New Americana

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Category: Unformed Thoughts

Unformed Thoughts: This sure feels familiar

Like most brothers, mine has always been into video games. He recently came home with a new game called Sonic Generations–the most recent in a long line of Sonic the Hedgehog games. The game itself is of little interest, but the premise is fascinating. Essentially, the game involves levels and characters from every previous Sonic game, going all the way back to the very first game released in 1991.

It’s easy to call this nostalgia. Indeed, Iizuka, one of the producers of the game, stated that the levels will “feel familiar but will also feature new visual elements.” Perfectly reasonable. And playing the game certainly recalls feelings of playing past Sonic games: the sounds, the speed, the puzzles.

However, as you play the game, the characters themselves seem oddly aware of the game’s familiarity. After beating the first level–a level ripped straight out of the first Sonic game from 20 years ago–one of the characters says: “this sure feels familiar.” The same thing happens after the second level. It was cute the first time; cloying the second. By the third time I was annoyed as hell. Having Sonic constantly saying “hey, this sure is familiar” ruins the magic. After all, nostalgia is a feeling that arises at unexpected times–a feeling that takes you back to a particular time or place. I found myself nostalgic for the Sonic who couldn’t talk.

And that’s the irony: Sonic Generations produces feelings of nostalgia by virtue of being a horrible game and making me long for the golden age of video games.

Now that’s nostalgia.


Unformed Thoughts: Sarah Palin

Late last week, Sarah Palin gave the following now infamous description of Paul Revere’s ride:

“He who warned uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

More than enough has been said about this most recent gaffe and so I’m not going to pile on. I would like to posit, however, that this particular type of error is of a different order than the factual mistakes of Palin’s potential campaign challengers. Whereas Bachmann recently mixed up her New England geography, and Cain confused the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (the pursuit of happiness is not in the Constitution), Palin’s interpretation was not a purely factual error. It goes deeper than that.

Paul Revere’s ride, after all, is not just an historical event, it’s a part of American lore. As with all legends, it’s important we separate historical fact from historical myth. The facts surrounding the actual events were so uninteresting that they were hardly worth mentioning in Paul Revere’s obituary. It was only after Henry Longfellow’s 1860 poem,”Paul Revere’s Ride,” that the ride became the ride. In 1860, as the country was dissolving into civil war, Longfellow was captivated by circumstances surrounding the midnight ride and saw it as a perfect allegory for reminding contemporary readers of the courage and mettle that were so important to the formation of the United States of America.

Shortly after the poem’s publication, Paul Revere’s ride became a permanent part of our collective memory and since then has been appropriated in myriad ways for myriad purposes–just as Longfellow did in 1860. When we speak of Paul Revere’s midnight ride, we speak of Longfellow’s Revere, not history’s.



Unformed Thoughts: “This is a good day for America”

A people’s voice ! we are a people yet / Tho all men else their nobler dreams forget / Confused by brainless mobs and lawless Powers, / We have a voice with which to pay the debt / Of most unbounded reverence and regret / To those great men who fought and kept it ours. – “Ode on the Death of The Duke of Wellington,” Alfred Tennyson

Last week during the lead up to the Royal Wedding, I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. It’s not that I’m particularly fond of royalty, or weddings, or haphazard flag waving, but just look at the photo above and try not to smile.  The Royal Wedding was an occasion for joyful patriotism–an extraordinary event that allowed British citizens to unify into a singular coherent voice and cheer for the country and for themselves. The wedding was a spectacle, sure, but the pomp and circumstance that surrounds a national event of that magnitude has the desired effect of simplifying and focusing the collective national identity of each individual citizen.

I was jealous because I knew there could be no American analog.

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