Before I ask about today’s image, at right, answer this: Did you watch the Super Bowl?
More than six of ten (63%) of Americans said they planned to, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports. Major sports events like the Super Bowl are thought to be cultural unifiers: a symbolic place and point in time when Americans gather and focus on the same thing.
Do you agree?
Is the Super Bowl a cultural unifier?
And, what about the image at right?
What’s your first reaction?
This image portrays another, much earlier, form of cultural unification. It’s a poster for The Melting Pot, a play by Israel Zangwill that debuted to rave reviews in 1909. The drama borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy about star-crossed lovers from two warring families. Zangwill’s play is set in New York City—a sort of West Side Story before its time—where the Romeo figure (named David in the play) is a Russian Jew who escaped an infamously brutal pogrom and the Juliet character (named Vera) is a Christian settlement worker, also a Russian immigrant. When “Romeo” learns that “Juliet’s” father directed the very pogroms he escaped, they are torn apart. Unlike Shakespeare’s tragedy, however, The Melting Pot has a happy American ending—the lovers reconcile.
The idea of a cultural smelting pot, crucible, or melting pot can be traced back at least to the 18th century, but Zangwill’s play popularized the idea of America as a place where differences were dissolved into a cultural whole. Here are some of the thoughts about this Melting Pot image from a small-group dialog I hosted yesterday.
Read the following responses—and share one of yours below …
This image seems “outdated” because we are more of a “spicy stew” now than a bland “cream soup.” We embrace people who come from different places. Perhaps a better image now would be “many pots” rather than a single melting pot. Yet “we still have common values.” “The drama now is how to maintain these values” and respect differences. “I grew up in the ’50s and I miss those times—when we felt that we were a melting pot.”
Tomorrow: Another image of cultural unity, a photograph taken in 2009.
Join us again tomorrow—and all week—as we consider images of America.
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue.