Back in the days of the Massachuetts Bay colony, when William Bradford essayed to found 'A City on a Hill,' Thomas Morton had other ideas.
He founded a free-wheeling colony named Merrymount; and the residents there erected a maypole and invited "bear-skinned indian maidens" to dance and to drink with them.
That was too much for the Puritan fathers; they demolished Merrymount and its maypole, and imprisoned Morton.
This was the first shot in the long-standing conflict within the American psyche: between the Puritan and Laid Back Party Hearty sensibilities. This became a recurrent theme: the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies of Americans, played out in various conflicts. In some ways, it is less often recognized because of the more prominent and enduring North/South, city/rural, New York/Boston/Los Angeles, and liberal/conservative conflicts. What is interesting is that the different sides in each of the other divides sometimes go with the Puritan ethic and sometimes endorse the Laid Back Party Hearty ethic.
Right now, the two ethics are definitely in high relief. There was that overreaction to Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' that some anal types on the Christian right have successfully engineered into an anti-smut campaign and stiff fines for broadcasters who crossed the line. And there's the typical fare of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos: now regarded as a quaint part of the New Orleans scene!
The Laid-Back Hedonistic America did not go away. It moved to the South and the West and became durably part of the American psyche. While the political capital of the USA is Washington and the cultural capital is arguably New York and the country music capital is Nashville, the capital of Laid-Back Hedonistic America is New Orleans. Party Hearty America is populated heavily by youth; and like to play music loud.
The Merrymount crowd's descendents invented the shag and southern beach music, those fruit-based Florida drinks, and NASCAR. Some founded Hooters' restaurants, Mardi Gras, tailgate parties,and, best of all, barbecue!
Party Hearty America wakes up as late as it can, eats junk food, listens to loud, racuous music of many different genres: Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blink 182, 80's hair band stuff, Cajun music, dirt road sport music, the lowdown blues, Texas swing, Sheryl Crow, as long as its rowdy.
They're not sticklers for décor: indoor furniture on an unscreened porch is okay. Just let the sofa dry before you sit on it after it rains. A flamingo makes a damn fine decoration for the front of the ol' spread. And, naturally, fly proudly your SEC team banner, unless it's Vandy. They understand cheating songs, and make excuses for human shortcomings, "He a good ole boy, but . . . . "
Laid-Back Party Hearty America finds many things to be immensely funny: the politically incorrect humor, "Porky's," flatuses, and other bad taste.
Long live Laid-Back America!
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