Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why I Love America

In my post about Jeff Russell's site, I noted the evident yearning for these vast, exotic spaceships to be real. Well, everything comes in threes and, sure enough, soon afterwards I saw the movie Happy Feet and, on DVD, watched Galaxy Quest for what must have been the tenth time - my daughter loves it. The joke in Galaxy Quest is that the spaceships are, indeed, real, in spite of the fact that they were invented for a clunky Star Trek-like TV series. The myth turns out to be true. Happy Feet, meanwhile, is - ignore, as usual, the critics - the best of Hollywood's computer generated cartoons. (Miyazaki's Spirited Away is better than any of them, but that's Japanese.) This penguin-fest is so good not because it is funny or cute, though it is both, but because of its aesthetic rigour. The significance of the central metaphor - the dance of the penguins - is sustained by every shot and its meaning - that the dance stands for the absolute value of all living behaviour on the planet, irrespective of its value for us - is profound. This is a post-humanist message and this is children's entertainment of the highest order. It is, once again, about the yearning for the myth to be true. Two other examples from great American popular art: in The Simpsons, Lisa discovers the truth about her town's local legend Jebediah Springfield, but concludes that it is better to sustain the myth and, in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (one of the very few films with a character called Appleyard), the journalist tells James Stewart, 'This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.' And one example from a less popular art: the magnificent late poetry of Wallace Stevens. There is, in the American soul, this urgent longing for the best and the highest to be true and, of course, the longing becomes the truth. And that, in a nutshell, is why I love America.
PS: And now I discover this. There's nothing like lowering all debate to the lowest common denominator of dumb left and stupid right. But it looks as though Neil Cavuto and Zoe Williams were made for each other. I have posted on Zoe's curious conclusions once before.


  1. This is the West, sir. When the facts are inconvenient, print lies.

  2. ...There is, in the American soul, this urgent longing for the best and the highest to be true...

    Is this what Hunter S Thomson was searching for with the Samoan - the American Dream?

  3. I really want to see "Happy Feet," but it means convincing one of my kids to go with me so I won't be *too* embarrassed. Well, maybe the 13 year old will do it if I agree to let him get that poster of a half-naked Pamela Anderson....

    As I once wrote somewhere else, "America's essence is adolescence." That's what you really love about us, Bryan. Our touching innocence combined with all those hormones and a HUGE sense of hope. It defines us, even as we keep coming croppers. (I love that Brit phrase, but what does it mean? What *is* a cropper? Not the thing in a bird's neck, I hope.)

    "A happy idiot, struggling for the legal tender,"


  4. Susan, embarrassed? I went with my wife, no small Appleyard at all. At its worst it's infantile, at its best it's Wallace Stevens.

  5. We use come a cropper now to mean that a person has been struck by
    some serious misfortune, but it derives from hunting, where it
    originally meant a heavy fall from a horse. Its first appearance was in 1858, in a late and undistinguished work called Ask Mamma, by that well-known Victorian writer on hunting, R S Surtees who's perhaps bestknown for Jorrock's Jaunts and Jollities.
    The rest of this etymology can be found here:


  6. Thank you, Dave Lull. You are indispensable. And I read the full definition and danged if a bird's "crop" isn't part of it!