Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I envy those who have a strong ethnic identity, such as Kevin Miller, who fancies himself a German. I do not identify strongly with any ethnicity. I have German, English, Irish, Jewish and perhaps Scottish and Welsh blood, but I don't think of myself as any of these. What I identify the most as is an Oklahoman. Oklahomans have a distinctive character which is hard to describe: it is a bit like being a Texan without the hubris.

As far as European cultures, I majored in German, but I don't think of myself as ethnically German. I love Austria, because of the Alps and because I lived there for 10 months. I guess culturally I identify most with England (not Britain). I love Irish music and culture, at least as it is celebrated at Milwaukee's IrishFest. I don't have any Mediterranian, Slavic, Scandinavian, African, Asian or Latin American heritage. I married a part Norwegen, though.

Culturally I am an American. Specifically a midwesterner. I tend to see all things through American eyes and with American sensibilities.

I think there is a tendancy among Americans to not see that we do have a very strong, clear and distinct culture that is recognizable, emulated and resented around the world. My daughter is always bemoaning the fact that as an American she doesn't have a culture like the Irish do. But what the heck is all this food, music, fashion, language, philosophy and movies that are omnipresent around the world if not a very distinctive American culture? Jeans, hamburgers, jazz, rock and roll, country music, Hollywood, t.v., the t-shirt, ball caps, the stetson, constitutionally established freedom and democracy, I could go on and on. All of things things are distinctly American (or at least, in the political realm, have a distinctly American version) and they are not intrinsically shallow even if our media tends to trivialize everything.

Country music is a perfect example. It is a very rich art form, every bit as meaningful as Irish music and more so than most Austrian popular "folk" music (which tends to go on and on about how pretty the mountains are; I love this one, though.). Of course, some country is trite and commercial, but the best isn't, any more than the best jazz, blues, pop and rock and roll. Can one really say that Peggy Lee's "Fever" or "Black Coffee" is inferior to any sample of ethnic popular music in the world? I don't think so. It certainly beats all those Irish songs about the I.R.A., in my book.

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