Writer for the Detroit Free Press, David Crumm and his son, Benjamin, took a coast-to-coast road trip this summer in search of American values and the reasons why Americans love their country. They wrote a series of articles from every stop on their journey that spanned over 9,000 miles. Their final article was published on Sunday. They titled their article “Walt Whitman heard America singing. We heard singing, too. But we also heard lots more.” Other than the title, they do not mention Whitman at all in the body of the piece. If you are going to evoke Walt Whitman in the title of your essay about what America means to Americans, you could at least connect it back to Whitman at some point!
21-year-old Benjamin Crumm offers up a very negative reading of the America that he saw on his journey. He says, “As large as it is, our country also is impossibly small. A department store in southern California is the same as department stores in Michigan, Washington or Georgia. The music playing is the same, styles are the same, drinks are the same and fast food is identical. To discover that radio stations play the same set of songs all over the country, even in Montana, was disturbing.” His sentiments made me think of Walt Whitman’s poem, “Orange Buds by Mail from Florida.” In it, Whitman plays off of Voltaire’s argument that a war ship and the grand opera were proofs of France’s progress. Whitman offers up “a lesser proof than old Voltaire’s, yet greater, / Proof of this present time, and thee, thy broad expanse, America.” This proof of America’s progress is that someone can mail him orange buds from Florida and he can grow them in his room. Other than what that says about a technologically advanced federal postal system, I think Whitman appreciates the fact that something from one part of America can find it’s way to another, whether it be a bunch of orange buds, or ideas and learning, or people traveling. Benjamin Crumm sees only sameness. Though I’m not quite sure what Walt Whitman would have thought about seeing the same clothes in every J.C. Penny across America, instead of seeing only a homogenized culture of sameness, it is possible that he might have seen a peoples’ ability to share with one another, no matter how far away they are.