Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…and with knobs on. I plead guilty. Guv’nor, it’s a fair cop. Bailiff, confiscate my shelf of Kirk’s Works and seize my old photographs of Mecosta. Constable, clap me in irons and hand me over, even command the prison dermatologist to sand off my tattoo saying, “Give Me the Permanent Things or Give Me Death.”
I am guilty as charged, M’lud, of believing that America isn’t finished. Moreover that there is plenty left in America worth struggling for, and I confess to believing that Pat Buchanan and Reid Buckley were wrong when they said there was not. I am (gulp) a reluctant optimist but an optimist nevertheless, and as such I am guilty of true, wanton and pre-meditated crimes against the core conservative principles of pessimism and grumpiness. There, I said it. Now, call for the priest and the hang-man: I face my Maker with a clean conscience.
As I will confess to the old padre on his final visit to my cell, my criminal tendencies all started in England on the Eighth of July, in The Year of Our Lord 2005.
On the day before, four bombs set-off in the London Underground by Islamist terrorists murdered fifty-two innocent people and injured seven-hundred more. Old London Town was said to be stunned and in panic when I strolled from my Belgravia digs down to St. James’s Park, where several thousand people visited a tableaux commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the end the Second World War.
Modern-day British servicemen and women, but in period uniforms, posed for pictures with visitors beside Monty’s staff-car. Another operated a 1940s army generator. More lolled about, drinking from enamelled tin mugs, in what was meant to be a Burma jungle campsite. Inside one of the snowy-white tents, well-groomed young people from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office displayed an original Enigma code-machine, conquered at Bletchley Park by British youth, a few of whom were now very old visitors among the crowd. Bright young things from the BBC, dressed in sharp-edged suits and Swing Era dresses, crooned war-time songs into a vintage microphone at a replica NAAFI, where British and American soldiers and airmen were once served tea from gigantic, olive-drab urns.
Spectators seemed unaware of the recent attack, but they were just being English and ignoring it. That’s what the English used to do, you see, before supposedly becoming a nation of cowards and whiners. The day after my visit, two days after the attack, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ignored the security worries, and came from Buckingham Palace next-door to greet the adoring crowds and revive her own memories of being a war-time car-and-truck mechanic. Her Majesty is a child of the Blitz.
There was something immediately peculiar about the crowd, exclusively made up of well-groomed people of all ages, uncommonly polite as they mulled about. They might have been provided by Central Casting for a film-shoot. They were all white, apart from a few ramrod-stiff, ancient Sikhs wearing dozens of medal ribbons on their double-breasted, blue, Barathea blazers: our Afro-Caribbean and South Asian families immigrated after the war, so they would have had no personal recollection of Britain’s Finest Hour.
The white people were all English and all middle-class; the kind that would, on a fine summer’s day, collect their children and motor up to London from the Home Counties. There were no urban teenaged louts with their trousers halfway down; no surly, sullen “hoodies” from the nearby Council Estates. Unique for any event in London, they were all clean, polite and well-dressed casually, from grannies and granddads who remembered the war, to well-scrubbed toddlers, happy babies and their earnest parents.
Such a crowd one never sees on television.
As I began to realise what I was watching, something even odder happened. A strange kind of buzz arose in the middle-distance; the sound of two thousand people mumbling or humming or grasping for words. Then a small, blond lad of about ten years burst into song, in a choir-boy’s ringing tones.
“While there’s a country lane,
Wherever there’s a cottage small
Beside a field of grain…”
His mother elbowed his younger sister, urging “Come on! You know the words, don’t you darling?”
Such were the Anglo-Saxon children described by Saint Gregory in a slave market before he ordered St. Augustine of Canterbury to convert the English. “Non Angli, sed angeli,” exclaimed Pope Gregory I: these are not Angles but angels.
The little girl nodded bashfully and began to sing, but by then it came from everywhere. Across the park thousands of people stopped whatever they were doing, clutched their paper cups of tea, stood stock-still and broke into song. In their starched, blue turbans the rheumy-eyed and be-medalled old Sikhs snapped to attention and sang. Frail, old Englishmen in RAF moustaches gently grasped the hands of their plump, powdery wives, looked at one another lovingly and together sang the old, wartime standard along with their sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Young, uniformed men and women dropped their wrenches or bundles of pamphlets and joined in with pride:
“There’ll always be an England,
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me.”
It soared into the old, leafy trees of St. James’s Park, over the roof of Buckingham Palace and on across London Town like a healing balm. David Lean or Emeric Pressburger could have filmed it in one take, down to the close-ups of so many of us teary-eyed and singing for all we were worth.
There are millions more of them, nay, tens of millions across the British Isles, and I remembered GK Chesterton’s poem, “The Secret People,”
“Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.”
What dawned on me that day about England is just as true about America, which is that both nations have been rendered invisible by media and by the elites who control it.
Reasons good economically and less-so socially have fragmented our communities. Now we only see our nations through television, and because we do not see ourselves we come to think that we are alone; that no one like us exists. Intentional or not it is a massive fraud.
American black families must have felt this way one or two generations ago, when on film or television the only black people to be seen were servants, small-time crooks, or Amos-n’-Andy buffoons. “Where are we?” they would have asked, “Do we matter?” Then God said, “Let there be Dr. Bill Cosby.” Today they are better and more fairly represented in all walks of life.
It has happened in reverse to the traditional, American, middle-classes who have disappeared off the air-waves. Oh, there are white, urban, single parents and Yuppie hipsters aplenty, but hardly anyone who looks and acts like the middle-class Americans I know, white or black or yellow or brown. When they do occasionally appear on camera, the plots are jazzed-up by urbanite, coastal elites to create unrealistic scenaria; characters and conflicts that may seem normal to the authors, or which are overblown intentionally for dramatic effect. Anyway, they would know little of normal, Middle American life and hence would suspect that it is dreary: “Okay, boss, let’s pep it up. Make the daughter a lesbian biker with a drug problem, then the kindly old neighbour is a transsexual vegan hiding his grandson who’s AWOL from the Marines because he’s anti-war.”
Had the writers come from Middle America – or respected it like the armies of urban, coastal Jews who wrote suburban, wholesome and successful programs in the 1950s and 1960s – modern writers would not need to go so far-out in search of comic or dramatic material. But those old Jews (look at the credits, most were Jewish) were thinking, moral patriots, not deracinated fashionistas: they respected and understood and admired Middle America even if they were city-kids themselves, and their corporate sponsors demanded material reflecting mainstream values and lifestyles. The mainstream values and lifestyles are not gone, but the broadcast coverage sure is.
Mr. Reid Buckley, that devout Catholic and true conservative, is pushing 82 years old. He probably watches some television and otherwise reads voraciously. So, like the rest of us, he’s been suckered into believing that what he does not see does not exist. Since what he sees is vile, he concludes that America is vile and wonders what remnant is worth conserving. Dare not sneer for we are no different.
Media is a macro lens that captures fleas and misses the elephant. It films the eccentric and ignores the centric. Bored by the normal, it obsesses about the abnormal to such a vast degree that its consumers come to believe that nothing else exists. Since Americans learn far more about America from media than from their communities, they swallow what they are told and most of it is unrepresentative, even (said Colonel Potter of M.A.S.H.) horse-pucky.
The curiously powerful influence of media is well-researched. Bereaved survivors of natural disasters sometimes attack news-crews demanding that they be recorded, for that somehow validates their grief and the lives of their loved-ones. Television can trump reality, so if people don’t see it on screen, they may believe that it does not exist.
In comedy and drama, there are three potential reasons for unrealistic, unrepresentative broadcasts. Unlikely overall, one thinks, is conspiracy: some Leftist, secret war against conventional morality. There is indeed an element of politically-prescriptive broadcasting, such as the BBC’s full-court press to promote both the tolerance of homosexuals and the practice itself: one need not go to many BBC parties to realise that many are whom Prince Metternich described as “sophists of our (their) passions.” But it is a relatively small reason.
None too convincing is the perennial media defence that they broadcast what customers want. Families may want more wholesome fare that is never included among the choices offered at the test-screening; for when wholesome and inspiring programming occurs, it is often a runaway hit on small and big screens alike. A lot of people seem to watch old, value-filled, US television comedies and dramas on YouTube and cable, or buy the DVDs.
Most likely is the simple fact that artists write about what they know: think of how many musicals, movies and television shows are about people making musicals, movies and television shows.
So the writers live in coastal cities, which attract people with views and practices that are out of sync with Middle America, and this constitutes whom and what the writers know. Such cities generate wealth and materialistic Yuppies in equal proportion, so that too goes on screen (ever see the unrealistically large apartments in New York-based sitcoms such as “Seinfeld”? The writers only know rich people). Moreover, since the writers don’t know anything of normal, church-going, NASCAR-watching or even James Fenimore Cooper-reading, Middle America, either they do not dare to portray it, or when they do it is laughably unrealistic.
On more serious media, if they broadcast that half of American infants are born out of wedlock, they do not broadcast that half are not. Cut to the poor welfare mom, misfortunate but maybe round-heeled, with a vast brood of illegitimate kids, and not to the economically-struggling but proudly-married couple who put their children first. Is this because we prefer watching bad news as a kind of asexual pornography? Maybe so, but we miss seeing many healthy trees plus a still-massive American forest.
News media pander commercially to emotions and reactions: they strike a highfallutin pose but still only peddle entertainment dressed-up in a business suit. So Americans are deprived of the economic good news, such as that American technology in shale-gas extraction has made it the world’s largest gas producer, ahead of Russia, generating 72% of national needs up from 50% a decade ago. Or that Chinese inflation will by 2015 halve its salary advantages over America, and so numerous US manufacturers are already repatriating their factories from abroad (read about both here).
This being neither the topic nor the time in which to address recapturing the media, my point is merely that traditional America is not gone, you just peer into your television sets and fail to see one another, so you think that you are alone. You’re not. There are tens of millions of you – maybe as much as half of the population – with enough values to ride out any storm; one through which the more decadent and disconnected misfortunates may not survive or survive so well.
You can even, if you wish, catch glimpses of the Invisible Majority. Read Miss Julie Robison here at this website. Borrow a Frank Capra movie or a volume of Robert Frost from your town library (made before Middle Americans disappeared from media: they never disappeared for real). Go to church or visit a local diner and eaves-drop on the conversations like a sneak-thief for The Permanent Things. If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, invite Pat Buchanan and Reid Buckley to come with you, then ruminate together that about half of the American population still lives in rural areas or communities smaller than 25,000 souls; and 41% of all Americans go to church, as opposed to how many farming pot or cooking crystal-meth?
Consider that those having illegitimate children have a lot of them, so if half of the babies are illegitimate that does not mean half of American families, and the 60% who don’t go to church regularly, and people shacked-up or trading-in their spouses, doping their poor kids on Ritalin, maxing-out their credit cards or robbing liquor-stores may all be the same people. That leaves more than four out of ten Americans, or almost half.
Figure that there’s a damn big “remnant” out there, all peering desperately into their television sets and wondering where the hell they all are.
Meanwhile don’t worry about me. I got a good Mecosta School lawyer who says I can’t be convicted for being optimistic about America. And he’s got written depositions from Ronald Reagan and Russell Kirk.
Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.