Boston And The Final Death Of Our Two Sweetest National Myths

Boston is where Sam Adams helped trigger the the American Revolution and the myth that everyone loves us. Years later, just outside Boston, Norman Rockwell helped paint the American Dream and the myth that Americans are essentially lovable. Sam went on to forge a great nation which we called a beacon on the hill for all the world’s people. Norman went on with his Saturday Evening Post covers to create the weekly imagery of little boys and girls and drugstore owners being adorable.

Sweet myths, you know what I mean? But in one of those ironic twists of fate, Boston has now seen a silver stake plunged into both illusions. First, the Marathon bombers have extended what the 9//11 terrorists began in Boston’s Logan Airport 12 years ago — the global denunciation of America as the “Great Satan.” Second, the Marathon investigation has used advanced CSI technology to catch the killers and apparently demonstrate how the new ways are the better ways.

In effect I’m asking us to see in this story more than simply a news story. There are two rock-deep national lessons rooted inside them/ If you’re willing to stare them in the face with me.

First, by now it should be clear our school book images of a lovely land of Lady Liberty is largely a lie. Maybe once, but not anymore; not when the image of America around the world is not open frontiers and cities paved with gold, but rather GIs and Stealth Bombers in full weaponry. Second, by now it should be clear CSI technology is so advanced that the old Sherlock Holmes matrix is pretty dated. As are so many of our old fashioned intuitions, imaginations and assorted other sweet illusions about the role of our brain’s more affective right side. Instead, today everything is in controlled by computers, GPSs, security cameras and algorithms much more than what our heart and gut once spoke to us. Back then we thought with our hearts. Now we don’t track criminals without technology, fall in love without DNA profiling or look at the stars without thinking about the Hubble rather than that love poem we initially wanted to write her.

So. Sam and Norman are kind of out of date. Sam, because he improbably thought of America as a land to be loved by everyone who thought of it. Norman, because he improbably painted an America of lovable everyday people caught in the act of being, well, lovable. How droll of them…….

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