Tuesday, September 25, 2007

America In Blue

Uncle Sam is a two-part graphic novel that I discovered back in the nineties, when I first became enamored of all things Alex Ross. His incredible artwork had burst onto the scene, out of nowhere, and many comics lovers couldn't get enough of him. With this book, he turned his incredible paintings away from superheroics and towards a politicized history of the United States of America. The artwork is really something else, and if you've never seen his work, you may want to look it up. After the artwork, its best feature is that its a remarkably digestible introduction to the American brand of Liberalism, the sort that styles itself as Progressive.

Like most things, it is not perfect. Depending on your point of view, the number and severity of flaws varies wildly, but never truly drops to zero on either axis. But its single greatest flaw is not actually with the work itself, but the context in which it resides. It is, quite simply, a single work, and suffers for want of companionship. Uncle Sam is not a neutral and unbiased view of American history and the place of the United States in the world. It paints a somewhat dystopian vision of the United States, showing a myopic and self-righteous nation, blindfolded to the lessons of history by arrogance, stupidity and a shadowy malignancy. There are no solutions, only a vague hope in a Liberal dawn that will somehow show Americans the way forward, to an ideal that has so far been paid lip service, but never realized.

As a lesson, of both history and morals, it falls short. While not strictly revisionist, it is very selective. (To a certain degree, this is to be expected. After all, you can't exhaustively cover two hundred years of history in a little more than one hundred pages. But the events selected were clearly chosen with a partisan agenda in mind.) Its one-sided and self-reinforcing message does little to enlighten the serious student, and the lack of context (quotes are not footnoted) makes follow-up research more difficult than it needs to be. The stereotypical Conservative reader may be expected to see a cherry-picking of American history, selected anecdotes designed to demonstrate the need for a Liberal takeover of Government for the Good of the Masses. The Jingoist can be predicted to see an unwarranted criticism of American institutions and the public that borders on the treasonous. But as a political lesson, it's excellent, and that's where the lack of a Rightist companion volume is the most glaring. If you knew nothing of American politics before reading this, you'd have, in a nutshell, the basics of American Liberal/Progressive thought, and their case for a protective, nurturing Statism - the main function of which would be to basically ensure the flowering of a Socially Just Republic, with Liberty and Justice for All, ensured by a benevolent government.

It's an assumption that's unlikely to ever be borne out by the reality of the situation, were it actually to come to pass, but that's what ideals are all about, no? Which is why a Conservative volume would be welcome. Not as an answer, but as a compliment. The flip side of the coin, that presents the opposite ideal, and the selective vision of history that supports it. I've asked around, in comic-book circles, if such a volume exists, but have yet to find one. I'm hoping that someone gets around to one.

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