I was leaving the house with my younger son the other day, and he mentioned that he put his Crocs on. He then asked if I was going to wear my Keens. My younger son is 4, and he is already well entrenched in a good American love of brands. And thank God. Where would we be without brands?
Apple tells us it’s worth paying top dollar for smooth white surfaces even though they will be obsolete and unrepairable in 8 months. Jeep helps us be more American by driving an exploding 4×4 made by an Italian company up and down the 10 degree incline of our driveway. Earth’s Best reassures us that it’s ok to skip cooking for our kids and spend $4 on a single entree because Elmo and the words “organic” and “all natural” are on it.
I love the stories brands tell. Jack Daniels died from an infected toe and Sam Adams was really only good at propaganda, but the bullshit stories their marketing departments invented sell a lot of alcohol. Who doesn’t enjoy a good story? Ford trucks tell us the story of a copyright-violating boy who compulsively urinates on a Chevy logo. That’s something everyone can identify with.
You know what I need? A way to brand myself. I want to be like the ridiculous food the reprobate cynics at Williams-Sonoma sell. Here’s the challenge: how can run of the mill boring people like my family and I make ourselves special, like an olive oil produced on the same family farm for 200 years and once only used for religious rituals by the monks of the bruschetta monastery, from whence we get the name?
I already know the answer: genealogy!
What? Is there some other reason to engage in this “hobby?” You have ancestors? Me too! Your ancestors are all dead? Mine too! Boy, this is amazing! You want to bring your family together in the Lord’s holy temple so they can be blessed for all time? Hmm. It’s cool that you’re Mormon, but I’m going to go raid the cheese tray.
It can’t just be for the gee-whizziness of it all, and it seems improbable that you’re going to find yourself an heir to the Butterworth pancake fortune or the carrier of a gene that you will give you super-human speed and endurance but at the cost of looking like a rhesus monkey. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, in which case one of those things already happened.
The self appointed family historians always seem to stop at the exact point that they finally find something interesting in their lineage. If you look hard enough, someone in your family did something of note – maybe they went to high school with Amelia Earhart, or owned the first car in their county, or married a Jew. That sure is interesting.
Or maybe it wasn’t so interesting. Maybe it was just daily life. Conversations about ancestry inevitably involve the teller saying something like “can you imagine what they went through?” I can’t. And they couldn’t either. They just did it as part of their lives. Clearly, we don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what our ancestors actually went through. How else could a nation descended from immigrants and refugees turning into a bunch of knee-jerk nativists?
On the other hand, I imagine some day my great grandchildren relating my own experience of living through 9/11 in downtown Chicago. “Can you imagine?” they’ll say, teary-eyed “He went home, got sick of the sexual tension between George Stephanopolous and Peter Jennings and went out to get a hot dog. A hot dog!”
I’m going to have come up with a better story for what I did on 9/11 between now and 2051.
No one ever does genealogical research to find out about the real jerks and louts in their family. You’ll never be cornered at a party by someone telling you about their philandering great grandfather who ditched his family in a tenement in the Bronx to shack up with a syphilitic burlesque dancer in Milwaukee. Speaking of (jerks and louts, not syphilitic dancers), here’s a relationship tip: if your wife’s family is particularly proud of their relationship to a 19th century baseball player, you’re not going to ingratiate yourself to them by pointing out that his RBI stats are largely overshadowed by his virulent racism.
The ability to trace your family through clean lines back through the centuries seems like it would be increasingly rare these days. Lots of people come from places that didn’t have last names or censuses until fairly recently. What about adoption, sperm donors, step-children, etc? Each of those things would disqualify you from membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, which I’ve mentioned before is second only to the American Kennel Club in their concern for bloodlines. I understand there’s a large group of Americans whose last names are a legacy of being owned by another family, but I grew up in the suburbs, so I don’t know anything about that.
If you can trace your family back and weave a good yarn about your humble origins, noble aspirations, and centuries of hard work why not use it? How fortunate to be a single malt, single origin, all natural, organic Whole Foods American in a country of Aldis. Brand name Americans should absolutely celebrate their heritage!
The Confederate flag is optional.