Saturday, July 04, 2009
So, after spending the bulk of my day reading texts on cataloging (i promise you right here and now that is the least boring description I can possible give of this text), it is now early in the morning on the 4th of July. I'm sitting on my porch, enjoying a drink, and trying to think about what I can type about how I feel about this country of ours (if there is by any chance that there's a reader of this in another country, I'll crap my pants. leave a message and you'll make my year). And so I've been thinking about this harder than usual. Part of me wants to link to a shitload of sites (and to be fair, I sort of will), but this should be more than that. I'm trying to keep this thing going while I am REQUIRED by my studies to create 2 blogs* in addition to this one, so I am extra guilt-ridden about the state of HDF at the moment. In a lazy moment, I would just link (again) to the Born in the U.S.A. video, which after the 3 minute mark remains one of my favorite documents of 1980s America of all time. But unfortunately for you, the reader, I'm not feeling lazy just yet.
This story begins in of all places, a church: The church I was christened in, I taught in (!), and that I was confirmed and married in. I only mention this portion of this story because it still impresses me, because it is neither a religious diatribe nor a commentary on ethics. This is just a simple story on something that had great impact on my life, which I like to think most of these posts are about. Alright, we all know that's not true.
Anyway, this is about an event this church holds every year called the Fall Fair. It's usually a smorgasbord of cheap, decent furniture, but this goes back further than that. Because there is always a book sale there. and anyone with the patience to sort through hundreds of books will know the sort, as I did when I had such patience. I found all sorts of things there that would impact my reading life over the years: Bradbury, Lewis...even the Fletch series. But this is about something much bigger than bruised paperbacks.
It was when I was 16 or 17, and I found a book called American Pictures. It is the essentially the photodiary of a Danish man bound for the priesthood who instead for a few reasons ended up hitchhiking across the United States from 1970 to 1975. His view wasn't even something that unique (I would later discover Larry Clark's Tulsa, among others), but to me -a high school student- it was like having someone beat me and leaving me for dead in the shadow of my national pride (or lack thereof) at the time.
It's a concept that is almost impossible to grasp now, at least for the people savy enough to abuse the internet at work for something like this nowadays, but I digress. This guy was given access to every part of the country, from the sharecropper shacks to the millionaires at the time. If somebody can tell me how a homeless Dane can grant me access to Jay Rockafeller these days, I'm all ears, but I think I think it's part of a bygone era. Anyway, this book remains to me a look at America that only could provide that a de Tocqueville could provide. Especially when considering this country at the time. I mean the best and the worst presented to you in a neat little package that you'd rather not see. There is young love, there is high society. There is heroin addicts shooting up and there are fresh murder victims a la Weegee. And whot's more impressive is that these shots never seem posed or staged. These are people living on whatever side of the law that actually trusted this foreigner to tell their story. Can you imagine taking a picture of Jay Rockafeller and some pimps nowadays? You might, but I can't.
But I'm getting off track. It's just that... think of the sixties. Think of the civil rights movement (should that be capitalized?) and the atmosphere of the early seventies. Think about the fact that while we were patting ourselves on the back for our progress for the efforts of a distinct minority, while we know what the cities were up to, nobody was paying attention to to everywhere else but this Dane who was selling blood plasma for film.
These are shots that illustrate how for we are from utopia (again, capitalized?), how much more progress there is to make. It means a lot to me when I view these pictures that I can still view them with a sense of pride. We are America. We for better or worse, are the beacons of freedom and democacy. But when you're looking at a murder victim in New York or gang activity in Richmond, Virginia, it's not like you can cling to bragging rights. and these pictures aren't diplomatically contained to the mid-Atlantic. There are things that we've probably all seen to some degree, however scary that might sound.
and the weirdest part is that I don't look at these pictures with shame. I really don't. and nor should you. This is America at its baldest truth. Obviously, things are different now, but can you really tell me that you would want to see the update? I won't lie, I did, and I saw a dead man on the streets of New York in 1994, after the city was cleaned up and presentable. But I saw this naked love in the city, and I saw hope in the places I would never have expected to see it.
I was stupid at that young age, as we all are, and I sliced up that book to make interesting collages for my dorm room door in college or whatever, and it's haunted me.
Years later, my wife looked at this book and found herself as enamored with it as I once was. and I had to explain where some of those pictures went. It was not pleasant. But as a shitty make-up (I am filled with these), I tracked down Jacob Holdt's books and hoped for the best. It turns out that he's still there, and presenting the America that I want to ignore but can't. The America that's under our noses but that even our new president won't see. and I wouln't, either. Sure, he's got several girlfriends in the states (and a wife and children at home), but you still have to wonder what this bearded foreigner sees that we don't. So in honor of this holiday, I'm not going to give you Chinese-made fireworks (although they are awesome) to celebrate this country of ours, but instead a real depiction of what we all want to defend. We are the greatest nation on this planet. But We've a ways to go.
See Jacob Holdt's website here.
As a side note, I meant to start this post about the Haden triplets, but this is better, trust me. I'll update this soon, I promise.
in the meantime, I beg that you explore Mr. Holdt's pictures and take the pride and shame for our fantastic country that I hold.
I recently found out that he's been trying to bring to light the humanity of white power groups, which surprised me as much as you, but sorta delivered.
*It's been like 3 years and I still cringe when using this term