Many of us have who have grown up and attended high school in America remember these occasions vividly. During these four tumultuous years, there are periodic meetings that include the entire student body, the faculty, and most importantly, the athletic teams. At these peculiar yet memorable gatherings, groupthink is not only encouraged, but is considered mandatory. Originality, or thinking “outside the box” is frowned upon. Participants at these rituals have to wear the same colors, chant the same slogans, and applaud loudly at anything the master of ceremonies says. It does not matter if one is not interested in the sporting event that is taking place, nor does it matter whether or not the emcee is spewing out a bunch of nonsense. The boosters and benefactors behind the event are the ones who believe blindly in the cause, and their reign of influence trickles down to the young impressionable student body. This was the phenomenon known as the Pep Rally.
After I graduated from high school years ago, I was certain that I had seen my final Pep Rally. After all, the absurd and irrational behavior that takes place in these get-togethers would have absolutely no merit in the real world, right? Conformity is a sign of weakness, right? Fast-forward to the year 2003, and you’ll see just how dead wrong I was.
The current political climate in America has returned to that very mentality, and the cause seems to be expanding. Behind the newest incarnation of the pep-rally are the neo-conservative faction of our government and their brainwashed constituency. The blood-curdling screech of the cheerleaders that we once heard on the sidelines has been replaced by the mindless banter of the Daniel Pipes’, Sean Hannity’s, and Ann Coulter’s of the world. The rules of the game are simple: You must cheer for the team blindly, even if they are playing unfair. You must wear your team colors, even if they are stained with the blood of the opponent. If someone criticizes the team for their wrongdoing, you must unleash an all-out attack on their character. If you fail to conform to these rules then you are not only labeled as an outsider, but a traitor as well. The ever-popular slogan “United We Stand” should now be updated to “United We Think.”
The stories of two young heroines, which both have drawn worldwide attention exemplify this prevailing attitude. Private Jessica Lynch has been all but canonized into sainthood due to her bravery during the “courageous” rescue at the hands of her “harsh” and “ridiculing” oppressors. Jessica instantly became an American icon once the story broke. Bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, and all sorts of memorabilia have been sold with this newest “Symbol of American Freedom” in mind. Before all the facts surrounding the rescue have been gathered, a movie has already been put into the works. The nation has rallied behind the President, who is displaying the philosophy that “not one American life will be spared.” While we are genuinely happy that this evidently wounded young lady was brought back safely to her family, we wish that the same values and mindfulness would have been applied to the life of Rachel Corrie.
Not too long before the Private Lynch incident, did this young woman’s life end at the hands of an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer. Even though her story ended on a more tragic note than her counterpart’s, it seemingly ran in the mainstream media for a mere day. No bumper stickers plastered to the back of automobiles, no magnets are hanging on refrigerators nationwide, and there is definitely no movie in the works. Some individuals, such as a University of Maryland political cartoonist were virtually allowed to dance on her grave—posthumously labeling her as “stupid”, and in essence glorifying the actions of the IDF soldiers. Was she less of an American than Private Lynch? They both were born and raised here in America’s heartland, so the answer is no. Was it the fact that she was standing up against America’s “partner in peace”, Israel? Was Israel one of the few nations who backed what was then, the fledgling war in Iraq? We may be getting somewhere now. What it all boils down to is how the members of the pep-rally perceive these events. Jessica stood for, and still stands for the home team who was fighting the war against evil. Rachel on the other hand, was siding up with the “terrorist Palestinians” rather than America’s ally to the war, Israel. This is the unfortunate reason why the growing numbers of individuals in the International Solidarity Movement who are being brutalized and killed at the hands of the Israelis are largely being ignored. As Jessica has moved into superstar status, Rachel was conveniently wiped from the nation’s conscience.
Taking sides is a necessity, when the rally mentality is prevailing. The mantra that the participants go by is simple: “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.” When entertainers such as the Dixie Chicks, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon spoke out against going to war, the lynch mob quickly emerged from the shadows. Boycotts were ordered; people destroyed their existing CD’s, DVD’s, and anything else having to do with the offending artists. Many artists have now chosen to withhold their political views for fear that the mob will affect their financial success. Freedom of speech may be the First Amendment, but many individuals are beginning to experience just how limited it can be in times of war. Political mouthpieces like the aforementioned Coulter have made an art form out of utilizing the right-wing’s fuzzy logic with sayings such as “If you speak out against the War on Iraq, then you support people flying planes into buildings.” Not surprisingly, according to a recent poll prior to the war, many Americans believed that the people who flew those very planes into buildings on 9/11 were Iraqi nationals. Additionally, it is almost laughable to hear the widespread belief that Saddam Hussein was a “fundamentalist” Islamic leader. These are just a few of the instances of just how the mentality of the public has been shaped by the media and other outside factors.
Yet another example of how absurd and dangerous this mindset can be occurred just few weeks after the war ensued. Sitting at a rodeo in Texas, a group of drunken fans became irate toward another group of non-Caucasian fans seated a few rows ahead. What was their crime, you ask? As the folksy Lee Greenwood song “I’m Proud to be an American” started to blare over the loudspeakers, those seated in the arena began to rise and sing along as though it was a supplement to the national anthem. When the darker-skinned fans failed to rise with the rest of the herd, a group of hecklers began throwing beer cups in addition to screaming racial epithets. They closed with the infamous command: “Go back to Iraq.” Never mind that the fans were Mexican-American. The real concern lies in the fact that the people at the brunt of this attack were not even trying to make a statement against the war. Their only transgression was not standing up when the rally-goers deemed it necessary to do so.
As patriotism and nationalism continue re-emerge, the more dangerous this mentality becomes. The right-wing of American politics in addition to those that blindly support it has created the biggest Pep-Rally this nation has seen since the era of McCarthyism, perhaps even larger. “Team Bush” continues to wave the flag and capture the hearts and minds of the masses, while Coaches Ashcroft and Rumsfeld ensure that each and every person is compelled to obey. Middle ground has no place in America nowadays. If you choose to occupy this “no man’s land”, or for that matter any area outside of their domain, it is just a matter of time before the participants of this rally to choose a country to tell you to go back to.