One of the delights of readjusting to American culture is being reminded of those things that could only happen in the United States. Someone wise once said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and I think the same must be true when it comes to physical and cultural (not just temporal) distance.
Many of the American quirks below are, in a way, profoundly disturbing. But speaking as an American returning from abroad to splash-land in the middle of them, I think they’re also kind of hysterical. A list of my favorite rediscovered cultural anomalies:
1. The Filibuster. Can we start with how the name means “pirate”? This is a procedural element of our highest body of lawmakers, a body named after an ancient Roman institution boasting the most august and noble statesmen in Western history. Of course our version would have pirates.
2. What Not To Wear. What I find remarkable is not that such a show exists, but that it exists on The Learning Channel. Question: What is more American than the transformational makeover? Answer: the transformational makeover within the context of the most liberally defined and market-driven conceptualization of “learning” ever conceived by man.
3. The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The sensational name alone should be enough to convince you that this is the greatest system in the world, and my love for it is dimmed only by the notion that the iron grip it holds on our hearts, minds, and logistics will probably render our rail system inferior to pretty much all of the other countries forever.
4. The Westminster Dog Show. Well, really, just dog shows in general. The Times had a recent article about the lengths dog owners go to to help their purebred dogs bring home the blue ribbon. What gets me is not that there are folks in this country that have an extra million dollars to throw hither or yon, it’s that they’d prefer to spend it on a dog than, say, a modest yacht.
5. Cable News. The fact that I’d consider watching The Daily Show for news and Fox News or CNN for entertainment (granted, it’s a particularly masochistic, self-destructive type of entertainment…but you have to admit it’s a bit like a terrible spectacle you can’t tear your eyes away from) has an element of tragicomic, epic irony to it. It’s as if the whole country has twisted itself into some kind of cosmic Opposite Day.
[Remember Opposite Day?]