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|Published in the Columbia Missourian, September 2004|
Real AmericansA local radio station promotes itself as "Real Radio - for real Americans!" It's a station that I listen to occasionally, because I like to think I'm a real American. After all, I was born here (on the Fourth of July, no less). I pay my taxes, try and make my community a better place, fly my flag and love my country. Some of the shows are interesting. Some of the hosts are funny (sometimes intentionally so). Some of the opinions are ones I agree with.
But since I only occasionally listen to this station, I guess I'm not a "real American." Or maybe I'm partly a real American, proportional to the amount of time I listen in. OK, but do I figure that as the percentage of my time listening to radio overall, as a percentage of my waking hours, or what? Perhaps it should be calculated according to how much I agree with the politics stated on the radio station. Well, that leads to problems, too, because after all, even the hosts have major disagreements from one show to the next.
I don't conform completely to most of the right-wing ideas espoused by this radio station. Nor do I comfortably fit in with the beliefs of the far left. I'm pro-choice but also pro-death penalty. I believe in concealed-carry, but wanted the assault weapons ban. I supported Dessert Storm, but think that the latest Iraqi Adventure was nothing more than a Neocon con-job. I find opera boring, but NASCAR is also a snooze. I read The Economist, but also check out Mother Jones regularly. The current version of "JFK" is a pale shadow of the one I remember being assassinated, but then, the current President Bush can't hold a candle to the intellect, experience, and accomplishments of his father. I've worked in Republican presidential campaigns, but have contributed money to Democrats. I'm somewhere in the happy middle, and don't trust fanatics of any stripe, either in politics or religion. Most people are like me, using common sense and their internal moral compass to make tough choices in a complicated world. So maybe that means we're all not completely "real Americans."
The numbers would seem to bear this out: the radio station only has a small share of the market (let's be generous and say it's 10%). Does that mean that 90% of the people here who aren't tuned in aren't real Americans?
Or maybe the hype of the radio station's promotional material is out of sync with reality, a reflection of the unfortunate tendency for the far right to think that they somehow have a monopoly on what it means to be a "real American." This radio station isn't the only example of this I've come across lately.
Recently on NPR there was an interesting interview with a nice couple in Dallas who are putting together a film festival for those with a more conservative inclination. They're doing this because they feel that so much mainstream film reflects a Hollywood liberalism, and wanted to balance the ledger a little. Great. But in the course of the interview the woman said that they're putting together the film festival for 'real Americans." When asked by the host what the woman meant by that, she stuck to her guns, said she meant "folks like us - in tune with the news, such as the War on Terror."
Ah. So, if I keep up with the news, I'm a real American. Got it. But once again, does that mean that everyone who doesn't keep up with the news, particularly the war on terror, doesn't qualify? And how do I scale this? If I can point to Afghanistan on a map, can pick out Osama bin Laden from a line-up, and can name the three countries in the Axis of Evil, do I qualify? Do I get extra points for being able to identify the Americans killed this week in Iraq, or being able to explain how their deaths make me safer?
What if I am current on the news, but just happen to disagree with the way the War on Terror is being conducted? Somehow, I doubt that the nice lady who is putting together the film festival would think that makes me a real American. Would she say that those families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq qualify as real Americans? Even the ones who oppose this war?
What about you, are you willing to let her decide whether or not you're a real American? Isn't it time that we asserted our status ourselves, rather than let some narrow partisan group or radio station claim that as their sole property? If you think that you're a real American, whatever your politics, then don't let someone else steal that from you. Patriotism isn't only the province of the right; it belongs to all of us, and it's high time we started saying so.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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