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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

God Bless America?

Artists of every genre graced the stage of Harvard’s Sanders Theater, in historic Memorial Hall, for the panel discussion “Sprung From Ruins.” James Taylor, Jamaica Kincaid, Mandy Patinkin, Elizabeth Murray, John Guare, and Trisha Brown came together to voice their opinions on the issues of art and its position after September 11.

The panel had a lengthy discussion on the importance of art after the tragedy, and the ethics of sensitivity becoming censorship. The majority of the panelists felt that art would be unaffected by the events of September 11. However, through all this discussion, one phrase came up over and over again. A phrase that has almost become second nature to us during these past few weeks, “God Bless America.”

These artists, whom I think it can be said of, have had extremely fortunate lives, found this simple phrase to be ethnocentric and empty. “God blessed America and nobody else,” mocked author and essayist Jamaica Kincaid. Ms. Kincaid also brought up the point that America uses 90 percent of the world’s resources, so she found it preposterous that as a country we seemed to be repetitively chanting God Bless America, as if we were a child screaming more, more.

But there are really two issues here. One is the blindness that most Americans have to the rest of the world, and the other our ability as a country to drain the value out of anything. None of the artists on the panel thought the World Trade Center was not a big deal, nor did they think the country did not have legitimate right to grieve. But “what [Ms. Kincaid] hadn’t expected was that it would become a movement for American suffering.”

All of a sudden kids who were screaming “fuck the police,” were now proclaiming “God Bless America,” and this panel was the first I have heard to say we do not even know what it means any more.

“God did bless America in extraordinary ways,” said playwright John Guare, a man who could see the September 11 tragedy from his apartment window. And according to singer/songwriter James Taylor, “When people say God bless America, what they mean is ‘God please don’t stop blessing America at a ratio at about ten to one.'”

Now, none of this is to say that America is problem free. Poverty is sweeping many parts of our nation, violent crimes kill children, and my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one in either a terrorist attack or at war, but I am inclined to agree with the panel that when they start printing “God bless America” on bubble gum wrappers, the words lose their meaning.