Tenured Radicals are not supposed to love July 4. As you know if you kept up with the culture wars, we ruin everything about United States history with our constant harping about race, class and gender. But I do love July 4 — my Dad used to make a big deal of hanging the flag before breakfast (and being a former Eagle Scout, let me tell you — he could hang a flag.) I also love listening to the Declaration of Independence on NPR. This year, they asked ordinary Americans on the Mall to read it, line by line. and then asked participants to talk about what this document means to them.
So how do we think about July 4 without sinking into mindless, uncritical patriotism?
Turn our attention to the fall of Vicksburg. 150 years ago, after a brutal siege lasting 47 days, General Ulysses S. Grant led his troops into this crucial transportation hub on the Mississippi. Campbell Robertson has a great piece in The New York Times about Civil War memorialization and the fraught history of July 4 in that context. It is said that white folks in Vicksburg ignored Independence Day for years after the war, and still ignore programming related to the battle. But black people have always celebrated the holiday, as one elderly resident points out, “because Vicksburg fell.” Yep. What she said.
Watching Wimbledon. It is a long tradition in this household to stretch out in front of the women’s semi-finals on the morning of July 4. Strawberries are required; mimosas used to be part of the ritual, but splitting a bottle of Moët before lunch is no longer an option if the day is to continue beyond noon. But sobriety also allows clarity of thought: why, on this day of liberty, are the lesbians in women’s tennis not free to be out of the closet? I know, I know — you will say that it’s all about the sponsorships.
But then, what is that about? What women do they think buy sports equipment? I had rather a long life in tennis and squash prior to becoming permanently sidelined by knee problems, and I have to tell you: a vast number of lesbians play tennis, and are tennis fans. I remember going to what used to be called the Virginia Slims, an indoor championship at Madison Square Garden, back in the 1990s, and it was like a lesbian convention. If there were any straight women there, they were dressing to blend. And yet, you could watch the same event on TV and the cameras would selectively pick out the straightest looking women in the crowd.
So now that this gay marriage thingy seems to be cooking on its own gas (expect Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and other Sunbelt legislatures to totally cave once they count the retirement dollars gay couples will be taking to other states), I think we need a little more work on the compulsory homophobia enforced by media outlets and athletic sponsors. You don’t believe me? OK — so why did the ever-savvy Brittney Griner have to have it written into her contract that she would be wearing men’s clothes in public and modeling Nike’s men’s line?
Summer is half over. Those of you in the southwestern states probably think it has gone on forever; in the rain-drenchced northeast, it feels like it has barely started. But there is still time! So here is my summer check-in for what you might want to read and watch:
- Best history book: Joseph Crespino, Strom Thurmond’s America (Hill and Wang, 2012). A terrific read, which I appreciate even more for Crespino’s restraint in not having a subtitle that includes “…and the Rise of the New Right.”
- Creepiest novel: Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs (Knopf: 2013). I read it straight through. If a third grade teacher starts hanging around your family? Move. That’s my advice.
- Best new TV: Rectify, on The Sundance Channel, about a white man who is exonerated of a rape-murder after spending 19 years on death row. Stunning. But why are there only six episodes? Enquiring minds want to know. (Afternoon update: a Twitter message says it is coming back for a second season with ten episodes.)
- Best ongoing university scandal: everything NYU, all the time. This week’s news is Dutch economist Heleen Mees, who has been charged with stalking Citigroup chief economist Willem Buiter. Identified by the New York Daily News as an “ex-NYU professor.” Unable to make bail today, reporter Ginger Adams Otis describes Mees as “alone and friendless.” Well, I bet NYU isn’t feeling friendly towards her, but how can someone who sends videos of herself playing pocket hockey be entirely without admirers? I ask you.
- Best movie: This has been the worst summer for movies ever, that is unless endless gun violence and explosions turn you on. I feel like even a three minute trailer for one of these extravaganzas, during which a couple dozen people are shot or blown up, dials down my hearing a couple of notches. When are we going to have that national discussion about whether there is a connection between these horrible public massacres and the extreme gun violence in mainstream movies and teevee?
- Best app purchase: MLB.com for iPad. Because it isn’t really summer unless you can watch the Phillies rock n’ roll their way between third and fourth place, losing to the worst teams in the league, beating the best and forcing their pitchers to bat in their own runs for 1-0 wins. As some wag pointed out the other day about the Yankees, “Every day is Old Timer’s Day!” The same can be said for the Phillies, but at least there are a few promising youngsters we can watch for a few months before they are traded away for some other player whose best days are behind him.
- Best place to watch July 4th fireworks: The roof of my building.
Readers, what are you doing on July Fourth?