Sarcastro* gave me another comic book to read. We had limited success with his last efforts to convert me into one of those 40 year old men who hangs out at the Great Escape on Wednesday afternoons waiting for the new issues, since–and bear with me here, since what I’m about to say is filled with a great deal of unintentional irony–I don’t like reading something that’s not complete and having to worry that the author will die or lose interest before finishing the story.
In college, I did love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stuff, but what English major did not? And I even liked the “What if there were suddenly no men on the planet” thing Sarcastro gave me to read a while back, though I felt like I invested a great deal of time in it only to discover that we were nowhere near the end of the story, but were out of book. Grr.
So, this time, Sarcastro gives me a book that is complete–Uncle Sam, written by Steve Darnall, art by Alex Ross.
Holy shit, folks. Holy shit.
It’s a meditation on what it means to be American, on the role of the media in keeping us complacent and distracted, and whether we can choose to fulfill our promise as a nation, even though we’ve been seemingly undermining that promise since we were founded.
It’s just brilliant.
Anyway, though, it’s got me thinking about what my dreams are for the United States. If I could have this country be reshaped to what I thought was best for it, what would it look like?
1. Congressional service is doled out like jury duty. You register to vote, you can get tapped to serve in Congress.
2. The President is the person with the most votes. The vice-President is the person with the second most votes.
3. We encourage many so-called libertarian principals–such as self-reliance, charity, not pushing your will onto those who are different than you, high expectation of privacy, the knowledge that U.S. citizens hold rights; the government does not grant them, etc.–but at the same time, we have a wide-spread and effective social safety net in place. I know this is going to irk some of you, but if being American means something, it ought to mean that we don’t stand by and watch as any of us suffer.
4. If you want to call yourself an American company, you must pay workers at all your plants world-wide what you pay your workers in the U.S.
Ha, I’m not really wed to four. I just think it’d be hilarious.
Anyway, Uncle Sam is a book about the idea of America and about how, when we lose sight of that idea, of what America could be and should be, the cost is so great.
But still, as much as I loved it, I can’t help but wonder what it means that both Sarcastro and I like it. I often feel, when we talk, that we see the same evidence (which is comforting. With a lot of conservatives, I feel like we’re not even operating off of the same shared assumptions.), but draw sharply different conclusions from it.
I don’t know. We had a long, kind of luxurious fight sort of about this over at Volunteer Voters, where Sarcastro was arguing that there shouldn’t be hyphenated Americans, just Americans, and I expressed doubt in the plausibility of such an idea. And reading through Uncle Sam I was giving this a lot of thought. What if everyone were just American, as Sarcastro suggests?
What would American history look like then? We fought the British. We were brought over from Africa in chains. We died like dogs at Andersonville. We shot the students at Kent State. We were gunned down at Kent State. We could vote. But we couldn’t vote until the 1860s. Then we couldn’t vote until the 1920s. Even then we couldn’t really vote until the 1960s. And even now there’s some question about whether we’re really able to vote. Who keeps us from voting? We do.
Is that what you mean, Sarcastro? Because, I have to admit to having mixed, but possibly excited feelings about that. Does it mask problems or bring those problems into sharp relief?
*Y’all, let’s just talk frankly here for a second. I know our “FU!” “FU2” and then acting all BFF is all WTF. But let me help you understand it. Picture if you will two cats in adjacent houses. Most of the day, they sit at their window watching the other one sitting at its window watching back. And then, they get let out of the house and, being cats, they can’t immediately be all friendly. They have to circle around each other and ignore each other and hiss and spit and roll their eyes. Sometimes, you’re going to catch them both sitting up under the car together like old pals. And other times, you have to come out of the house with a bowl of water to throw on them because they’re screaming and fighting tooth and nail. But you know that next day they’ll be sitting at the window watching each other again. Sarcastro is the surly old tom cat. I am the adorable kitten.