As most of you know by now, I will be soon living in Tel Aviv and blogging from there about my adventures, writing, the importance of film as a healing medium, and what it’s like being an expat. Ahead of that move, I recently had the privilege of driving across 3/4 of the US.
For the first time, I saw the plains states, foggy rivers, high deserts and yawning canyons. I met truckers, waitresses, camp rangers, tourists and locals. I drove over the Rocky Mountains and saw the sun rise in Nebraska. I saw the pioneer trail and the arch in St. Louis.
As an armchair traveler from way back, it was thrilling to see the American heartland for real. There are no words to do justice to the sprawl of this beautiful country, to the genuine warmth of the people I met, to the inspired and deeply appreciative way that I felt while I traversed it. Over and over again, I felt my heart fill with pride – what a country this is. I am so fortunate to be an American.
It is a particularly interesting time of my life for travel, as I prepare to leave my country and live in another one. I have traveled a great deal in the past several years and whenever I go abroad, I feel myself to be a representative for Americans. I have rarely had to defend Americans – surprisingly, though the media tells us differently, I have been quite warmly greeted wherever I go. People admire America and Americans. They are curious about us. Our wide-open, optimistic sensibilities, our sense of adventure and our generous spirits. America has clumsily, falteringly but never without enthusiasm, changed the course of history and made things possible and desirable for those in other parts of the world.
But over and over again during my domestic travels this time, I heard Americans express feelings of deep betrayal about the current economic collapse and the government which wrought it. They feel distrustful and ripped off. They are unemployed, broke and scared. They lost savings. Their aging parents lost their savings. Congress is a bunch of overpaid, totally impotent suits, they say. The banks are greedy, nobody can be trusted, they’d go on. The bail out was one of the biggest thefts in history.
It was a litany, from state to state to state, red, blue and everything in-between. And it made me sad. I am a lifelong, very proud American. I believe in due process and in the tenets of the constitution. I don’t think we need the right to bear arms but intellectually, I get the other side of that conversation and I’m glad we live in a country in which this right can be debated and voted on. I believe in our enthusiasm and generosity, even though I know we are sometimes misguided.
But this – this abject robbery of the American people is a betrayal on a level which, for the first time, makes me truly question whether or not there is a corporate cabal of “haves” – you know, the 1% – who are acting in collusion with one another. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, with small gardens in their backyards, and scraping by. I never, ever, ever thought I would live to see the day when an economic crisis of that magnitude would reoccur. And it is a crisis, folks. This is serious and I am seriously frightened for what may follow. Frank Rich of the NYT wrote a fantastic article about the festering class war which threatens our country. (read that HERE)
Way back when W was “voted” into office (remember the whole chad thing?) I felt really and truly embarrassed for our nation. How could a dunce have been elected president? How did this happen?! My feelings trebled when W was elected again, this time, without controversy. People used to joke about moving to Canada when the last straw was broken. Apparently W wasn’t the last straw. Nor was the Iraq war, Afghanistan or the various personal scandals that seem to follow politicians like a swarm of flies following a stench. No – those things weren’t the last straw because they were business as usual, really. Let’s be honest, scandals, deadlocks and crimes have always been a part of government – it’s unavoidable, it comes with the territory, being that we are humans and humans are, as Tony Gilroy wrote so elegantly in Michael Clayton – incomprehensible.
That said, for the first time in my life, I am really, honestly scared for America and where it is headed. We don’t have to be the world’s biggest super power, we don’t have to be the richest country, or the most powerful – but we do have to stick together. Because as troubled as it’s been – as hypocritical, genocidal and downright ugly at times – America stands for something.
An image I can’t get out of my mind is that protesters are being pepper sprayed while criminals are lounging in their mansions.
Our ethics have been eroded on a scale that is almost unimaginable. What ever happened to “we the people”? Are we returning to feudal times, with landed aristocracy and impoverished serfs? Should you learn how to garden and weave? Collapse is a rather disturbing (and masterful) documentary which would suggest that yes, you should take up beekeeping – STAT.
I find myself wondering if those that I thought were cuckoo in the past, with their conspiracy theories and ubiquitous “they are doing thus-and-such” statements were actually right. I used to take people like that for crackpots and Ruby Ridge candidates. But now I’m not so sure.
They (the 1%, I suppose, is the easiest way to narrow “them” down) may not be acting in collusion; after all, that would take cooperation and some kind of mutual benefit seeking – no, I think unregulated capitalism begets greed, pure and simple. Greed is, as it turns out, is not so good, hey? But it is part of the human condition. I just thought our founding fathers had something a little more elegant in mind, I really do. Call me crazy. Call me disillusioned.
From our thriving neighborhoods, crowded streets and blaring horns to the rolling expanses of forest and plains, the rushing rivers and warm cafes, the YMCA, City Hall and Girl Scouts, profoundly American experiences bind us together as a people. We are mavericks, we pull together, we make a lot of mistakes but we have heart. Even our beloved outlaws were plucky and inventive, not conniving, methodical greedy thugs in suits. Or so our mythos tells us.
But there can be no warm glow or mythos constructed out of what just happened. It’s not possible to cast it in another light; with a queasy grin and a greasy handshake, Americans have finally had their asses handed to them – by other Americans who claimed to be patriotic, to love this country and its ideals. Only as applied to themselves, it turns out.
We are partly to blame. Americans were more excited about our video game consoles, what JLo was wearing or whether or not Jennifer Anniston still cares about Brad Pitt and look, he’s now got nineteen children with whats-her-bucket. We fell asleep at the wheel, beguiled by the media – a weapon of mass distraction, as is oft said.
But there you have it – it is done. And we struggle to rebuild.
Change is good – and this is tectonic change. In fact, the impact of this collapse will be felt for a very long time into the future. I don’t think that we will ever return to “normal”. A new normal will emerge. And embrace it we must.
We the people can do better than this. Indeed, America was founded on principles better than this. We need regulation, we need to pay attention to the deeds and words of our politicians, and we need to take responsibility for our individual actions and how they affect the whole.
Do you realize that the five Hollywood studios are all owned by mega-corporations? Are you aware of that? Or do you still see Paramount in its individual light? You shouldn’t. Look more closely at who is controlling the purse strings of almost every media outlet in this country. This is the time for independent film. This is the time for writers and artists to raise their voices and support independent and foreign media. Write from your heart – whether it is a romantic comedy, a thriller or a drama. Write about this time, or some other time – but put that pen to paper like never before. It is through art that humanity can both express our disfavor with what has happened and our visions for the future. In every epoch, artists and writers are the vanguard for change.
Get mad. Get curious. Get busy.
I am so proud to be an American. But I never, ever thought in my lifetime, that I would see the end of the Republic, for which it stands, come so quickly and so ingloriously. Please let me be wrong. Let this be a brand new chapter for Americans and for the US. Let us hold up a light in the darkness, let us remember that we are, among nations, the visionaries.
What you can do:
Use your art for healing and truth-telling:
Write your stories from your specific point of view. Do it now. We need entertainment, we need voices, we need to chronicle this time in anger, in hope and dissent. Fiction or non, we know that art brings healing and understanding.
Be more discerning and questioning of the media sources that you call “news”.
Look to outside sources. Filter everything you read, use common sense. Entertainment and content is more important than ever. But don’t let yourself be distracted by who Anne Hathaway is now engaged to – not only does it not matter, it’s an all too easy way to distract you from your true calling. Be critical. Go. Write. If Anne Hathaway stars in your movie, more people will see it. That’s all that matters. Disregard the sleeping pill of where she shops or how much she weighs. I’m sure she, like all celebrities used for this sacrificial/distracting purpose, would much rather just act.
Just a very few websites and articles to peruse as you charge yourself with taking responsibility for the source(s) and amount of your individual media content consumption: (if you have sites to add to this list, please do submit them):