A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Imagine America without TexasBY: Dan Rottenberg 08.29.2011
America without Texas? Are you serious? Can you imagine America without Ike Eisenhower, Van Cliburn, Dr. Denton Cooley or Tex-Mex cuisine?
Where would we be without Texas?DAN ROTTENBERG
“I am sure we would all be better off not having Planet Texas in the Union, with its priceless gift of statesmen from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush to Rick Perry.”
Thus did Robert Zaller— Drexel University history professor, prolific BSR contributor and scourge of all things capitalistic— finally try the fraying tolerance of your long-suffering editor. (For Robert’s discussion of whether the Civil War was worth fighting, see Letters.)
Texas makes an easy whipping boy for Northerners and leftists, for obvious reasons. Year after year, this one state executes more prisoners than America’s other 49 states combined. What’s more, the entire state seems overrun with good old boys named Bubba who collect guns and dogs and horses and brag about the size of their ranches and claim to be billionaires but are actually millions in debt from trying to corner the silver market, and women who wear cowboy boots to the theater and use cigarette lighters shaped like Colt .45s and call everyone “Honey” and “Darlin’.”
But just once, can we look beneath the stereotypes? Does any thinking American seriously contend that America as we know it could exist without Texas?
For starters, what would you and I and Professor Zaller be doing today if a Texas native named Dwight D. Eisenhower hadn’t rallied the Allied commanders to stop squabbling and invade Nazi-occupied France? We’d be speaking German, that’s what!
(Granted, Eisenhower left Texas for Kansas when he was 18 months old. But he would have had a hard time leaving at all had Texas still belonged to the Confederacy in 1890.)
A rich cultural life
Remember, we’re talking about a state with nearly 26 million residents, most of them law-abiding and productive citizens. Many Texans are droll sophisticates capable of grasping subtle nuance. Thousands are literate. Hundreds are college graduates.
I ask you: Can you imagine classical music without Van Cliburn? Film without Terence Malick? Art without the Menil Collection or the Kimbell Museum? Retailing without Neiman-Marcus? Heart transplant surgery without Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey? Hand calculators without the Texas Instruments Company? Space exploration without Houston’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center? Cuisine without Tex-Mex cooking? Football without the Dallas Cowboys? Pornography without Debby Does Dallas?
The list is endless. And did I mention Van Cliburn?
Literary bright spots
Think of all the Texan contributions to literature and cinema that have enriched your life, like The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry’s sensitive evocation of growing up and growing old in a small Texas town where there’s nothing to do. Or Paris, Texas, the Wim Wenders film about a dysfunctional family in a small Texas town where there’s nothing to do. Or Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, about a small Texas town that’s obsessed with high school football because there’s nothing else to do. Or Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, about a pair of young Texas lovers who rob banks and kill people because there’s nothing else to do.
By the way, can you think of a concert pianist other than Van Cliburn who’s so famous that he needn’t use his first name?
Beyond arts and culture, Texas above all stands for individual courage. Think of the 180 Texans who laid down their lives at the Alamo because the tyrannical Mexican government refused to let them own slaves. Think of Governor Sam Houston, who courageously gave up his office rather than fight the tyrannical Northern government that refused to let his fellow Texans own slaves. Think of Mother Katharine Drexel confronting a gang of hooded Ku Klux Klansmen who threatened to burn down her school for poor blacks and Native Americans in Beaumont.
(I know— Katharine Drexel was a Philadelphian. But if that Texas mob hadn’t given her the opportunity to prove her courage, do you think she’d be a saint today?)
America’s dream come true
Of course I haven’t even mentioned oil. The oil-powered automobile transformed the lives of all Americans, liberating us from crowded smelly cities so we could pursue the American dream of a suburban house and yard with a family room and three-car garage located in a gated cul-de-sac just minutes away from strip malls and gas stations and tacky fast-food franchises and restaurants known for their generous drinks and three-story office buildings, all surrounded by acres of free parking lots. For that blessing alone, we owe Texas a debt we can never fully repay.
Without the great Spindletop oil strike in 1901 and the many smaller Texas strikes that followed, America today would have to depend on foreign countries for our oil supply. We’d have to spend billions on military adventures in God-forsaken places like the Middle East, not to mention meddling in Venezuela and tearing up wildlife refuges in Alaska. The whole world would be a mess, let me tell you! And did I mention Van Cliburn?♦
Respond to this Article