I was listeneing to the radio while driving in to work the other morning. I heard the local radio station ask their listeners the question, "If there was one thing that signified you to the world, that they would put in the Smithsonian, what would it be?" That's a tough question. In this world where we live such fragmented and separate lives is there one, single, item that defines us? When Farah wore that red one piece, flipped her hair, and dazzled my brothers with that smile there was no Internet and we still didn't have cable TV. In the 1970's America still had a relatively cohesive world view. A poster, a song, a television show, a speech could still create a movement. The fragmentation of contemporary American culture through social media, satellite tv, radio and the internet begs the question, even if there is only one physical person of us can we be defined by one object? We have so many different avatars, our work persona, our social face, even a private one, that we show only to family and lovers. We may define ourselves as American but when we do that we classify ourselves with the parts of our identity. We become Caucasian-Middle-class-vegetarian-Jewish-Lithuanian-Americans. Even this blog is named with parts of my identity. By naming ourselves with all of the parts of our identity we leave nothing for people to learn about us. We even tend to seek out those people with the same parts as us. Farah, as sick as she was at the end of her life, could not and would not be defined by that one moment in her existence. So driving in to work at 6 am I try and think of those objects that may define me and I can't find just one.
I blame the lack of a cohesive American world view on the desire for diversity. By constantly seeking out what makes us different and unusual we lose sight of what makes us one and what keeps us being able to speak to each other in a civilized manner. By seeking out diversity to the extreme we are always running the risk of offending or being offended, excluding or being excluded. I do not mean to say that I am against diversity in reasonable amounts. I welcome conversation from different points of view and different backgrounds but when we break ourselves down into minute groups the conversation becomes chaotic and the purpose for the conversation is lost. In a movie, whose title is lost to me at the moment, there is a running gag "The children, think of the children!" repeated over and over, whether the issue involves children or not. Extreme diversity is like that for me, we keep thinking of the children and not about the issues that are important.
Our children in school are taught and celebrated about how they are different from one another. Kids don't really care about how they are different, they want to know how they are the same and whether there are cookies for snack. I believe that the constant fragmentation of our culture into smaller and smaller groups leads to personal isolation and depression and all sorts of social ills. Now, how all of this relates to the fact that Farah Fawcett's red bathing suit is now in the Smithsonian, is that at one time we all agreed, no matter how diverse we wanted to be, that Farah looked good in that bathing suit and 12 million of us thought enough of her to buy the poster and put it on our wall. If we could once again be that cohesive, all agree on one thing, to the tune of 12 million or more of us, that something looked good for our society, then we could really make a difference, one for the better.
I still have no idea what would signify me other than maybe a road map and a steering wheel for the commute I have made to work for the past 16 years. But that only fits one of my identities, we will have to caucus and get back to you on it.