To help us celebrate the Fourth of July on the Blair Essentials, we asked Ed Southern, editor of Voices of the American Revolution in the Carolinas, to share his take on the holiday. And although this post may be a little late, we hope you enjoy it just the same!
When the good folks at Blair asked me to write this guest post in honor of Fourth of July, I figured I’d write the usual finger-wagging screed lecturing Americans on not knowing enough about the American Revolution and the founding generation.
This Fourth of July, though, I’m relieved to see I don’t have to. The ad wizards on Madison Avenue have stepped into the breach, using their marketing genius to illuminate the lives and characters of the Founders, using the totems we in the 21st century know to be the most telling and significant signs of who a person truly is: the products they buy.
We’ve known for years that Sam Adams was all about the beer. Now, thanks to Bud Light, we know that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and other delegates to the Continental Congress were regular guys, just like us, if by “us” you mean the kind of shallow and dull-witted dudes who go around using words like “dude.”
Just yesterday I caught Thomas Jefferson hawking Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese in a commercial that portrayed the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence as peevish, self-centered, and a bit of a wuss. Actually, that isn’t far off the mark for Jefferson. (And by the way, Kraft, if you’re going colonial in your ad campaigns, why not use “Yankee Doodle” sticking macaroni in his cap?)
The nice thing about seeing the Founding Dudes pimping products on TV is that they wouldn’t be used in any kind of advertising if there weren’t some kind of interest in them. Ad agencies would never choose a theme without making sure it would have some kind of resonance with the citizen-consumers of the U.S.
Are we seeing a resurgence of interest in the Revolutionary War and the Founders? It’s needed, especially in the Carolinas, where not nearly enough people know what a crucial role our states played in the War for Independence. This weekend we celebrate what happened in Philadelphia, 1776, in the way John Adams decreed: with fireworks, bonfires, Bud Light, and Kraft Mac and Cheese. As well we should. But I’m going to think, too, about what happened right here in 1780-1781: Kings Mountain, the “Hornet’s Nest,” Cowpens, the Race to the Dan, Guilford Courthouse. I’m going to think about those who made that “history of miracles” happen: William Richardson Davie, Isaac Shelby, John Sevier, Daniel Morgan, Nathanael Greene. (Especially ol’ Natty Greene.) Without them, July 4 would be just another day on the calendar, and those we think of as the Founders would be thought of as traitors.
And when did you last see Benedict Arnold on TV?
Ed Southern has published four books: The Jamestown Adventure, Parious Angels, Sports in the Carolinas, and Voices of the American Revolution in the Carolinas. He presently serves as the executive director of the North Carolina Writers Network.