Robin DeWan is a musician, writer and conceptual artist living on Suomenlinna. He holds a degree in literature from the University of California.   

With so much media coverage devoted to what goes on in the US it seems almost redundant to talk about it here. Nevertheless, one gets a certain kind of perspective on a place only from actually being there. There just isn’t a substitute for the word on the street.

I recently visited my home country after a few years away and picked up on a fairly significant change in the atmosphere. This was not exactly the exuberant change that Barack Obama stumped for during his presidential campaign. On the contrary, the mood was far more weary, frustrated, and down-right cynical than ever before. The people of the United States seem to be united principally on one thing: discontent.

The underlying current in the American media was one of apprehension. While article after news story bemoaned the general crappiness of 2009, there seemed to be a foreboding sense that the worst was not yet behind. Most of the dismay was focused on the fallout from the economic crisis which is generally felt much more deeply there than in, say, countries like Finland with its broad social safety net.

For the first time in perhaps the history of America, the masses have begun to deeply question the system as a whole. What was once the bastion of belief among “radicals” and the counter-culture – that the fundamental structure of society is failing – has spread far and wide. The political Left as well as the Right are both up in arms about how bad things have gotten. While their solutions to the problems are as different as night and day, each faction is equally livid. Those that don’t actively take sides have adopted a resigned attitude to the whole mess and just try and get along as best they can with the prevailing current.

It’s often when things are felt close to home that people start to rise up. With city and state-level budget cuts causing basic services and the infrastructure as a whole to crumble, anxiety about the future is rapidly increasing and even those not accustomed to protest are beginning to rally to the cause. The picture that is emerging is one where the infallible image of the country is a far cry from the day to day reality that most citizens are faced with, and this is having an adverse effect on the collective psyche of the nation.

As far as I observed, most people are of the opinion that the new President has gotten off to a poor start and despite the lip service he gave to the idea of change is now being perceived as just more of the same old. His other big catch-word, “hope,” has also fallen by the wayside. There seems to be precious little hope in circulation these days but at least a local café’s newspaper ad I happened to notice offered some. Its headline pretty much summed up the prevailing sentiment: “Happy New Year! Here’s to better times ahead.”

Robin DeWan