It’s not easy to be proud to be an American these days. Not as easy as easy as it once was. This generation, unlike ones that came before, has been faced with so much gray in a previous starkly dark or light world, that it’s polarized good people from other good people. We don’t feel like the UNITED States these days. Who are the American people? Who are they in 2014? When we look around at our circumstances, our recent history, our representatives (blue and red alike)….it’s a lot more difficult to feel the patriotism and the pride I once took in being a citizen of the country of my birth. Are movies and television shows trivial in the light of that bleak reality? Not the best of them. The best of them serve as reminders of qualities, people, places, and events that NEED to be remembered. Here are five examples:
The West Wing
It may not be realistic, but the realism of Washington isn’t what people need to be reminded of. House of Cards is realistic. The West Wing is idealistic. It’s a big, unapologetic love letter to the idea of public service. Good people trying their best to act their conscience for the betterment of their fellow-man, We want to believe those are the sort of people we have in our government, though time and again we find they’re not…but in Aaron Sorkin’s beautifully written White House they are.
History deifies the Founding Fathers to the point of irrelevance. What made people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and so many others extraordinary is that they were, brilliant and brave to be sure, real human beings. The HBO miniseries of David McCullough’s brilliant biography of our second President shows the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of our country as the real people they were. To me, that makes what they accomplished MORE extraordinary, not less. That they were people like you and me and they achieved what they did makes the end product all the more inspiring.
This Ivan Reitman comedy may not have the gravitas of others on the list, and I’m certainly partial to the film’s title, but this is a truly underrated film. In it, a venal and corrupt President suffers a stroke and rather than reveal it to the country, his administration finds a look-a-like: Dave. He’s trained to be a stand-in while the President supposedly recovers, but when he dies, Dave begins to try his best to do a job he never was elected to do, but turns out not to be terribly bad at. It speaks to the quality of the every-man and the hope that placed in that position they would try as hard to be as good a President and man as Dave did.
Band of Brothers
In our time, war has become a fuzzy sludge of indistinct aims, never-ending justifications and pointless death. Seventy years ago my grandfather’s generation faced a war, perhaps the last just war man will ever fight. It is no exaggeration to say that this group of ordinary men, who answered duty’s call, saved the world. Band of Brothers shows both the horror of the war they faced and the tremendous bond that developed between them as they faced them. It may well be one of the best things that has ever aired on television.
My generation has not had a Great Depression (yet). We’ve had no just war to fight. We didn’t watch man reach for the stars and walk on the face of the Moon. The defining moment of our generation was a horrible morning in September when the illusion of safety we’d operated under our whole lives vanished in a heartbreaking tableau of horror. But in that horror, we learned that ordinary men and women still possess the heroic qualities that the best Americans have. None more so than the passengers of United 93 who, rather than see their plane be used as a weapon against their government and their people, chose to fight, and in that fighting lost their lives but saved untold hundreds if not thousands more.
As I said in the beginning of this piece, it’s not easy to be a proud American in 2014. The myths and legends of our schooling seem utterly at odds with the bitter, intransigent reality of our today. But there are reasons to take pride in our heritage. The very best of “entertainment” can transcend that word and give a boost to a national sense of pride deeply in need of it. Happy Fourth, Time Killers.