I was in college for the 2004 presidential race. I should have been for the 2000 race, but I was a dropout. Long story. I remember -- remember in the pit of my stomach -- the rancor of that election. I am ashamed that I was caught up in it. I am ashamed that one of my vices is a tendency toward this nourished bitterness. I bite on nearly every hook that is meant to drag me down and away.
When John Kerry was running for president, I remember that a portion of our national political vitriol was directed against Heinz Ketchup. Man, the aughts were weird. Anyhow, I hate the culture wars. Like everyone, I am swept up in them. But I hate them. If I had to pinpoint the exact moment that civilization collapsed, I would be inclined to say that it happened at my uncle's birthday party in July of 2004.
We grilled out and had hamburgers and hotdogs, and because he was ̶a̶ ̶ P̶h̶i̶l̶i̶s̶t̶i̶n̶e̶ not from Chicago, he put ketchup on his hotdog. Someone saw that he had Heinz ketchup and shook his head.
"Oh no... Not Heinz ketchup..."
This struck me at the time as an excessive politicization of something that wasn't even part of the culture wars. I now think of this as the moment at which the world was over.* If we can't have a backyard barbeque without degenerate politics ruining a beautiful July afternoon, I'm not sure how we are supposed to have a community at all.
The cookout was lovely, really. There was no yelling or political strife. They more or less politely ignored my bumper stickers. But the fact that something so seemingly neutral and universally American as a condiment had become a flashpoint for signaling whose team you were on? This is a breakdown of societal cohesion. And the thing is, I associate this with conservatives. So much that even now, in the world where "cancel culture" has entered our workaday conversations, it strikes me as odd that it is overwhelmingly of the left. It feels like hearing someone call an elevator a lift. I know that this isn't incorrect, and I understand perfectly well what's going on -- and yet it feels alien to my sensibilities.
I don't have anything else to say regarding the matter. No clever insight. No grand call to action. I wonder if the flashpoints of the culture war -- the things we use to signal our loyalty to our "side" -- the things I find myself getting so upset about, whether any of these things are really any more important than ketchup.
* That year, I started to see b-string and c-string ketchups showing up in restaurants all over the (very conservative) town where I grew up. My uncle (who, to the best of my knowledge, voted for Bush twice) grew irate about this. He didn't like other ketchups. Heinz sorta has it figured out. For the record, I voted for Bush zero times and don't eat enough ketchup to have strong opinions either way.
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