Friday, October 28, 2016

Nationalism, Blue Oyster Cult, and Browncoats

Are there different kinds of nationalism?

Some might find this question ridiculous. A glance at any dictionary yields a clear definition of the concept of nationalism. Merriam-Webster, for instance, defines it thusly:
1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups
Simple, right? It's in keeping with the use of the word by journalists, by broadcasters, by politicians, by everyday people, etc. Of course, scholars of varying sorts have managed to muddle up the concept by arguing that many different types of nationalism exist and can be positively identified with respect to how an individual presents their feelings of nationalism. If one were to consult Wikipedia, one would find no less than thirteen "kinds" of nationalism. And even that list is not exhaustive. Sociologist Louis Wirth argued in a 1936 paper that there were four kinds of nationalism: hegemony nationalism, particularistic nationalism, marginal nationalism, and the nationalism of minorities. And another sociologist—Michael Hechter—presented a different typology of nationalism in his book in 2000: state-building nationalism, peripheral nationalism, irredentist nationalism, and unification nationalism. No doubt, there are other thinkers who have offered other forms, other typologies of the concept.

Of course, part of the story here is terminology choices and intent. For instance, Hechter's typology is more about using the supposed goal driving a manifestation of nationalism in order to label that nationalism; it is unconcerned with the actual feelings of individuals in this regard. And Wirth's hegemony nationalism (or "hegemonic nationalism") is more or less a composite of several of the Wikipedia-listed types of nationalism: cultural, romantic, and civic nationalism. Indeed, a number of the types listed on the Wikipedia page are differentiated from one another by little more than intellectual word-play, in my opinion.

Fundamentally, the primary definition of nationalism remains preeminent, and that's because it's concerned with the individual or the people espousing a nationalistic sentiment: "loyalty and devotion to a nation" (or state, as it were). Nationalism as a thing exists in people irrespective of how it is used by others. The great majority of supposed types suffer from this fatal flaw: they're concerned with the application, not the actual sentiment.

That said, it seems to me that there are, in fact, two rather distinct forms of nationalism as an actual sentiment. And since I've entered the fray of intellectual jargon here, I'm going to give these two forms their own distinct names: inclusive nationalism and exclusive nationalism, the gist of which should be fairly obvious. To be fair, I am not the first person to suggest this distinction, a reality that became clear to me in my research for this piece. However, I would note that I developed these labels independently, on my own, prior to having read pieces by others who made the same division. And I think the avenue that led me to this idea is an original one, regardless, and serves to more clearly and more thoroughly communicate the "why" behind the division. So let's step away from the political jargon for a moment and talk about music, sports, and other realms of fandom.

Album art from Fire of Unknown Origin, Greg Scott 1981
When I was much, much younger—in junior high—I was something of a metalhead, a fan of heavy metal music, like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Zeppelin, Rainbow, Mötley Crüe, and so forth. Now, when I first started getting into this music, I didn't really know much about it (as is the case for everyone when they try/experience new things). And when I would try to join in to a conversation with older kids or ones who had been into this music longer than me, I'd often catch a little flak for not being a "real" fan of the music (perhaps because I didn't know who played bass for Black Sabbath). And frankly, I can remember being at a Blue Oyster Cult concert (around 1982) with some friends and openly mocking other kids there for not being "real" fans, for being "teeny boppers" or "posers."

This attitude was a consequence of BOC's commercial success with their Fire of Unknown Origin album and it's hit single Burnin' for You." That led to a lot of more mainstream fans for BOC, a lot more success, bigger concert venues, with bigger supporting acts. But many longtime fans of BOC looked down their noses at these new fans, these bandwagon jumpers, especially since they were—as evidenced in the concert I attended—wholly unfamiliar with classic BOC songs like "The Reaper" and "Godzilla" (especially the latter). Years later, when I was in college and just beyond, I noticed this exact same rubric occurring with indy/college rock: many fans of bands like The Smiths and The Violent Femmes absolutely despised newcomers to the fold, people who they deemed really didn't "get" the music but just liked this song or that song because they had heard it at a club or party. Really, the animosity displayed by the faithful here was orders of magnitude greater than what I had experienced as a new heavy metal fan (or had dished out, once my bonafides were established).

Perhaps no where is this kind of thing more apparent than in the world of sports, where many supporters or fans of various teams live and breath their team/club. Such people tend to really have a problem with more casual supporters/fans in my experience. The fans who leave a game early or fail to show their support when the team is having a bad run are "fair weather fans" (or worse). "Real fans" stick with their team through good times and bad; their support never waivers. But when teams have a lot of success, they attract more and more fans. Witness the rise of the Dallas Cowboys as "America's team" in the 1970's. Their fans were literally everywhere, all around the world, even in cities who had their own NFL franchise. But when the dark days came—in the mid and late eighties—there was a very visible drop-off in support, outside of Dallas proper.

It's the nature of the human condition. People love an underdog. But far more people love a winner, that's a fact of life. In the sports world, this is an absolute truth. For instance, the Miami Heat was always something of a second tier NBA franchise, even after winning an NBA title in 2006. Enter King James and Chris Bosh (who joined Dwayne Wade in making the "Big 3"). Almost overnight, the Heat became the "it" team. In just two  years, Heat fans were everywhere and the team had become the Evil Empire, despised by the "real fans" of every other team, but loved by bandwagon jumpers everywhere. Of course, many long-time Heat fans resented all of these new fans for not being "real," a point driven home by the drop-off in support for the team after James went back to Cleveland.

For me, it's all a "so what" moment now, this criticizing of fans for not being "real," for being Johnny-come-latelys. When the Florida Panthers of the NHL had their amazing run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996 in only their third year of existence, the radio voice of the Panthers—one Chris Moore—was taking calls after a big win in the playoffs. The caller was saying how she was a recent convert to hockey and was loving the Panther's run. Moore replied—and I'm paraphrasing—"climb on board the bandwagon; there's plenty of room and everybody is welcome." And why not? Why not welcome everyone who wants in, even if they might only be there for a short time? They might not be, right? They could stay on permanently. Either way, it's more fans in the moment. Isn't that good enough?

There are other realms of fandom wherein these sorts of mechanisms are evident, as well, like with books, movies, and TV shows. I'm a big fan of Firefly, a TV show that aired for just one season but now has a rather significant cult following. I know there are "Browncoats" (what the fans of the show call themselves) out there who don't like newcomers to their little world, but most of the Firefly fans I know are like me: they're happy to have new fans in their midst, happy to explain the show when asked, and more than willing to actively recruit new fans.

So let's look at all of this in the context of nationalism. Those preaching an exclusive nationalism are like those music fans who sneer at any and all newcomers, are like those sports fans who whine incessantly about fair-weather fans who bail when the times aren't so good. In contrast, those preaching an inclusive nationalism are like those music and sports fans who just want to see their preferred act or team do well, who welcome any support the same can get, wherever it might hail from and however long it might last.

If one accepts the national symbolism of the United States of America, there is only one legitimate kind of nationalism enshrined therein: inclusive nationalism. The words on the Statue of Liberty make this clear, as do the words in the Declaration of Independence and the preamble of Constitution. "Your huddles masses yearning to be free," "all men are created equal," promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty," and so forth. "The Gettysburg Address," "I Have a Dream," JFK's first inaugural address, Reagan's Berlin speech, and many other great speeches in American history touch on these same themes. There is no excluding going on here, there is no limiting of who is or isn't a real American.

In obvious contrast, exclusive nationalism is evidenced by the Southern leadership, prior to and during the civil war, it characterizes much of the anti-Federalist tracts as well, though in the form of State-specific appeals. And it's apparent in the words and actions of many other leaders, past to present. Notably, as a sentiment it rarely finds its way into those speeches or documents that are deemed "great" or "significant." And that's because exclusive nationalism is a small idea, championed by people with small minds.

To be sure, exclusivity is the easier road to take, to justify, in almost all things. Inclusivity takes work, real effort, and time. Many characterized as proponents of the former really aren't, I think. They're much closer to the latter but maybe just require a helpful push.

Regardless, the point is that exclusive nationalism is not what the United States of America is all about. The history of the nation is full of many missteps, no doubt, and ideals are difficult to live up to, to achieve. They're supposed to be.

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