Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COSMOPOLITAN STRANGERS:
Globally Conscious Childhood Development, Without Ever Leaving the Country, Leads to Seriously Un-American Americans

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- It's easy to tune out the rest of the world, in a - let's be honest here - rather isolated rural college community surrounded by the college-aged children of some of the wealthiest, most culturally sheltered Americans ten months out of the year.

Within the Oxford Bubble, hell, it's easy to tune out the fact that the median family income for the average Local U. student is estimated to be between three and four times that of the surrounding community, to ignore the economic and societal divides, the extreme wealth in the face of some very impoverished people...

Well, for some people it's easy. For me? Not so much, really.

A simple tour of the campus at three in the morning on a rather frigid Saturday had turned into a rather heated debate.

Personally, I blame the amount of booze we'd both consumed earlier in the night, the lovely bottle of Jack Daniels we were sharing to chase away the Hair of the Dog as we walked.

"Serious, J. - are you sure you're even a fucking American?" The Visitor said. "You don't have cable, don't know who [some pop star] is. AND NO CANDY. And working in this fucking Lalaland... I swear I'd shoot myself..."

Pfft. Struggling actors. Not only do they use me for a floor to crash on, but they just love picking arguments when they're out of work. Something about building up future emotional reserves for casting calls...

"Why do you say that?"


I was still laughing at the fact that it was the fact that I don't have cable television, nor knew who some apparently famous reality television guy was, that set her off.

"Because you don't act American. Not even like Eurotrash wannabes. What the fuck are you?"


* * * *

So here's the deal. I may BE, by birthright, an American, a citizen of the good ol' United States. But I've never really fit into my own country's culture.

In fact, during my formative years, I was relatively sheltered from it, tucked away in a remote corner of the country, surrounded by equally naturalized citizens who didn't exactly fit in, either.

But while I may have grown up isolated on a small family farm in rural Virginia, I was never sheltered from the world. In fact, if there was anything I can be accused of having been sheltered from, it'd be from the culture and customs of Mainstream America.

My father's parents - who technically owned 80 percent of the place - weren't exactly what most folks would associate with a Hillbilly-Cajun union. They'd spent four decades as diplomatic globetrotters, hitting every continent but Antarctica. After spending almost their entire adult lives in mostly developing countries, they really never seemed comfortable in retirement with the often frivolous, shallow culture of the Consumerist Patriotic Motherland.

Yes, I grew up in an isolation tank so much smaller than the societal bubble that surrounds my current home. But I was never sheltered from the greater world - my cosmopolitan kinfolk made sure my sister and I would grow up to be global citizens, without the crushing burden of Post-Industrial United States they themselves didn't fit into perfectly.

I learned to read on a steady diet of newspapers and foreign policy journals, English translations of some of the world's greatest writers, even NATO and United Nations documents. I had toys, sure, but often they were secondary to the 170-acre playground filled with barns to explore, ponds to swim and fish in, fruit trees to climb.

Growing up in the heyday of reckless greed and glut that was Mainstream 1980s America, my sister and I were probably two of the least American children in the country. We learned more about our own country's culture in the same way first-generation immigrant children learn it - in public school classrooms, through making friends with those for whom the culture was natural, through television and radio.

Imagine, if you will, being a man who though born in the United States and having never been off the North American continent, who grew up basically a foreigner in his own land, who matriculated within a culture as a child and teen but who never really was taught to look at it as his own culture.

In all honesty, it's made for some often uncomfortable, heh, assimilation issues for both my sister and myself, growing up surrounded by people who'd spent more time outside of their own country than in it. But, overall, I can't imagine it any other way, and I think I'm a better person for it...

Look at it this way. A retired high-ranking intelligence official once told me that I'd been given one of the greatest gifts any kid in the United States can receive: the freedom to be my own American without my own country's boundaries, cultural pollution, or baggage, to start with a clean slate.

My dad and his brother were given the same amazing gift by my grandparents - while their countrymen were obsessing over the Beatles and Elvis, they were climbing the Pyramids of Giza. While their peers here stateside were obsessing over Cowboys-and-Indians movies, they were running into Big Duke Wayne himself in five-star hotels after being evacuated from war zones.

Of course, well, I'm also a bit of a fuck-up, so I added quite a bit of my own baggage and the slate dirtied up fairly quick...

But, well, for every fuck-up in life, I can honestly say I did it to myself. The violence, the drug abuse, the hoodlum tendencies to gain street cred, the slackertude and solitude, even the occasional dive into either easy women, psychotic women, or, well, sometimes the occasional wife or gangbanger's old lady.

Without a net or a scapegoat.

Hell, I can't even blame the wicked metal, punk, and rap music I discovered as a teenager, the subversive literature I still read, or the fact that the closest thing to an abusive moment in my childhood came in the form of being required to watch the nightly news...

* * * *

I tried my best to explain, well, where I think the origins of my supposed American Un-Americanisms lie, how growing up in a secluded environment surrounded more by global culture than my own country's culture essentially made me a de facto Military Brat without the moving from base to base, country to country...

Sadly, I was fairly drunk by the time we made it back to my place, and my childhood tale ended up coming out a lot more rambling and long-winded than this writing.

"That's hella fucked up... so basically..." The Visitor laughed, throwing herself down on her sleeping bag on the living room floor, "... You were fucked up by your fam and you're still fucked up... but in a good way?!?"

I poured coffee into the auto-drip, flipped the switch, emptied out the rest of the bottle in the kitchen sink. (I don't keep booze in the house - and I don't like backwash liquor shots, either.) When I turned the corner, The Visitor was digging through my movie collection for a DVD to sober up to.

"Dude, you have no chick movies. This is why you're single."

"I dunno..." I reached over her shoulder and grabbed a film out of my Classics section. "How about this? The Italian chick sent it to me last year-"

" - Still single because you're nice to fucking ex-girlfriends, too."

"LOVERS. Or flings. Let's be classy here. Anyway, read the back of the case..."

Bertolucci's classic. The Conformist. Sex, death and a Fascist State.

The Visitor fell asleep 20 minutes into the film - subtitles, dammit. And too complex, I guess. No CGI, no overly choreographed action scenes, lots of talk.

I watched the film, sipped coffee, and waited for the sunrise. And afterwards, I put an indie rap mixtape playlist on repeat on the netbook, puked, had another cup of joe and a fried egg, and passed out myself.

A perfectly normal all-nighter for me.

I like being a fucking weird Un-American American.

- # # # -

5 comments:

EsotericWombat said...

I prefer Open Source American. But then again, I'm a geek.

But seriously. If Americanism is defined by what's on cable, I'll get out the climbing gear right now and burn a huge flag right under Lady Liberty's left tit.

librarianwoes said...

"you don't act American"

ZenfoPro... You are one of the most American men I know... And don't ever change. Conformity is NOT what being an American is about but We seem to have lost that capacity over the centuries. "Real" Americans challenge the status quo and constantly strive to better themselves and their culture. Sadly, through the years I've lost a lot of that, but now I often live vicariously through you.

Though I often confront you regarding issues I do so not of the opinion that they are wrong, but to see how you will defend your position, that's just how I roll... With people who I respect anyway. You my friend, do a solid job of confronting the banality of Us and I commend you on how you defend the positions that you believe in!

Ellie said...

I'm curious about your views on home-schooling.

The Subversive Librarian said...

I don't have cable either. There are still a few of us out here. Great post as usual!

sunflower said...

Hey,
Great description of yourself. Sounds like a great childhood to me, and trust me its not only Americans that behave like Americans. Maybe we should all consider, if and when we have little versions of ourselves, to bring them up on a more 'global' cultural level. If that makes any sense. I think you are a true example of what we could, if we so wanted, refer to as Globalisation. A child of a sort of global culture perhaps? No offence intended :)

Btw I very much enjoy your blog from across the big pond. Great ideas and entertainment in one, so who needs cable anyway? At least not when one has the internet...