"It's good to be back in the USA. Fuck anybody that tells you it isn't the best country in the world."
Bradford Cox, a hero of mine, said this at Pitchfork Festival 2011 during a set that confirms my belief that his band Deerhunter is on top of their game, has been for years, hopefully will be for time to come. This post isn't about Deerhunter, but it is about the USA and an unusual influx of patriotic media on my brainstem.
I started watching The West Wing. It's an excellent drama (-edy? Usually really funny!) about a fictional president and his crew. The characters work too much, walk around all day, sometimes care very much about things, attempt to cultivate social lives, and then walk around some more. They never walk around and drink some more. They sit when they drink. Regardless, each episode has (so far) been superb or at least compelling. My complaint is the same as other people's: The West Wing's corny Full House-ish sentimental network television music and idealism are sometimes blushworthy. But sometimes they feel so good, too. What would DFW say? Is The West Wing the least ironic show in recent memory? No se.
Then there's All the King's Men, Robert Rossen's Best Picture-winning (1949) adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's book of the same name. Main character and humble everyguy Willie Stark (Academy Award winner Broderick Crawford) works his way up from nothing and then breaks bad so hard. His platform of for-the-people and by-the-people--he calls himself a hick---gets convoluted by money and big politics and power tripping and all that. He's a sensation, a governor with Presidential potential. It's Grapes of Wrath, Manchurian Candidate, and All the President's Men (whoa) with probably five newspaper headline montages to boot. It's barely remembered. What a shame.
Finally, E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is the finest book I've read this year. The main characters---a family in chic New Rochelle, NY---encounter the poor and the very rich. Doctorow creates an American tapestry. Historical figures are characters. Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan have a dinner date. Harry Houdini gets existential. Booker T. Washington mediates a police standoff. If that isn't enough, it has one of the most memorable race conflicts since To Kill a Mockingbird.
If the United States isn't the best country, it's got to be the best at thinking about whether or not it is.