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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

3 Great Americans

It’s that time of year again. Time to celebrate our great nation, and the men and women who made it possible, those who made it great, and those who continue to do so. Every July, we trot out caricatured portraits of our “Founding Fathers” - paying homage to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the like. We retell stories of Betsy Ross, Paul Revere and Thomas Paine - as they’ve been told, sanitized and glamorized since time immemorial. The truth is, we have no more idea of what these people were really like than we have about what anything was like two hundred years ago. For our ability to relate and understand them and it, they may as well have been on a different planet. There are, however, great Americans much closer to here and to now; extraordinary stories that could only be possible in a land where freedom rules above all else. And so with all due respect to George, Tom, Ben and the lot, I give you three great Americans for 2010:

1. Neil Patrick Harris. Neil Patrick Harris is barely six feet tall, has the build of an adolescent Vietnamese girl and couldn’t break a hundred and seventy pounds wearing a suit of armor. He’s pale, slight, and completely gay. Oh, yeah and he’s also an icon of masculinity so profound and pervasively recognizable that two generations of men consider him a role model. As a child actor, he made childhood academic prodigy and keeping a diary (on a computer, no less) simultaneously cool - and was the most famous television doctor since Hawkeye and Pierce were wisecracking their way through the Korean War (ask your parents, they were the Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell of the 70’s). He is currently holding court as the seminal womanizer on TV, an amalgamation of the very worst (or best, depending on your point of view) of American men, as Barney on How I Met Your Mother. Barney dresses better, lives cooler, talks funnier and runs better game than any of us - and on our best days, we all imagine ourselves to be a little Barney. Neil also has a web-based video series entitled “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog” which is funnier and better than anything the rest of us could come up with - and it’s a musical. He is a testament to the American cool - a kind so intangible that it makes us forget just about everything else about a person, just to stop and stare.

2. Nick Lachey. Trust me, I’m as surprised to see Nick on this list as you are. I’m usually of the opinion that the vast majority of “boy band” members are being reserved a special place in hell. Not only did they single-handedly set music and masculinity back decades - they began the intellectual descent of female Americans down a slippery slope of androgenic fantasy which has culminated in a global obsession with gay-teen-vampire-porn. But that notwithstanding, Nick understands and embraces the caricature of his own existence, in an era where nearly all of us (all the way down to our toddlers) take ourselves way too seriously. He, without an ounce of trepidation, refers to himself (and insists on being referred to) using both his first and last name. And that’s not all. Nick may have supplanted the Bible's “Job” as paragon of patience. Regular exposure to Jessica Simpson on television is enough to induce severe headaches and long-term brain damage, I can only imagine what the effects would be in person. She personally and permanently redefined what it means to be vapid, unaware, and just plain stupid. And yet, there was her husband Nick; stoic and enduring - weathering an unprecedented storm of inanity in the name of love. And when he could finally take no more and left the young Ms. Simpson to fend for herself - he reminded his hairy-knuckled and single-minded brothers of two very important, very American lessons. First, that being with that girl in the magazine or on the radio probably isn’t the fantasy-land we’d like to think it would be; and second, be very careful what you wish for - because in a land of opportunity, you just might get it.

3. Billy Mitchell. In less than two weeks, Billy Mitchell will turn 45 years old. In those short four and a half decades, he turned his inheritance of marginally-successful (and vastly overstated) Florida-based restaurant chain, “Rickey's World Famous Restaurants” into a hot-sauce empire (worth tens of millions of dollars), turned his fascination with vintage arcade games into a string of world records which lead many to refer to him as the "greatest arcade-video-game player of all time", and perfected a long-feathered-hair-and-groomed-beard combo that even the BeeGees would be jealous of. He is also an unmitigated douche, and has been one since long before the term had been coined. I am hesitant, however, to name him the Godfather of Douchebaggery (as deserving as he may be), because Mr. Mitchell needs another self-aggrandizing title like Paris Hilton needs another Gucci handbag. If you haven’t seen The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, you’ve missed one of the best documentaries since An Inconvenient Truth, and the best look at midwestern America since American Beauty. It’s hard to imagine someone who has done more with less, or at least someone so tremendously unapologetic about his success. Oh yeah, and he is always seen wearing an American flag tie. If George Washington was the seminal American man of 1776, then Billy Mitchell is the same for 2010.

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I’m all for taking holidays as an occasion to celebrate our past, but we should also take the opportunity to look around the present. As horribly as we sometimes seem to live up to the great visions of the men and women who gave everything so that we might live free, there is greatness all around us if we only take a moment to look. There are no more Jeffersons, Franklins or even Washingtons - but today they’d be no more heroes than our current crop of politicians. The fact is that looking for greatness in Washington D.C. is just as futile as looking “reality” on The Hills, love on The Bachelor or talent anywhere near the Cyrus house. Great Americans are found in unlikely places, because they are, like those who preceded them a couple hundred years ago, unlikely heroes. And that’s what being American is really all about.


Larry said...

So fucking funny.

Anonymous said...

Billy Mitchell!! I love it! I was looking at his picture before I read his paragraph wondering why I knew him. FISTFULL OF QUARTERS!!! He really is the biggest douchebag in the world. If I saw him in public I would slap him, open-handed, across the face like the little bitch that he is.


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