March 17, 2009

Choctaw Bingo, national anthem?

Ron Rosenbaum proposes a new national anthem: a song by James McMurtry, son of Lonesome Dove writer Larry McMurtry.

Choctaw Bingo

A modest proposal for a new national anthem.How shall I describe "Choctaw Bingo"? It's about a family reunion in heavy meth country convened by mean old "Uncle Slayton," who's a kind of malignant Uncle Sam figure for the assembled family members.Here's why Choctaw Bingo is a great metaphor for America today:Now, the Choctaws get their revenue from meth-and-moonshine-addled fools who play Choctaw bingo, which somehow, despite the 750-seat auditorium and "giant video projection screens," doesn't seem a sure route to financial stability. (But just as sure and stable, it turns out, as collateralized mortgage obligations.) The more you look at the history of the Choctaw nation and how the "trail of tears" led to Choctaw bingo, the more a kind of allegory the song becomes, an eloquent distillation of the tragic history of the American empire, which was based on the theft of land the nation was founded on, the murder and the enslavement of the tragic remnant of the original inhabitants, and their sly, delayed revenge (Choctaw bingo). The more you know about the Choctaw "trail of tears," the more you suspect it's no accident that McMurtry chose Choctaw bingo as his emblematic game.

Here's where this song is so amazingly prophetic. Looking at it now, through the lens of the crash, you can see how it envisions the American economy as nothing more than an elaborate Choctaw bingo enterprise, with lots of flashing lights to lure in the unwary and the unlucky, a system that, for all its fancy formulas and talk of risk assignment, is nothing more than a sucker's game. And later in the song, McMurtry explicitly names the scam at the heart of it: subprime mortgages.
Comment:  Nice, and perhaps the right anthem for the times. But the economy won't always be in a tailspin. And of course we'd never choose an anthem that impugned America's greatness or touted Indians in any way. Our anthem has to be a pure distillation of our self-aggrandizing self-image.

No, I was on the right track when I proposed my alternative to The Star-Spangled Banner: Victor or Victim:  Our New National Anthem? I still think it's the best choice.

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