (seven years previously). The campaign was the work of the Ad Council, a non-profit agency that employs the creative muscle of volunteer advertisers to raise awareness for social issues of national importance. Founded during WWII as the War Advertising Council, the organization has been behind some of the most memorable public service campaigns in American history, including Rosie the Riveter, Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, and the Crash Test Dummies. And the Council is still at it today, producing striking, funny, and above all effective PSAs on everything from student invention to global warming to arts education to community service.

Additional resources: A-to-Z index of Ad Council campaigns - Campaigns organized by category - Award-winning campaigns - PSA Central: A free download directory of TV, radio, and print PSAs (registration req'd) - An exhaustive history of the Ad Council [46-page PDF] - YouTube channel - Vimeo channel - Twitter feed
posted by Rhaomi (69 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent sound design in the videos, great usage of additive synthesis and concrète.
posted by idiopath at 10:01 AM on September 11, 2009


Does anyone else remember the one PSA that was basically a pan of an aisle in a supermarket, with the message being "Here in America, we have the freedom of choice to buy whatever we want" or something? The other "Freedom" ads were good but that one always left me feeling a bit slimy.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:08 AM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


The "dystopian America bereft of liberty" ads give me serious pause. As a civil libertarian, I totally grok the message and am about as sympathetic audience as you're likely to find, and yet the Library one really drives home the point that we fucked up hardcore in the wake of 9/11. I mean, wasn't one of the explicit powers green-lit by the USA Patriot Act centered entirely around access to library patrons' borrowing records?

In a way they play like a dystopian warning to a polity that's already fucked up, is what I'm trying to say. And as a consequence they take on an ironic, wince-inducing tone as opposed to a "Phew! I'm so grateful the feds will never spy on me without warrants!" kinda tone. Because, you know, they did. Thanks PSA, but I already "appreciate" my freedom(s). That's why the last eight years were, well, ridiculous.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2009 [19 favorites]


Also: thoughtful post, thanks!
posted by joe lisboa at 10:10 AM on September 11, 2009


The three ad links were interesting; I don't remember ever seeing them. I think, however, that the 'church' one was a bit off. Somehow I don't see the American government ever metamorphosing into something that would forbid or restrict a Judeo-Christian church service.

A Judeo-Christian church service.
posted by WCityMike at 10:13 AM on September 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


A Judeo-Christian church service.

Sure you can, just read Handmaid's Tale backwards.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


if we're so free, why do they keep having to remind us?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2009 [12 favorites]


Here in America, we enjoy the finest propaganda available.
posted by mullingitover at 10:16 AM on September 11, 2009 [18 favorites]


I never saw those America ones the first time around. Were they supposed to be pro- or anti-PATRIOT ACT? Because honestly, I can easily imagine the irony-challenged morans who ran the country at the time thinking they were pro-.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on September 11, 2009


If you're into sound collages and vocal samples, PSAs are gold. From the bored/stoned sounding Shaun White promoting California Grown Goods, to the disaster readiness PSAs that could easily be tweaked to warn of an alien invasion. I'm not sure how to clear these for official samples, but they're ripe for personal enjoyment.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2009


Almost forget one: The "Pay Attention" campaign, which urges voters to stay fully informed about political campaigns through the use of ads for absurd candidates:

Old Relish Packet - Bag of Leaves - Side of Hashbrowns - Frozen Peas - Spoiled Yappy Dog - Someone's Teddy Bear

(These don't appear on the Ad Council site for some reason, so this Russian site is the only place to view 'em.)
posted by Rhaomi at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


We will all be eating pie bye and bye
posted by Postroad at 10:20 AM on September 11, 2009


Suction tires. Damn; I wish people would stop taking my ideas before I had the chance to get my start-up funding properly together!
posted by Mike D at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2009


"What if America wasn't America?"

I don't think America means what you think America means.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


That Diner one rings false. Wouldn't Americans ostracize and persecute people who wanted "more taxes", not less?
posted by The Whelk at 10:33 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


That Diner one rings false. Wouldn't Americans ostracize and persecute people who wanted "more taxes", not less?

No, you're right. Look for this precise footage to be appropriated and re-mixed by the "Tea Party" movement (or whatever racial trojan horse they're organized around this week) soon.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Diner one rings false. Wouldn't Americans ostracize and persecute people who wanted "more taxes", not less?

Conservatives Once Again Think They Are Oppressed, Film Back In 2001.
posted by DU at 10:49 AM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


That Diner one rings false. Wouldn't Americans ostracize and persecute people who wanted "more taxes", not less?

I thought this was a smart move. It implies that it isn't just the left that ought to be concerned about encroachments on civil liberties.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 11:15 AM on September 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


"What if America wasn't America?"

See, now, the premise of this one just lost me because that is an inanely phrased question to begin with. If America wasn't America, it'd be...something else, and we'd have gotten used to that status quo, whatever it was.

It just reminds me of a moment I saw in an interview with the guys from Tears for Fears -- One of them began a sentence by saying, "If I wasn't married..."

And the other guy snickered and interrupted, saying, "...you'd be single."

The first guy just blinked a moment, thought, and then turned to him and said, "...yeah, you're right." And dropped whatever he was going to say.

This sounds just about that dippy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I liked that PSA about how our addiction to celebrity culture and disconnection from community through TV would lead to a tyranny of the masses where people demand books be burned... what was that PSA called again... oh yeah, Fahrenheit 451.

That one was good.
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


I thought this was a smart move. It implies that it isn't just the left that ought to be concerned about encroachments on civil liberties.

Fair point, well put.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2009


Also, the library one only proves that Americans make bad fascists, not the fascism is bad. not that it's good, but the ad seems to miss the mark
posted by GuyZero at 11:25 AM on September 11, 2009


I thought this was a smart move. It implies that it isn't just the left that ought to be concerned about encroachments on civil liberties.

Same with the church one.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:29 AM on September 11, 2009


the 46 page PDF file in Firefox is not working for me
posted by wheelieman at 11:47 AM on September 11, 2009


"What if America wasn't America?"

I think Americans ought to consider the possibility that it is not.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:56 AM on September 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


Thank you, Ad Council. It's about time that someone in America spoke out on behalf of pale-skinned young men, libertarians, and Christians.

"What if America wasn't America?"

Well, one possibility is that America would then be fucking awesome. But we weren't actually meant to brainstorming, there, were we.
posted by regicide is good for you at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, one possibility is that America would then be fucking awesome.

Governed by the Swiss, cooking by Italians, lovers are French and the British run the soccer leagues. Or however the fuck that joke goes.
posted by GuyZero at 11:59 AM on September 11, 2009


America isn't America, it's something we're working towards. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we pull it off and advance without doing too much damage.

This stuff is nifty. But I'm reminded of the wisdom of Joel Hodgson and Aaron Altman, teh evil wouldn't come in overt form (indeed, with the exception of the nutjobs we're seeing writ large now, they really haven't - I mean, best Abraham Lincoln could do was domineering small minded racists, Obama's opponents are Space Operatic in proportion*) it'd be more like the band Styx or Altman's view of the devil where he looks attractive and doesn't do one evil thing but just bit by little bit will lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

I suppose that'd be too subtle for an ad campaign.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:03 PM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought the church one rang flat. Evangelicals don't need any more encouragement to believe that the government is going to shut down religious observance. But that's been a fundy fantasy for a long time now. I remember the sermons I heard as a kid imagining us to picture troops piling through the front doors of the church, aiming their guns at us, insisting that we stop worship immediately. "What will you do when that time comes?" was the preacher's refrain. "Will you still stand up for Jesus?"

I listened to Christian radio as a teen, and I remember when Morgan Cryar's "(You Can Still) Pray in the USA" was a big hit:

Someday we may hear it
"Prayin is a Felony"
I guess they'll call us criminals then
I guess that's what I'll be
oh yeah


There's a weird thing going on I can't quite describe where conservative Christians rail against supposed anti-Christian intolerance because they are supposed to fight the culture war and win the country back for Jesus, but they are almost celebrating their "persecution" as it happens because it validates their faith. To some extent, this is understandable and unavoidable. There's something in the Christian psyche that wants some persecution, because then they can become true disciples and prove their devotion. It's hard to miss the key passages where Jesus says that the true disciple is the one who lays down his life, takes up his cross, and is faithful to death. That worked fine for the first few hundred years of Christianity, but it doesn't really fit the modern Western context. I can be Christian from now until (literally) kingdom come, and no one's going to shoot me for it.

Aside: this is why the Cassie Bernall story was so big in churchy circles a decade ago. The Christian right finally had the martyr they had been longing for--someone who, so the story went--had the gun to their head and was true to God at the cost of their life. The sermon illustration that every evangelical had heard a dozen times growing up had come true. (Maybe)

When Constantine made Christianity legal and official government persecution ended in the West, the church responded with the monastic movement--a kind of symbolic martyrdom that was accepted as the rough equivalent of literally laying down your life for Jesus. People took vows of celibacy and poverty and dedicated themselves to praying and helping the poor. That's not an option in Protestant America. All the evangelicals can do grow more and more paranoid as they both fight against and long for the day that someone makes their faith illegal and threatens/offers to make martyrs of them as well.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:13 PM on September 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


regicide is good for you: "Thank you, Ad Council. It's about time that someone in America spoke out on behalf of pale-skinned young men, libertarians, and Christians."

That's not really fair, RIGFY -- one of the Ad Council's most famous campaigns is for the United Negro College Fund, which has seen a significant rise in fundraising and participation since the launch of the "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" PSAs. Not to mention campaigns against predatory lending, homophobia, high school dropouts, African American and Hispanic health problems, mental illness discrimination, and other social issues affecting minority groups.

wheelieman: "the 46 page PDF file in Firefox is not working for me"

I dropped the mods a line -- cortex replaced the broken link with a working one from Archive.org.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2009


This is the type of crap that we made snarky jokes about as teenagers and then as we got older we just ignored it. Really, there is a reason most of these "ads" are slotted into the cheap spots that only kids end up seeing.
posted by GavinR at 12:24 PM on September 11, 2009


There's a weird thing going on I can't quite describe where conservative Christians rail against supposed anti-Christian intolerance because they are supposed to fight the culture war and win the country back for Jesus, but they are almost celebrating their "persecution" as it happens because it validates their faith.

I don't think it's only conservative Christians doing that. I'd say that's a pretty widespread phenomenon in the USA.

Also, at the risk of being called a troll, America is two continents, not one country.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do most Americans realise that there are civil liberties in other countries?

If American weren't America, it would be Canada, which is just like America only with more poutine and better chocolate (and still, shocking considering the poutine, less obesity). Or it would be Britain, which is again just like America only with more alcohol and smaller houses. (smaller everything actually - smaller cars, smaller streets, smaller heads of government...)
posted by jb at 12:45 PM on September 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Hey, there are some things we do better than Canada and Britain.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:58 PM on September 11, 2009


High Speed Pizza Delivery.
posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


High budget low content movies.
posted by idiopath at 1:13 PM on September 11, 2009


Drive-by shootings.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


High Speed Pizza Delivery

Didn't Douglas Adams riff on this in the Dirk Gently book Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul? Something about the British just not grasping pizza delivery as a concept or something.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2009


(These don't appear on the Ad Council site for some reason, so this Russian site is the only place to view 'em.)

Having grown up during the Cold War, this line hit me more than anything else in the thread.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


yes, Joe Lisboa, he did riff on that - an American in London taking perverse pleasure in telephoning a pizza restaurant and asking for a pizza to be delivered, if I recall.

The thing about the phrase 'what if America wasn't America' is that it points to a sense of national identity that de Tocqueville referenced as well, and was well-exposed in an Economist article (now behind a paywall) from a few years ago. People can't be 'unfrench' or 'uncanadian' or even 'unrussian' in the same way they can be unamerican - the nation-state is a standin for a shared set of values in a way that not many other nation-states are.
posted by Fraxas at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I wish I could remember who said it, maybe it was Studs Terkel, nor do I remember the exact phrasing, but the jist of it was:

The United States is (somewhat) unique in the modern era (last 200 some years, lets say) in that what America is a giant factory to create more Americans. If your born in Belgum, you're a Belgian. If your born in Turkey, your Turkish. But what makes an American is that idealized concept that freedom is an inherent to the individual, no matter where your from(remember this is the idealized concept, results may vary, wash rinse repeat). If you're born here, you grow up learning it, if you emigrate here it's probably a big factor in why you're choosing the U.S. in particular.

It's different than the old British Empire, where through domination your country could begin the agonizingly slow process to a better situation, through an insultingly parentally-minded and exploitative colonial system, in that the American factory saw that it was easier to sell you the outfit of an American first, through our products and culture, and have you want to have what we have, and if you want your country to have an American Franchise, we'll help you get rid of the old landlord for you, and you can make your own kind of Americans. Most of the time it's through underhanded ways, but when you want America, or America wants you, you'll get the full spectrum of good and bad. The U.S.'s "get instant freedom now" program has never been a delicate or bloodless one, so it's definitely a "buyer beware" situation.

The factory that is America saw to it to export, franchise, and outsource this idealized concept to the world. In the world marketplace of ideas, it seems to be doing well compared to other systems. It's far from perfect, it at least has controls in it to keep it from becoming irrevocably despotically corrupt (with a 4 to 8 year renewing service plan), and unfortunately needs more service and attention to keep it honest than is readily available. At least their is a fighting chance for something that may be better than your current situation.

(YMMV. "Idealized Freedom" not available in all countries, or US states for that matter. Opportunities may be hindered by lack of money, gender, race, or personal beliefs or practices. Consult a physician before consuming American culture, as some harmful side effects have been noted. Hatred, bigotry, oppression could occur in the first 250 years of your family living in America. Offer may expire in case of war or total economic collapse. Ancedotal evidence may not reflect actual experience. Proceed with caution.)


Codicil: I'm not implying that we're the only ones who have a lock on this freedom thing, or that America is the only best option for everyone everywhere in the world. I posted this just as my reaction to the people that come to America to escape a bad situation back in their home country. Americans don't live up to their own ideals most of the time, but we at least getting better in the long run. Are we closer to the ideal than we were 50 years ago? Sure. It's a daily fight to keep us from going backwards, but at least the ideals we can't live up to show us where we have to go. (That whole "service and maintenance" thing I mentioned before)
posted by chambers at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hey, there are some things we do better than Canada and Britain.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:58 PM on September 11 [+] [!]

High Speed Pizza Delivery.
posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on September 11 [+] [!]
Why is the Deliverator so equipped? Because people rely on him. He is a roll model. This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them. As a result, this country has one of the worst economies in the world. When it gets down to it--talking trade balances here--once we've drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwaves in Tadzhikistan and selling them here--once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong shops and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel--once the Invisible Hand has taken all the historical inequities and smeared them out in a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker woudl consider to be prosperity--y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else
music
movies
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery
posted by regicide is good for you at 1:55 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


bad council
posted by wcfields at 1:56 PM on September 11, 2009


the nation-state is a standin for a shared set of values in a way that not many other nation-states are.

But it's not a shared set at all, it's one group having an uncompromising set and falling victim to "no true scotsman."
posted by absalom at 2:00 PM on September 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


America isn't America, it's something we're working towards.

this can't be favorited enough: it's an experiment, it's the whole point. one only needs to read the Adams-Jefferson letters -- a book that, by the way, should be mandatory reading in all American schools and for all the foreigners who like to comment, usually with no idea what they're talking about, on US affairs. the two old men -- they first met one year before the Declaration of Independence and both died half a century later -- discuss in their old age their invention, the United States of America, and the insights just keep coming, one after another.

Not to mention that all these insights come from two men who basically disliked each other for a long time -- Jefferson's defeat of Adams for the presidency in 1800 didn't help matters, and they didn't write each other for a dozen years after that. but as old statesmen they still manage to show the reader how they really intended the country they invented to be an experiment, with goals people have to work toward generation after generation. Jefferson even writes that "earth belongs to the living", and think about a present day politician -- one who of course will have achieved only a fraction of what Jefferson achieved in only a year of his life -- having that kind of humility, the idea that a nation is in constant flux, and revolutions are necessary, because history moves forward and countries need to do that, too.
posted by matteo at 2:11 PM on September 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


High budget low content movies.

Canada has you licked there - we're the best at low budget low content movies.

As for not being able to be un-Canadian - a few years ago, the federal Liberal party ran a campaign that boiled down to " the Conservative Party is for two-tier health care, and therefore UnCanadian."

Every country has something unique, but it's always something dinky, like a foodstuff (see the aforementioned poutine). If you find yourself ever saying, only this country has this [insert big broad value or idea here], please stop yourself, because you are wrong.
posted by jb at 2:12 PM on September 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


People can't be 'unfrench' or 'uncanadian' or even 'unrussian' in the same way they can be unamerican

Ugh. Gross.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:24 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've found that the bigger the megachurch a person attends, the more likely it is they'll imagine themselves going to church in someone's basement.
posted by Biblio at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


GavinR: "This is the type of crap that we made snarky jokes about as teenagers and then as we got older we just ignored it. Really, there is a reason most of these "ads" are slotted into the cheap spots that only kids end up seeing."

The reason is that the station hasn't been able to sell that airtime to anyone, so they're using PSAs to fill in the holes. (Incidentally, this is a fun way to tell that a station is probably having financial problems.)

I'm not sure how that's an indication of their quality, though.
posted by shammack at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the last one is a reference to Chinese house churches.

I used to work as a typist for my country's immigration tribunal. I remember one girl told a story about her church being raided on Good Friday, when she was holding the Communion wafers. She had to swallow them all and flee out a back window.

It drives me crazy that I'll never know if she was telling the truth or not, because its one of the most remarkable stories I've ever heard.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 4:23 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought the church one rang flat. Evangelicals don't need any more encouragement to believe that the government is going to shut down religious observance.

No, I think it's a good reminder to them that no matter how much they bellyache about persecution, they have no idea what persecution is.
posted by dw at 4:45 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


jb: "Do most Americans realise that there are civil liberties in other countries?

If American weren't America, it would be Canada, which is just like America only with more poutine and better chocolate (and still, shocking considering the poutine, less obesity). Or it would be Britain, which is again just like America only with more alcohol and smaller houses. (smaller everything actually - smaller cars, smaller streets, smaller heads of government...)
"

THIS.

It's amazing, really, how much people bitch about liberty and freedom and things that are only possible in the USA, when they've been available elsewhere for many decades now. Japan is like the weird, nerdy United States, which would have seemed strange as recently as 1943. Australia is like super-United States with much more deadly wildlife. And China is slowly becoming the totalitarian United States, or maybe it's the other way around--interesting, isn't it, that the steps towards that end were taken under Bush?

Most of the people who blather about this, when they think about forrin' countries, are thinking North Korea or Iraq. Not any of the dozens of other countries that arguably do democracy better than the U.S. these days.
posted by JHarris at 5:37 PM on September 11, 2009


I'm not saying the United States is unique or that it's the best. Perhaps it's just the affection that I have for the place that I've known. The United States is . . . tricky. Perhaps its the very genesis and nature of USA. While Germany and France and many other European nations formed out of some sort of people of the land, the US has always been a political entity (no matter how much we've tried to make it a people). Added to this is the diverse nations that come to our shores and you have some sort of ungainly experiment with no single culture. "One nation of many nations" and all that Whitman jazz. But we didn't spontaneously become like this. We give credit where it's due. Britain gets credit for it's representative government, Magna Carta, and English Language, while France gets credit for protecting us, and instilling the philosophical and revolutionary basis for our beginning. We duly honor the nations that have guided us. Is it so wrong that we even in our imperfection are honored by the nations that we too have affected? Must every appreciation of the United States instantly be responded to with some sort of national self-deprecation? We are flawed, but we are still glorious. If the United States fails, I think the world will have lost something good.

I don't know, I'm as critical as the next guy, but there is good here that should be protected.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:00 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


> If American weren't America, it would be Canada, which is just like America only with more poutine and better chocolate (and still, shocking considering the poutine, less obesity). Or it would be Britain, which is again just like America only with more alcohol and smaller houses. (smaller everything actually - smaller cars, smaller streets, smaller heads of government...)


If America weren't America.

Also!

On preview, nice timing Jharris!
posted by xorry at 6:11 PM on September 11, 2009


The problem with the church PSA was that the congregation was diverse, despite evidence to the contrary.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:35 PM on September 11, 2009


If American weren't America, it would be Canada, which is just like America only with more poutine and better chocolate.
Filipino kid: You are American?
Tourist: No, I'm a Canadian. It's like an American, but without the gun.
(Kids in the Hall)
posted by rokusan at 8:08 PM on September 11, 2009


Somehow I don't see the American government ever metamorphosing into something that would forbid or restrict a Judeo-Christian church service.

I thought the church one rang flat. Evangelicals don't need any more encouragement to believe that the government is going to shut down religious observance.


Those could just have easily been "mainstream" Christians in that cellar. It's the fundamentalists that need to be feared rather than have to be afraid.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:37 PM on September 11, 2009


ads which depicted a dystopian America bereft of liberty

So, someone is paying to run Fox News programming on other channels now? Where will it end!
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 11:50 PM on September 11, 2009


The diner ad about how the government is listening and ready to zap you if you speak out about taxes... that's pretty much the reality that most Libertarians feel that they live in.

Reality is pretty twisted if you selectively choose to make it so, in order to fit your predetermined ideology.
posted by markkraft at 12:25 AM on September 12, 2009


>I thought the church one rang flat. Evangelicals don't need any more encouragement to believe that the government is going to shut down religious observance.

No, I think it's a good reminder to them that no matter how much they bellyache about persecution, they have no idea what persecution is.


You're sure that there aren't some who are processing it as "a reminder of what saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' will turn into if we're not careful"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on September 12, 2009


Oh -- and I actually LIVED the diner ad one once. My parents and I saw GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK at the movie theater near their house, and were going out to dinner after. In the car, Dad was talking about how much more different we were today from the McCarthy era, and that got us into a comparison between the McCarthy era and today. I got into a tear and started speaking out with some degree of passion against Dick Cheney, and those comments carried me out of the car and halfway through the parking lot of the restaurant.

But Dad shushed me - sometimes people do when I get carried away, because I can talk very loud without noticing. But that wasn't why Dad shushed me. He specifically said that I should quiet down because "you never know when someone might be listening and you might piss someone off around here."

I just raised an eyebrow at him, but held my tongue until after we'd gotten our menus inside -- then I reminded him what he'd said and asked, "So you're SURE that things have changed since the McCarthy era, Dad?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


A subtlety I missed in the church ad when I first saw it in 2001 is that when the people come out of the cellar, you can clearly hear jackboots marching in the streets in the background. I'd say, dead on, this is a reference to both Chinese house churches and the underground services in Eastern Europe after the post-WWII Soviet takeover. It's a reference to a conquered America.

I have a hard time watching these. The church one, not so much; America isn't really in danger of being conquered, so this is really more of an alternate history in my view, sort of a "think about what this might have been, if people you knew were going through that".

But the diner, and especially the library, are entirely plausible outcomes of a political change still going on in America, and yeah, the Patriot Act did make it possible for the FBI to issue secret letters having librarians spy on their patrons, and made it illegal for librarians to talk about it. So the ad hits pretty damned close to home - no books were banned, and the FBI wasn't really sitting right in the library waiting, but in an "if this goes on" sense, and in a dramatic sense, this was another case of the Bush Administration (oh, who am I kidding, Obama doesn't seem to be changing this) taking Orwell as a handbook.

Depressing.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:18 AM on September 12, 2009


"What if America wasn't America?"

God Bless Vespucciland!
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:12 AM on September 12, 2009


I'm not saying the United States is unique or that it's the best. Perhaps it's just the affection that I have for the place that I've known. The United States is . . . tricky.

This is the classic fish in water problem. If you asked a fish to describe water (and they could talk), they couldn't. They have nothing to contrast it with. And if you asked a fish to describe the ocean, they would say "What ocean? You can't possibly lump together the sunlit heights and the dark deeps, they are nothing alike!"

Everyone in every country finds their own place hard to describe. More so if they haven't lived elsewhere. I would have spoken about Canada just as you do about the US before I went and lived in the US and in the UK for several years, and dedicated myself to the history of many different places, including studying nation-formation in the medieval, early modern and modern periods.

While Germany and France and many other European nations formed out of some sort of people of the land, the US has always been a political entity (no matter how much we've tried to make it a people).

This is not historically true. Germany did not come out of a people - it was formed by political machinations in the 19th century - Germany was a state first and foremost. Yes, there was an ethnicity known as "German" - but this supposedly one people (or so 19th and 20th century nationalists claimed they were) spoke and still speak radically different dialects with greater differences between them than between any two different versions of English. They have different religions and history. France was put together over a longer time, with medieval and early modern marriage and conquering, piece by piece -- but again includes many different ethnicities, even before modern migration. Basques, Brettons - these languages aren't even related to French, while the language of the south is profoundly different from that of the North. What made them French was the shared state.

As for Britain, the state whose formation I know best, not only does it include large linguistic minorities, but even amoung the anglophone majority (the English, and southern Scots, who have always spoken a dialect of English) there are great regional and national rifts. The United Kingdom, after all, includes three separate countries and a province. At no time did these entities come together naturally - they were put together again by conquest (in the case of Wales and Ireland coming under the English kings), or marriage/inheritance (when the Scottish King inherited the English throne) - the United Kingdom started as a political entity, just like every other nation on the planet.

And, of course, over the past two millennia, all of the countries of Europe have had immigrant populations - the movements of various peoples around Europe is an essential part of the history, but it didn't stop after early medieval movements (when the Germanic English, and then Norse moved into Britain). One of the more significant populations in 17th and 18th century Britain were various Protestant immigrants from the Low Countries, and from France, who brought new skills and new traditions with them; Catholics from Britain and Ireland settled all over Europe. And over the past 400+ years, increasing numbers of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas have moved to Europe, just as Europeans moved out. London is just as much an immigrant city as New York, and British identity is just as much about the reconciliation of native-born and immigrant people as is Canadian, Australian or American identity. And all that joins all these people together - English, Scottish, Welsh, Northen Irish, native-born or immigrant (and I'm proud to be one of the latter) - is the fact that they share one Crown and one Government.
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


That is not to downplay the United States' history as a majority-immigrant (within the last 400 years) country. Like other ex-colonies with settler majorities (Canada, Aus, NZ, Chile, Argentina), this is a very different history than that of the majority-native born countries (whether ex-colonies or not).

(Most countries have had major population shifts if you go farther back - the Hungarians, after all, were immigrants into Hungary in the early medieval, just as the Dutch were immigrants into the Netherlands, the English into England, the Franks into France - native is as native does.)

I've noticed this difference in how people conceive of themselves - many Americans (like many Canadians) think of themselves as immigrants even decades or a few hundred years after immigration, but give it several more hundreds of years, and some English seem to believe that they sprung fully-formed out of the hedgerows of East Anglia.

But it doesn't change the fact that in all countries, people are divided by ethnicity and/or region, and united only by the state they share. Sometimes they tell themselves powerful stories, and set up history classes to inculcate their young with this nationalist history to pretend that they have some kind of natural or (in the case of the USA) unique philisophical backing to the existence and shape of their country, but these are just stories. What we share is our government, and it's our government that makes our country great. That is - when we have governments that ensure freedoms and liberties, act to protect society from violence and misdeeds through laws and regulation, and provide essential services that make all of our lives better.
posted by jb at 11:47 AM on September 12, 2009


. Added to this is the diverse nations that come to our shores and you have some sort of ungainly experiment with no single culture.

Oh, you have a culture - a very strong one - notable in your American ways of talking, eating, living, playing, creating, politicking, etc. Yes, it has many ingredients - but so does British culture as well, of course, drawing on British (aka Welsh), Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, French roots, with hefty doses of Italian (because they were so dominant in the Rennaissance), Spanish, Dutch, German, and more recently Indian, Greek, African, Carribbean cultures (to name only a few). And it has many regional differences, again, just as every nation (except the tiniest) does - these regional differences loom large when you are there, and fade when you are confronted by truly alien cultures.
posted by jb at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2009


In response to joe lisboa's upthread comment about the Patriot Act's clause regarding access to library patrons' borrowing records (and internet search records), my regional library system had a well thought-out plan of civil disobedience in case the FBI or other agency requested such information. We had no intention of turning over that information to any government entity. AFAIK, no such request was ever made, but we were ready to fight it.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 3:03 PM on September 12, 2009


Also, at the risk of being called a troll, America is two continents, not one country.

I don't think you're a troll, you're just wrong. America is two continents, and it's also a country. The songs "America the Beautiful," "God Bless America," "They're Coming To America" and something like 2000 others are all referring to the United States of America, not to North and South America. The word "America" by itself commonly refers to the nation that is found between Mexico and Canada, and very seldom refers to North and South America, which, when discussed collectively, are commonly called "the Americas," which is a handy way of drawing the distinction.

You can decide, for whatever reason, that this usage is wrong or discriminatory, but it is common usage and it isn't likely to change anytime soon. "America" is the USA, and it's citizens are "Americans," not, God help us, "USAmericans" or USians.

Yes, yes, Americans are provincial and backward and arrogant and whatever else we should be collectively charged with, but calling us something other than Americans and our nation something other than America really isn't the place to have that battle.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, please. From wikipedia:

The earliest known use of the name America for this particular landmass dates from April 25, 1507. It appears first on a small globe map with twelve time zones, and then a large wall map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in France.

So, in fact, it is you who are wrong.
posted by stinkycheese at 6:11 PM on September 17, 2009


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