Southern Promises

Back in April I loaded up my parents’ Mazda with 30 000 feet of exposed 65mm film and drove it 26 hours southwest to Los Angeles, California. While I was down there I had the opportunity to sublet a friend’s place in Highland Park and so I did and stayed for almost a month.

After this latest trip, I think I finally understand the allure of the US. Why people get wrapped up in the mythology of it more than other places. The socio-political consciousness of US seems to me to remain the most ideologically akin to something resembling pure Randian Objectivism (at the very least you will concede that it is skewed much more favourably toward this than a place like Canada). While it’s this belief in the importance of the individual above all else, the idea that one lives to achieve the best for only themselves and their immediate family and may rest of the world burn in service of that, that makes America a difficult and inherently competitive place to live, it’s also that strife that provides a significant catalyst for people who want to create things. With so small of a social safety net, the stakes are so much higher. No one is going to take care of you. No one gives a shit about you. The onus is on you to create security for yourself, and so a whole other level of tenacity is required to persevere through the rough beginnings of a start-up, or ten years of toil as an emerging actor working in Los Angeles before you’re discovered. Only the very strongest survive this rampant, often unmitigated social Darwinism. But out of that tenacity can come real greatness.

Let me be clear: I am definitely not advocating for this kind of society; I’m of the social democratic persuasion and correspondingly thrilled that NDP now govern my home and the Premier of Alberta lives down the street from me. I’m just saying that after living down there for a month and driving around and listening to the debates on public radio and gauging the tone of public discourse, I understand why people are drawn to it, that appeal of The American Dream. I’ve dismissed that ideology for years, written the US off as an already failed experiment in the merits of laissez-faire Capitalism, a failure proven by its trillions of dollars of national debt. But The Dream is very much alive, and it is sort of contagious. It’s sick, but it’s also sort of honest. There are no illusions about a utopian society where racism, privilege, and classism don’t exist; everyone is aware that these factors are hugely influential in the daily operations of that country, and there will seemingly never be enough institutional support to change this. So you have to make whatever you can out of what you have, take advantage of any shred of privilege to get a leg up, and if you’re part of a marginalized population, you have to work three times as hard and pray to whatever God you believe in every night that you’ll have an opportunity. There are riots in the streets. There are matters of real life and death. Meanwhile in Alberta, we debate a few percentage points on a tax rate and are accused of ushering in the end times. The disparity is mind boggling, and more evident to me than ever before.

So the question all this raises for me is: can you have one without the other? Can you have all the benefits that strife brings to a creative community without the predatory investment bankers and lack of affordable access to health care and debilitating classism and black men shot in cold blood on the streets with their killers not held accountable? I don’t think you can. And that’s what’s terrifying about the US. And that’s where we’ll all have to test ourselves before we know what can actually do, what we really have to offer.

I know nothing and have no answers.

Until next time.

Dylan – Edmonton, AB

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