The Melting Pot Is Cold

If you go to Italy, you will find all kinds of evidence of the Roman Empire. There’s the Colosseum of course, and the Pantheon– certainly must sees– and any number of Roman temples and ruins of this and that all over the place.

Before the Romans took over, for hundreds of years much of Italy was run by the Etruscans. But, unlike the many Roman remains and ruins, it is tough to find any Etruscan buildings.

This not an accident. It’s not because the Etruscans built their houses out of sticks. It is because, as Machiavelli explains, when the Romans first took over the joint, they did not want there to be any competition for their ideologies. They did not want the various local tribes to have a choice of maybe going back to worshipping the Etruscan gods.  So the Romans very methodically went around destroying anything Etruscan, and that’s why there are so very few remnants of the Etruscan society.

Similarly, when Cortez arrived at Mexico City, he found fabulous buildings and temples– and he had them all taken apart. Of course, there are still Aztec and Mayan temples out in the boonies, but in Mexico City they only recently found the remains of the massive temple that once stood in the center of town. He wanted the locals to be Catholic, and not have some other temple to go to.

The point I am making here is, when new cultures or centers of power take over, one of their first orders of business is to get rid of the competition, and this includes history and traditions of the people they are trying to take over. So it always saddens me a little when I encounter people whose American cultural awareness is, in terms of time, very shallow. They know all the current top ten hits, but if I ask them if they have ever seen “On the Town” or “Roman Holiday” or even “Casablanca” . . . their eyes go blank. Their own rich American cultural heritage is not something they are aware of. Never mind Gershwin or Aaron Copland, we’re talking fabulous pop culture like Rocky and Bullwinkle, and in some cases, even Bugs Bunny. I was amazed in talking to some millenials last week that they had no idea who Tex Avery was, and had never seen “Red Hot Riding Hood” or “King Size Canary.” These are timeless masterpieces of unadulterated fun that, like the monuments of the Etruscans, have been systematically erased by the modern pop culture machine that seeks to establish its own pre-eminence, and to do so it has to erase collective knowledge of competition from the past that far exceeds its own relatively poor quality.

Something else that is becoming painfully clear is that the kind of all inclusive, we-are-all-in-this-together kind of movie and song is no longer preeminent in our culture. They are being erased– and this is much easier than taking down stone fortresses– by an ever increasing volume of mass produced pop culture pushed hard by individual corporate interests. The nation, its cultural monuments, things that are collectively ours, are being taken down and replaced by things that are owned by smaller entities that have their own individual, not national, agendas. We ignore this at our peril. Singing the national anthem at ball games is not enough. Maybe making every kid say the Pledge of Allegiance every day was overkill, but something like that is necessary to maintaining national cohesion, especially in a melting pot like America. You have to keep the heat on to make things melt together. We all lettings things separate, and while this is profitable for some, it is not good for us as a whole.

–JL

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