by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
I'm fortunate enough to work in a lovely little specialty candy store in East Vancouver. Here, we sell imported licorices, hula hoops, and quinoa waffles. However, my very clever lady-boss found that in our early fledgling days, the key to the candy was in nostalgia. The parents who come to this candy store, gleefully lead their small children into the shop and show them how the record player and the Viewmaster work. These are the same parents to squeal and give their kids Thrills gum, a soapy candy that nobody ever really liked, but takes parents back to their youths and leaves young kids with parental trust issues in matters of confection. It is also the perforce metaphor that describes a longing for a nostalgia of a time that never was..
When I waltz around the candy shop, i wear vintage aprons at work, part of the lady-boss's collection and partly to invoke a Norman Rockwell-esque feeling that was fiction. It's the same social fiction that men respond to the aprons the way that women will swoon for a man in a well-tailored suit, a longing for something that we feel that we have been missing, but has never actually existed. This 'simpler time' was the invention of television in people's homes, when costumes on television were curated and showed caricatures of women wearing their best dresses to cook dinner and clean houses in, men in perfect suits, and houses clean beyond reproach. It glossed over undershirts, couples in the same beds, and vomit and Lego all over the place, as there is when rearing young humans.
The ‘make america great again’ movement sprung up to hearken people back to another, better time, and given the target age demographic of this in the USA (the white, middle-age, working class voters) it is the windfall time time of summer long past. Or maybe it was in their minds a time when ‘men were men’, and everyone could take a joke, and you didn’t have to worry about being politically correct, and bosses were entitled to grabbing their staff by the ass. Like that was some lost utopia.
I’m not really sure what it was that sparks the imagination of the people who adopted this as their war cry, but this is just what my own musings tend to to lead me.
However, this doesn’t mean that America was great in these, or in any of these times. While I’m not entirely convinced that they are all unrelated, I’d have liked to think that the situation was improving towards a more fair, democratic and compassionate society, but then again, I’m a Canadian, so what do I know?
For starters, I can say that one of the reasons America got off to a rocky start is it’s foundation of fear, persecution, and violence. From what I can glean from my Canadian public-school education, the Pilgrims whom came and settled onto the East Coast were fleeing religious oppression from some, or were being ridden out on a rail, so to speak, by others. Either way, people were already edgy when they hit Plymoth Rock, and it never really got better from there.
In fact, it’s fairly grim that a day that is traditionally celebrated in the USA as a day of stuffing one’s craw with their loved ones and watching football is the continued celebration of bloody victory when in 1637 when members of the Peqout people got together for their Green Corn Ceremony and were brutally attacked by Dutch and English mercenaries. 700 men, women, and children were slaughtered, and the following day the Govenor of the State Of Massesschuettes declared a holiday in light of their shameful victory.
As far as I can tell, that when early settlers weren’t busy killing off the locals, they were busy trying to off each other. An immediate example that I can call to mind is the Salem witch trials. What started out as a head cold for two little girls in January 1692 turned into one of the most ‘WTF?’ history moment. The trials, which started after two young girls related to Reverend Samuel Parris fell ill, and upon medical inspection, didn’t improve. I pride myself on logic and reason, but even at the most fantastical, I’m hard pressed to go from, ‘Hmm, ’tis seeming to be the pox,’ to ‘WITCHCRAFT! BURN IT! BURN IT WITH FIRE!’. But then again, it was a simpler time, and the people were… well, let’s just say the ramp of evolution from the apes was gender incline for some of us more than others. This was where it was accepted dentistry to pull a tooth if it had potential demonic interference, so make of the time what you will.
I’ll spoil the ending of the witch trials so that you don’t get sucked into watching some cheap television series on the events. The end result was that by the time the first little girl had sniffled to the last hurrah of this ridiculousness 19 men and women had been hanged, one man crushed to death (really? Who was on the executing committee who came up with THAT little gem?) and several others who languished in prison. Meanwhile, 73 years prior to all of this, a large number of people were being brought to America, against their wills to work in tobacco and cotton fields, and the systematic genocide of First Nations people continued at a bunker clip.
However, things were still rocky for we ladies, even 228 years later, when after the date that the Salem witch trials began to the date that the bill that allowed women to vote was ratified. Well, white women got the right to vote - our African-American sisters didn’t get the chance until 1964, and even then it was because of poll taxes and literacy tests, and nothing to do with a higher social altruism, which wasn’t extended to Latina women until 1975, which is around when the laws making marital rape illegal began. That’s just when it began - marital rape wouldn’t be illegal in all 50 USA States until 1993, though to be fair it wasn’t until 1980 it was illegal in Canada.
… And don’t get me started on the rights of LGBTQ folks, who still have one of the hardest uphill battles to get recognized as human, let alone equal, which still makes my head (and heart) hurt to think about. If you were found ‘out’ in 1924 you could be declared insane and subjected to a series of indecent treatments in a sanitarium, but Henry Gruber started the Society For Human Rights in Chicago. His work was the cornerstone foundation to help bring LGBTQ people’s rights along with everyone else who wasn’t rich and white in America. We still have a long way to go with same-sex marriage being legal in all 50 states as recently as 2015, and allowed to serve in the USA military in 2010 with the repeal of the absurd ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. But with the record numbers of LGBTQ deaths due to violence, discrimination, and suicide, we’ve still a lot of work to do to ensure their safety.
Past reflection is always something I’ve found in danger of being bleak and depressing. Reviewing all these little highlights of low points in USA history (and this is just a diet, Cole’s Notes, glossed over version) tends to bring my soul a bit lower, but I always hope that history doesn’t bear repeating. I think, that with some creative editing, we can take Trump’s not-so-subtle insinuation that America needs to backslide socially, and create something more upbeat, inclusive and wonderful:
“Make America Great!”
Makes sense, no? With the removal of that one little word, this removes the vague racist sentiments, and instead inspires thoughts of ‘we can do better’ and ‘let’s not fuck up again’ when gazed upon. I would argue, that it calls for hope to create harmony, and come up with an American Arcadia that allows people to pursue their dreams and have the best education and healthcare, and employs forward-thinking individuals to ensure that liberty and freedom is protected and offered to all of it’s people. All. Of. Them.