Recently, a tradition was torn down not too far from where I live. A drive-in that had been in existence since drive-ins were the "latest" was torn down and an apartment building is now being erected there. Scrapping for space, the buildings stand back to back with a pleasant view of well-trafficked thoroughfares. On one side of the property, clinging to life, the marquis of the now dead and buried car theater lingers, a waning shadow of days gone by. It's graffitied front is a reminder of couples grappling in the backseats of '54 chevies, of families piled in station wagons, teenagers clambering into the bed of the pickup so they can lie on a mattress watching the large screen with the tinny dialogue of actors blaring from metal speakers that dangle on the car window. My son, an eleven year-old who has not yet been sold on the Need for New, the love of change or "progress", on our morning drive past the burial ground of family fun, nearly always looks at the new construction with disgust and comments, "Wasting perfectly good space". Undoubtedly the placard will eventually be utilized for advertising the new apartment's appeal to passers-by and a sad final nail will be put in the coffin of the drive-in theater's marker.
As an icon of American values it is more than symbolic that the Cinderella drive-in can be torn down without so much as a sigh from the populace. And it speaks to us poignantly, I suppose, that those things that are, in fact, uniquely American are held in no more reverence than the past from which many escaped to come to this country. For peoples who left their homeland in often difficult circumstances to start anew and who cling only to language and diet for their sense of culture it should not be surprising that American icons hold little or no significance. Perhaps the truth about American tradition is that tradition is despised, ignored and subservient to constant deconstruction and that our true tradition is leaving anything that ties us to the past behind and going after what pads the pocket book. All is subject to the tradition of greed in this country.
But this is a loss for us all. These cultural symbols, these unique institutions that do still linger in our midst, are more than archaic reminders of our youth. They are what give us a past, that connect us to our yesterdays and to each other. It is no coincidence that when the US invaded Iraq and began remaking that country that they allowed the dismantling of the museums and historic sites. It was their very intention to rob the people of that which lies at the center of their identity like a redwood's most interior growth ring, binding them to each other and a venerable narrative of civilization, beauty and grandeur. Without these ties, it is supposed, the people can be broken and remolded into a more complacent and compliant glob, loosely bound together by religious ties which ultimately keep them at odds and distracted. Now concerned, like their conquerors, only with their personal needs ("needs" being defined generously by the marketplace) they are capable of joining the ranks of humanity that are mere consumers. Americans.
Christmas is a specter of our past- a memento of a lost Atlantis that is quickly being extinguished by greed and marketing. Lame protestations about the commercialization of Christmas is simply not enough. It is up to us to fight, to protest, to do something different in order to keep the truth of Christmas-- to be like the Grinch, or Charlie Brown, or Scrooge and find the substance behind the facade, to grip the reality that there is more to life than getting more, buying more, having more, more, more, more. . .
Life really is finding meaning in the little things we do, holding onto memories of our childhood, clinging to tradition and