Tuesday, September 18

Yesterday, I was out shopping at Meijer's, a midwestern chain of grocery/department stores (like those Super Wal-Marts). The baby was content in the cart, I was gathering a diverse collection of items: socks for David, Katie's birthday cake, hamburger, garlic. Music - soft, in the background, wafting down from the ceiling - gradually entered my consciousness. It was a popular song, vaguely familiar - something about the "U.S.A." (No, not Lee Greenwood.) I registered it, thinking, of course. It's to be expected.

But then the next song began - the Washington Post March by Sousa. And after that was over, American the Beautiful. And I got so angry, I started shaking.

I couldn't exactly figure out why, though. It's not lack of patriotism. Our flag is flying in front of our house. As much as I despair about certain elements of our national life (abortion and the cultural dreck), this incident has nonetheless crystallized my appreciation for and devotion to the gift of Western Civilization and culture, and the particular form that has taken in our own country. We sang America the Beautiful at Mass on Sunday, and yes, as the voices swelled around me and my children stood close, I could barely choke the words out and had to blink back tears.

But when I heard military marches being played over the loudspeaker at the grocery store, something in me rebelled. Or balked. Or just got sick.

Must everything become an extension of commerce? Must every aspect of life become packaged, as the news networks do, with a logo, a title (America under attack...America's New War....America's Tragedy) and theme music?

We celebrate and vow to fight for freedom. However, aspects of commercial culture have always threatened freedom, as money-making entitities overwhelm us with images and sounds to convince us, not of truth, but of the depths of our desires for certain things. Anything and everything is stripped down and repackaged to us, to appeal to our deepest fears and needs, and to put us in the mood to buy or to stay with a certain cable news network instead of another.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe the Vice-President in Charge of Muzak at Meijer's thought a loop of patriotic music fit the season, just as in a few weeks, he'll start the Christmas tape. But that's just the trouble, isn't it? This is a horrible, dangerous time. Our lives are at risk, and the world has changed. Five thousand lay buried in Manhattan. And Meijer's thinks Sousa in the diaper aisle fits the mood. What mood is that? Devastation? Fear? Grief?


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