A woman interviews Studs Terkel about his opinions of American culture and democracy. Terkel muses about the essence of American democracy, history, patriotism and how the United States (somewhat fallen in his esteem) can return to being "that country that I dream of being."
00:00Copy video clip URL Color bars and blank screen. Video begins, but no audio.
00:34Copy video clip URL Audio begins. Studs chats with a producer about the multicultural neighborhood where he resides–Uptown–as the crew sets up. The producer talks about the diverse New York neighborhood where she lives.
01:51Copy video clip URL The tape jumps, and the producer begins the interview by asking Terkel what America means to him. Quoting a 1930s pop song, he replies, ” ‘My country, may it always be in the right. But if it’s wrong, let’s set it right.’ That’s what democracy’s about, questioning authority no matter how popular that authority may be.”
04:10Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks him about the role of dissent in politics. “Dissent is as essential as a heart is to a human body. Without the heart there is no life. Without dissent there is no democracy,” Terkel says. “There’s nothing healthier than open debate and open argument,” he later says, and criticizes a lack of dissent in contemporary society. He also calls knowledge of history vital to democracy.
07:08Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks if American culture has lost its sense of community in the midst of commercial society. Terkel seems to think so, saying, “We may be the richest country in the world, we are, but we’re the poorest in memory. We have no sense of past.” He shares an anecdote and concludes that America, through ignorance of history, have veered far from the proper “road of Democracy.” They pause while a loud plane passes overhead.
11:48Copy video clip URL The interview resumes, and Terkel is asked what can reinvigorate the U.S. culture. He points to America’s “polyglot culture” and multiculturalism through immigration as redeeming features.
14:10Copy video clip URL “How can we be a moral country if we really don’t know enough history to judge morality?” she asks. Terkel admits that “we love to look at ourselves as a virtuous, righteous people.” He advocates looking at the world as a global village instead of espousing blind patriotism to promote true morality. He also says that true patriots have a “duty” to question.
17:30Copy video clip URL They move to the next topic: America’s potential. The video pauses as the crew switches tapes. Resuming, Terkel calls the full potential of Americans “as yet untapped.” He says, “The capacity of people, ordinary people who are really extraordinary, to understand issues we call complex is underestimated.” At the same time, he sees emerging more community activists, and hopes that citizens can become a “coalition” to form “a force for true democracy.”
22:28Copy video clip URL “Can there be a political democracy if there’s not an economic democracy?” the interviewer asks. “I’d say that’s impossible,” he says, responding that “economics and politics go together. You can’t separate the two. … Everything we do is political.”
22:56Copy video clip URL The interviewer asks Terkel if there was any particular moment where he felt “attuned to being an American.” He replies, “I’ve always felt good about this country, about its origins, its meaning and the possibilities … but I’ve always become furious and indignant when something unjust takes place, and cockeyed, and they call it ‘Americanism.’ ” He uses personal experiences to illustrate his point, and concludes. “Anybody can wave a flag, that’s easy. but to understand what the country is, and fight to make it just and equitable when it is not, that’s Americanism.”
26:16Copy video clip URL Answering the question about possible solutions to “refresh” America, Terkel again cites historical knowledge. “We’ve got to know where we came from, so that we can know who we are now and where we’re going,” he says. He concludes, saying that America can transform into “that country that I dream of being … true democracy,” by gaining global awareness and concern for all humankind.