Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Going nativist

I'm related to these people?

My pungent replies to unsolicited mass mailings have had the beneficial effect of abating the flow of nonsense into my in-box. Except for the occasional fluke, my relatives no longer forward kitschy “inspirational” or political e-mail to me.

One of those rare flukes showed up this week, leaving me scratching my head once again. Was I adopted, or is my DNA a mutation of the family's dominant strain? How did my family members get to be so smugly benighted? The cousin who spammed me this week has a set of grandparents in common with me (that's what makes us cousins, you know). That means we have recent ancestors who got off the boat speaking a language other than English. Some of those ancestors acclimated relatively quickly, while others took refuge in Portuguese-speaking enclaves (which still exist in various parts of New England and California) where English skills are not paramount.

My cousin and I, however, were born and raised in California. We learned English at an early age (her first language and my second). We speak English naturally and fluently. We are both fully assimilated into anglophone culture, but she is now deeply resentful of anyone who isn't while I still remember our grandparents. She therefore thinks she'll get a receptive audience by forwarding an e-mail that I find insensitive and offensive—and just plain stupid.

The message bore the subject line “How the phone Should be answered,” in the usual semi-literate prose that is characteristic of extremist literature (even that dedicated to demanding that everyone master the English language). The text is, of course, rendered in a large font with bright colors—otherwise you might not get the message:

How ALL business phones SHOULD be answered!

Rules for the phone............


Press "1" for English.

Press "2" to disconnect until you learn to speak English

And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you.

Jesus Christ

and the American Soldier.

One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.

If you agree......keep it going


And what the heck is a “defining force,” anyway?

The peculiar assumptions of this message are manifold. The English language chauvinism (excuse me for using a French-derived term) is evident, but then it pokes you in the eye with some belligerent Christianity. Take that, Jews, Muslims, etcetera!

It's the sort of message that preaches directly to the choir and only to the choir. It is not a genuine attempt at persuasion, being clearly intended to stroke the prejudices of the recipient, who will then nod his head, get a smug expression on his face, and say, “Yeah! Right on!” (I hope no one in my pale family realizes that “Right on!” is an expression borrowed from black culture, but perhaps it's okay because it's in English.)

Another bizarre detail is the travesty of the American flag. The original image was an animated gif, which glittered as much as Liberace. Is it okay to bastardize Old Glory as long as you're a 100% true-blue English-only American? It's a peculiar characteristic of hyper-patriotism that you're permitted to do things that you would denounce as desecration if perpetrated by others. While that may seem out of place in an overtly Christian message, where “do unto others” is a cardinal rule, don't be too surprised. It's just another example of reflexive, thoughtless prejudice.

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