Friday, February 02, 2007

The American passion

This morning the “Breakfast” programme on TVNZ’s TV One began a new weekly segment covering the week in America. I’d tell you about it, except for two things: First, I’m not exactly at my sharpest in the mornings. Second, I can’t even provide a link because “video is not available online due to rights issues.”

I can’t do much about the morning sharpness thing, and I’ve certainly tried—again and again. The video thing probably has to do with them using video footage from someone else, probably of the anti-war protests.

Nevertheless, there was one thing in the report that caught my attention. Correspondent Tim Wilson said, basically, that one thing that Americans are passionate about is outrage. It surprised me, since I’ve never heard anyone say that. As I thought about it, though, I realised that outrage is the only thing we Americans are passionate about.

Yes, we Americans may get all misty-eyed and sloppy at displays of over-the-top patriotism, but that’s not passion. Our passion for America is probably no deeper than our passion for a particular sports team—shallow, in other words, carried by slogans and banners (flags) and little substance.

But when we’re outraged by something, look out.

Whatever our position on the political spectrum, we Americans only get truly fired-up when we’re against something: Abortion, gay rights, the Iraq war, nuclear power, whatever. The point is that Americans have shown no capacity to be passionate for anything, just against what pisses us off.

I’m as guilty as the rest of my countrymen. Read over my posts on American politics and there are plenty of times I write in childishly belittling ways about George Bush and the Republican Party. No matter how much they deserve it—and they certainly do—my language comes from my outrage at what they’ve done to America. If I weren’t outraged by them, I probably wouldn’t mention them at all.

I’m not quite sure I know how to express the same kind of passion for something; it’s easier to be opposed, to complain and criticise after the fact. Even so, I want to learn. I want to speak passionately about what I think should happen and about what’s good that is happening.

I’m sure I’ll still criticise when needed (apparently, it’s the American Way…). But I can’t help wondering what political commentary might be like if we were as passionate about what we’re for as what we’re outraged by, what we’re against. Maybe it’s time to find out.

1 comment:

Jason in DC said...

I'm going to have to disagree on this one.

The civil rights movement was passionately for equal rights for blacks even though some of the passion was directed against the laws of the country at the time.

Also the ACLU is passionately for the rights of Americans under the Constitution. Although that too many times is in reaction to people trying to trample all over them.

I'm very passionate about this country and what it stands for. Sometimes in defending that you react against things as I do with the Bush administration. But that reaction is to preserve what I think America really stands for.

People who are pro-choice are very passionate about preserving that right. I cannot tell you the number of times I've walked around DC and seen people in orange vest that say volunteers who are in front of clinics who will help escort people into the clinic.

Yes it is much easier to be outraged at things. Americans are not the only ones that are like that. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper and see that there is a great deal of passion for something even when it only seems like it is passion against something.