Dreaming Up America
With America ever under global scrutiny, Russell Banks contemplates the questions of our origins, values, heroes, conflicts, and contradictions. He writes with conversational ease and emotional insight, drawing on contemporary politics, literature, film, and his knowledge of American history.
countries. We’d had greater exposure to the English than to other Europeans, from our shared language, if nothing else. There’s greater familiarity and comfort when two nations share a language or a religion, and until recent years we believed that we shared both a language and an essentially Protestant Christian religion with England—not Ireland, however—and shared that same religion with Germany. If language and religion were factors at play in our dealings with European nations in the late
that everyone wants. And it’s not just about dollars either, although of course selling and making money is very much the point. But McDonald’s and Starbucks and, of course, Coca-Cola are also about being loved and admired by the world simply for being themselves. That Coke bottle is a great metaphor for the true apotheosis of the American Dream. What a dream! There’s some kind of blissful stupidity in that impulse. If people just try Coca-Cola, they’ll love me! They’ll love America! If they just
statistics is that one-third of the time that they’re watching television, they’re really watching advertisements for consumer goods, for products. So their minds are being organized around a need for these products. Their brains are being altered. We know that the brain adapts to sensory input and chemically alters itself to accommodate that input in some way. So we know that’s happening, and it’s happening worldwide, most particularly in the United States itself and increasingly in the rest of
with property were qualified to vote. Several million slaves were excluded from this process. Women were excluded. And in the dispensation of proportional representation in Congress, each slave was to count as three-fifths of a person, which gave the South a numerical bulge sufficient to balance against the more populous North. So by definition it was elitist many times over. But at the same time it was established that there would be no nobility and no monarchy, giving life to what was
society doesn’t have the same chilling vividness for us as the chaos of pure democracy, and that we associate with the French Revolution. THE FIRST American immigrants, not counting the colonists, came over unwillingly: they were the enslaved Africans, who didn’t come here out of any volition of their own. But they were still, after all, immigrants. And they were the first to arrive in large numbers from more or less the same region of the world, which happened to be West Africa, rather than