I am proud to say that when a fellow resident of Hoboken, N.J., recently mentioned something about the Manzo brothers being in Hoboken, my response was, “Who?”
“The Manzo brothers,” she repeated.
I’d heard her, but I didn’t know who they were. As it turns out, I would have known if I’d been watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Uh, not any time soon.
But that’s what’s wonderful about this nation. We have choices and freedom. The very thing other nations are fighting for that we --mostly blessedly -- have right here in the United States of America. Even when it’s just the ability to choose to watch people behaving badly and call it entertainment.
I know this is a circuitous leap, but for some reason this made me think of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s speech at CPAC last week. He touts American exceptionalism and asserted that President Obama doesn’t believe our nation is exceptional. Could we maybe chill out on the sanctity of seeing ourselves as the great example and just be the great example?
Perhaps the president has a more nuanced view than Santorum of what makes a country exceptional. Recognizing its strengths and acknowledging its weaknesses, now that’s exceptional. I am always suspect of someone who sees starry-eyed perfection in the object of their affection – be it a country or a person – unless they are stating that from a place of high spiritual thinking a la Buddhism (you know, ditching the dualistic thinking and therefore realizing that everything is perfect and imperfect just the way it is). Call me crazy, but somehow I didn’t get the Buddhist vibe off Santorum.
If a man loves a woman and thinks she’s exceptional and doesn’t see that she’s also fabulously or annoyingly flawed, I give the marriage a year. Two, tops. Real love is grounded in seeing the warts.
We can be grateful and proud to live in this country and not think every darned breath we take is encased in gold dust. We can be thankful every single day that we are free to speak our minds here, but still be aware that that freedom brings us a broad spectrum of choices and not all of them make us admirable or inspiring. I could list here those events in our history that required courage and vision and those that were not such stellar moments, but that’s been done.
For me, the point is more simply illustrated in our media and pop culture, the freedoms that allow for that, and the sometimes unflattering picture that paints of who we are, especially in this Internet age.
Which brings me back to The Real Housewives of New Jersey (or any other ‘housewives,’ for that matter). Or shows where brides behave like brats. Or another person who has been spotted in Hoboken of late but I wouldn’t know if I tripped over her – Kim Kardashian. Now there’s America in all its glory--people getting paid to live their glitzy or shallow or excessive lives out loud.
What the flag pin-wearing, patriotism-on-their-sleeve folks don’t seem to get is that it’s OK to acknowledge we have nonsense and grit in the middle of our beauty and principles. Whether we’re watching Grey’s Anatomy or the latest documentary on PBS, that’s part of the landscape that makes us what we are.
Freedom of the press and freedom of speech bring us rousing coverage of Egyptians rising up for their vision of a better life, but also mean-spirited and even cruel comments about Christina Aguilera making a simple mistake while singing the national anthem. One minute we’re heartened by how people came together in Tucson after a horrific shooting and then we can click on the next link on our screen and read all about how awful Michelle Obama is for suggesting we eat healthier or how overweight New Jersey governor Chris Christie is or how fired up Alex Rodriguez is because he was caught on camera being fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz.
Charming, not so much, but that’s all part of the freedom, isn’t it? It makes us interesting, this preoccupation with being inspired by heroes today and exulting in other people’s perceived failings and flaws tomorrow. Depending where we are in our own lives, we latch on, needing motivation one minute and company for our misery the next.
As I write this, commentary and speculation have been free flowing about CBS journalist Lara Logan and her physical abuse and sexual assault while covering the events in Egypt. A horrific experience by most counts, but leave it to some Americans to use their freedom to point a finger at CBS for letting an attractive woman actually do her job or – here we go again – at all Muslims for the deplorable actions of a few.
Sickening, really. Embarrassing, too. Big, ugly warts.
And yet – wait for it -- I’m in love with my country. No stars in my eyes at all.