Shortly after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the non-profit Ad Council put out the famous public service announcement “I Am an American.”
Featuring pretty much every possible ethnic group on this continent, all join in declaring that they are, in fact, an American.
This ad thoroughly disgusted me when it came out and made me question what being an American actually means. American in my mind still stood for being a normal White person who can speak English. Little did I know it just means living here. I thought America was actually a country, not a great Lockean shopping mall.
But this commercial truly shows that this country no longer has an actual culture or people–it is simply one big strip mall where any person can be a part of. 9/11 spawned more “Diversity is our strength” rhetoric than any other could possibly conjure up. It was of course a sham, and our diversity led us back to our atomized society shortly after the dust settled and people went back to shopping.
The other “Diversity is Strength” moment I remember from the time period besides this ad was an episode of the MTV reality show The Real World where cast members took a break from arguing about who’s fucking who to memorialize 9/11. The Real World was a show that celebrated throwing together diverse individuals into one house and letting the sparks fly. The show was driven by constant tension between cast members–rarely giving the impression that diversity led to any type of meaningful cohesion. After the 9/11 episode, the cast members quickly went back to being drama queens and bickering over each other’s sex lives–showcasing how America quickly reverted to its old, divided self after the rubble was cleared.
While the updated ad claims we are still “one” 10 years later, that couldn’t be further from the truth. E pluribus unum I think not. Without a real people and culture to go with America, we don’t count as a real nation. When a whole host of people with absolutely nothing in common can say they are an American, that means being American doesn’t extend beyond a piece of paper
#NeverForget we don’t live in a real country.
But maybe one day we can say we do.