Hello, my friends! I am so sorry for the delay between my posts. I have been consumed with other projects and even other blog posts yet to be published. Then I realized I’d best get cracking already. So, grab something to munch on and settle back for today’s goodie. It was a ball to research!
This past week saw the coming and going of another Valentine’s Day. My honey was out-of-town, but it’s okay, because ultimately our relationship is real while Valentine’s Day is fake. Now, don’t get me wrong. Just because it’s a made up holiday doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy roses, a romantic evening and a love letter or two as much as the next girl. Hallmark may have promoted an illusion, however, then the illusion took on a life of its own.
From a starting point of “fake stuff”, it was a small step for this post to get to politics. It’s an election year here in America. More specifically, it’s a presidential election year. Before the year ends we’ll be drowning in flyers, commercials, campaign phone calls and debates. Some candidates have already been running for the last year and a half. It’s a long, tedious, heart-breaking, mind-numbing process. I hear it’s rough on the candidates, too. Thankfully, I live in California, a state that has voted solidly “blue” since Bill Clinton in 1992. I pity those poor souls in the so-called “Battle Ground” states.
Election years mean a lot of speeches. Speeches most candidates hire professional speech writers to write for them, thus rendering every “I” statement fake. These paid for outpourings of promises they don’t intend to keep also include a staggering number of clichés. Some politicians have the money for better speech writers than others, but in the end there are certain themes that come up again and again, things held sacred in the United States. Well, some people hold them sacred.
This got me thinking about America and topics that get people misty-eyed. Things like apple pie, the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust”. Where did these hallowed pieces of Americana originate? Imagine my surprise upon discovering the answer was simple. Someone made them up. I cry “Shenanigans! (What? It worked on South Park.)
Let’s start with the basics, apple pie. Throughout most of our history, apple pie was not any more popular or American than any other dessert item. Apple pies were baked and enjoyed, of course, but so were cherry, pumpkin and a number of other varieties. We can blame apple pie’s current preeminence on Prohibition. At the time of Prohibition the United States was the world’s largest grower of apples. These apples were primarily used in the making of hard cider. Once hard cider became a no-no, farmers had a whole lot of apples to hawk. In an effort to raise the popularity of apples, a marketing campaign was launched. Such old sayings such as, “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away” and “the apple of my eye” were revived. The apple pie was promoted in women’s magazines and daily newspapers as the most delicious dessert to be had, as well as a patriotic recipe to serve. Let’s be fair, the pie is delicious and what’s more American than good product placement, right?
Next we have the Pledge of Allegiance. It can inspire even the crustiest of individuals to have a sentimental moment. (Sorry, I still have pie on my mind.) The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy for the magazine The Youth’s Companion at the request of his editor, James Upham. In order to sell more magazine subscriptions the Companion used an incentive program for its readers called premiums. Premiums are basically the same idea as when you get your husband his subscription to Sports Illustrated and they send you that blasted football phone (Woo…. wait for it… hoo.) I’m oversimplifying again. More accurately, premiums are what you would get if the football phone and the old-time Sears Roebuck dry goods catalog had a love child. The magazine had a sort of side business with a catalog of dry goods that readers could purchase. They sold everything from hens to church bells, from moccasins to furniture. New subscribers and renewing readers would also receive free goodies out of the catalog. Between 1888-1892 Upham launched a campaign he called his School Flag Movement combining the goal of selling more flags with the more laudable aim to raise patriotism among America’s youth by promoting a flag for every school. Besides the Pledge, Upham also included essay contests on the flag, “spirited literature” and children could even buy “flag cards” for ten cents apiece. These cards, once you had enough of them, could be redeemed for a school flag. This campaign sold twenty-five thousand flags just to schools. Amazing to think that a ploy to sell magazines and flags would eventually inspire such passionate feelings that after Congress added the words “under God” in the 1950’s we’d end up STILL arguing over it. Oh, and there’s a postscript that conservatives should just adore; Bellamy was a Christian Socialist. Yep, he really was a socialist and he really wrote the pledge. I find that a lovely irony.
The last one is my personal favorite. Probably because so many arguments point to it as proof that America was founded as a Christian nation. (Me? I’ll stand behind the whole separation of church and state. ) Point of fact, the Framers were amazingly specific in their design to keep religion and politics separate, and if you’ve been watching the news this past week or two, you’ll see excellent examples of why. Second point of fact, don’t point to our current motto “In God We Trust” as proof the Framers wanted America to be a fundamentally Christian nation. The motto our Founders actually chose (and is on our Great Seal) was E Pluribus Unum. I think the translation is absolutely beautiful, especially considering the fractured state of the colonies who had just hung on together through the Revolutionary War to emerge as a young nation. It means “Of Many We Are One” or “One From Many”.
“In God We Trust” was implemented in 1956 as a response to the Cold War. Congress and the Federal government were at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism ran rampant. Proponents of the change wanted to delineate the Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian from the Communist countries who embraced Atheism. This was beyond product placement. It was our way of trumpeting how cool our entire capitalist system was. At least they didn’t insist on which God we trust, meaning it works for us Pastafarians, too.
In the end, one is left to wonder if it matters how things like Valentine’s Day or the Pledge of Allegiance got popularized or why they were started. I mean, the reality lies in how we view and revere these things today, not in how many cider apple farmers we needed to bail out in the 1920’s. Of course, it does make it that much easier to take every politician’s speeches with an even larger grain of salt, and that goes for both sides of the aisle. One person’s patriotism is another’s marketing plan. So, like Valentine’s Day or Grandparents’ Day, they are essentially fake but these pieces of Americana have transcended their beginnings to become something larger and far more worthwhile, sort of like a ragged bunch of colonies a few hundred years back that grew into the greatest nation of our time.
E Pluribus Unum, my friends.