Tuesday, June 14, 2005
"America - Love It or Leave It"
I couldn't believe it when I actually saw this sign out in the wild, in the window of a tanning salon in Rochelle Park, NJ. I had to return to snap a picture. It's like seeing a "Whites Only" sign, or some similarly historically bypassed sentiment. Yet here it was, totally free of irony (unlike had it been, say, located in the window of an America First campaign office or something), apparently genuinely espousing a slogan that already in my youth was really just a straw-man representation -- like "My Country, Right or Wrong".
In our post-modern, deconstructionist world, you would think no one could seriously defend a simplistic slogan like "Love It or Leave It". But maybe that's its appeal: a perceived rejection of jaded, pseudo-intellectual cynicism in favor of old-fashioned naïve black and white absolutes. There might be less to this slogan than even in the straw-man representation: it might simply mean, in the mind of the sloganeer, "Our lives are good, shut up already", or "I feel defensive in the face of perceived criticism".
Still, the absurdity of the slogan becomes apparent if you substitute in slightly more specific localities, as in: "New Jersey -- Love it or Leave it!" or "Rochelle Park -- love it or leave it!" Ridiculous! Bergen County, NJ actually has an "Improvement Authority", for goodness sake. So why should civic duty and good citizenship have such totally opposite virtues from the local to the national scale? It's good to identify and fix problems, but only smaller, local ones?
And here I am, arguing against the straw-man...
There was a Bloom County cartoon from way back (April 9, 1982 in fact) that nicely captured the reflexive, defensive denial that this sign seems symptomatic of:
[All of Bloom County has been irradiated by a leak from the local nuclear plant. Binkley and his Dad are both wearing contamination-gear / radiation-suit type headgear, but are otherwise casually dressed as they have this conversation in their living room, Binkley with his hands in his pockets, Binkley's Dad sitting in a recliner, reading the newspaper.]
Binkley: Ya know, Pop... Some people have been saying that we oughtta shut down all the nuke plants.
Binkley's Dad (not looking up): Yeah. Right. The Commies, that's who.
Binkley: Pop, there's been radiation all over the place for a whole week now.
Binkley's Dad (still not looking up): Great. Clears the sinuses.
[Beat, no dialog, as Binkley looks out at the reader.]
Binkley: Pop... The cat's gone bald.
Binkley's Dad (sinking in deeper to the recliner and still not looking up): Good. So has your mother.
The Way Things Are: Love It and Shut Up!
(Of course, you'd be right to argue that the character of Binkley's Dad, the "typical Joe Sixpack", is in fact a straw-man, invented by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed to be a foil to his own views -- he's not a real character... Hence my amazement at finding a real live, non-ironic, non-straw-man espousal of the "Love It or Leave It" sentiment in the wild.)