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Modern Patriotism in America
If America were to lose the war for independence, the British would most certainly charge him with treason, and he would be hung. However, that did not deter John Hancock as he slowly lifted the quill-feathered pen, dipped it in the ink well and turned to his companions, pride swelling within his chest. He felt a sense of satisfaction, regardless of the fact that he was about to sign his potential death warrant. Hancock turned back to The Declaration of Independence and brazenly signed his name, larger than the rest, and directly centered. Death was a risk he was willing to take. America was not more than a couple minutes old, yet he harbored a love for his homeland that was so great he was willing to jeopardize his life. Hancock demonstrated his patriotism by signing a mutinous document declaring secession from Britain, arguably the most powerful empire of the era.
Unlike Hancock, present-day Americans have a cheapened sense of patriotism. It is a trinket or a trifle that can be bought, sold, packaged and patented, not an emotion filling their hearts. Patriotism is commercialized and materialized to such an extent that the word itself is rendered as a marketing strategy. September 11, 2001 was a tragedy that most Americans will not soon forget, thanks to the mass marketing that has come of it. It was a panacea for struggling companies whose remedy seemed to lie in the red, white and blue. By appealing to the country's newfound patriotism, businesses had a new marketing campaign! Corporations became vultures, scavenging off of the deaths of over three thousand Americans, seeing what kind of a profit they could scrape off the remaining pieces of the disaster. "Patriotic" junk still besieges Americans wherever they go. Bumper stickers, bookmarks, pins, pens, earrings, cups, mugs, posters, blankets, teddy bears, purses, pocket knives and cellular ring tones (America The Beautiful) are just a few of the items Americans can buy to flaunt their "patriotism". Anything and everything with an American flag on it seems to sell, and companies have taken notice.
The government urges the corporations on, compelling Americans to demonstrate their love of country by supporting the economy. Americans who either buy a new car or simply go out to eat have fulfilled their patriotic duty. According to the government, spending money is the key requirement in being patriotic. Money buys patriotism. This concept is infectious among major retailers. Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger bases most of his clothing lines on red, white and blue colors; the Hilfiger logo is also red, white and blue. Corporate giant Old Navy is notorious for its patriotic clothing. American flag tee shirts are the company's trademark. Pepsi adorns each soda it sells with a red, white and blue label. It seems like creating a successful marketing ploy is as simple as following a recipe. A national disaster serves as the main ingredient, combined with a dash of red, a pinch of white, a spoonful of blue; then serve with some mediocre marketing, set to simmer, reap the benefits, and repeat after the next national tragedy.
Along with soft drink and clothing companies, the entertainment industry has also profited from our nation's desire to parade its so-called patriotism. The National Football League supports the New England Patriots, a team that's uniform is a replica of the American flag. During the 2002 season team grossed 189 million dollars in sales. A Patriot jersey averages about sixty-five dollars and a hat can cost up to twenty-five dollars. Over-priced merchandise is just one example of how the "patriotic" team cashes in. Tickets to a game are no cheaper than fifty dollars and after parking, food, drinks, and souvenirs a simple football game turns into a huge expense. One leaves mourning the emptiness of their wallet, opposed to thinking about patriotism, much less celebrating it. Football is not the only sport leeching off of patriotism. Baseball is claimed to be "the national pastime", yet each televised game is crammed with commercials and the stadiums are nothing more than gravy-boat-shaped bulletin boards littered with advertisements. They are covered with numerous banners and ads ballyhooing one frivolous thing after another, from shaving gel to peanut butter. It makes one wonder whether the baseball game is the main event, or just a fill-in between advertisements. The Miss America Pageant is another "patriotic" event that, over the last eighty-three years, has been generating an over-abundance of profit. The Miss America Organization made more than forty-five million dollars "available¼(due to) state and local organizations" in 2003. The winner of the pageant displays her patriotism by traveling throughout the country sponsoring and participating in commercial events such as the NEXTEL Tribute to America and State Farm Insurance Company's "United We Stand" event. Judging by this information one can only assume that the ideal American woman is one who supports patriotism as long as it has high-paying corporate sponsorship. How selfless of her.
The military has also concocted a "patriotic" symbol of its own, Uncle Sam. Like the locust that God sent to infest Egypt, the government has sent Uncle Sam to prey upon Americans. Posters, stickers, and banners of Sam are everywhere, reminding America that he "wants you!" Donned in patriotic garb, Uncle Sam exemplifies commercialized patriotism. For decades, the cartoon character has persuaded Americans to sign up for the military by using his nationalistic appeal. Although the military is not profiting monetarily from the Uncle Sam campaign, it is still using patriotism as a marketing tool.
It can be argued that the military's use of commercialized patriotism is justified because its goal is to protect America, but that is not the case in most situations. Corporations like Chevrolet use patriotism to appeal to customers through slogans like, "The heartbeat of America is today's Chevrolet". Suggesting that a pick-up truck is "the heartbeat" of America is ludicrous. The slogan is a shameless attempt to increase sales by appealing to an individual's desire to be patriotic. There are also individuals that exploit patriotism to greedily make a profit. World Wresting Entertainment superstar Kurt Angle flaunts winning an Olympic gold medal in 1996. Angle now "wrestles" in the WWE, his costume a red, white, and blue singlet, as well as the Olympic gold around his neck. Instead of cherishing the medal to show his pride and respect for America, Angle used it as a self-campaigning tool, whoring it out to the public, in hopes of achieving riches and fame. It is estimated that Angle makes a six-digit salary, which does not include his numerous talk-show appearances and commercials for companies such as GNC and MTV.
Throughout the last 200 years, patriotism has been reduced to inanimate objects that are constantly being forced into the faces of consumers. It has become the latest trend, a popular hobby, or a way to make money, not a passionate love for the freedom and independence that America symbolizes. To Hancock, patriotism was not something that could be bought and sold; it was a will to fight for liberty, a pride that could not be broken, and it resulted in a group of people that could not be defeated or disheartened no matter the odds. Come on America, –rip off those bumper stickers, dispose of those tee shirts and open your hearts, not your wallets- if that is what patriotism in our country amounts to, then I would rather be hanged.