In 1985, Rick Derringer contributed the song “Real American” to the World Wrestling Federation’s compilation record, The Wrestling Album. The song, and its infectious chorus (I know you can hear it in your head right now) would gain fame as the entrance theme for Hulk Hogan, becoming an essential piece of American iconography—at least as far as wrestling is concerned—which, if you’re looking at the basis by which the rest of the planet views us, is pretty far, from what I understand.
A scant 26 years later would find Republican presidential primary candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry—in an online campaign commercial no less cartoonish than Hulk Hogan’s yellow boots—spewing hatespeech in a desperate attempt to strike a similarly patriotic chord with the elusive conservative base. As if to say, “Hey, bigots, check me out!” Perry appears in the video called “Strong,” walking on a hillside in a rustic canvas jacket, hands in pockets, and says that he’s not ashamed of being a Christian, but that “You don’t have to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong with our county when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
Like I say, it’s a desperate move. Perry’s campaign is already out of the field of what’s commonly regarded as “viable,” and with bullshit like the above, he’s more or less trying to set a fire on the deck to save his sinking ship. I don’t envy him, but perhaps for the squareness of his jaw and the arrogance of his gait. He will not be President, so that’s some comfort.
I bring it up not just to rail Perry for his hateful, simplistic views, or to lampoon him for dressing like a woodsman. That would be as easy as it is for him to get in front of a camera and talk about how the queers are destroying the nation. Not my interest. What’s stood out to me in the slew of responses to the “Strong” video is the repeated use of the term “’Merican.”
The root and the inflection almost go without saying: “I’m so patriotic and so tough and so no-bullshit country music cracker-ass conservative whitebread that I’m not even gonna pronounce the first syllable of my country’s name because initial vowel sounds are for pansies.” Say it out loud and let it roll off your tongue. ‘Merican.
I think it’s beautiful. What a wonderful way to describe the post-9-Eleven (which, yes, I’m from now on going to write out like it’s a 7-Eleven convenience store; because that’s how commodified the generation-shaping tragedy of it has been at this point) reactionary nitwits. The freedom-huggers who saw no irony in outsourced torture or indefinite detentions in a “war on terror.” The dripping masses willfully unaware of the privileges around which their lives are based and the entitlement that drives them into a future they despise because they don’t know what it will bring. The motherfuckers who want to go back to some perfect American era that never happened. White people who think they’re losing power. ‘Mericans.
What I like best about the term, though, is its basic grammatical function. If the root is to be “Merican”—and you know it won’t be long before that apostrophe is dropped—then that makes “American” signified as the opposite. The prefix “a-“ being short for “anti-“ or just showing opposition to whatever the root word is, the classification, then, of “American” becomes exactly everything that ‘Merican isn’t.
And if that’s the case, I can’t remember when last I was so proud to be an American, because if it means—maybe for the first time ever—that I’m not immediately identified as being party to that bigotry, that shameful worldview proffered all too loudly and with all too much money by the people to whom “Strong” is meant to appeal, then god damn, sign me up. I’ll get an American passport, and an American driver’s license, and an American flag sticker for the back of my car. I’ll be the happiest American you ever saw. Me and all the other East Coast liberal college boy pantywaists, the know-it-alls from the big city suburbs.
The only hate worth having is the hatred of ignorance. Everything else is unproductive. I think Hulk Hogan said that.