The defacto embassy of American culture in the world took a friendly fire hit this week. McDonalds, slammed by Prince Charles. And he did it in the Middle East. Abu Dhabi. This, from the horse-faced Windsor who represents our famously closest ally:
“Have you got anywhere with McDonald’s, have you tried getting it banned? That’s the key.”
Thanks, Chuck. I thought we were in this together. Then I remembered. That guy’s totally 18th century, trying hard to 21st. With his line of organic Duchy Original Cornish Pasties and everything.
It’s been a strange couple of weeks in the global culture. That would be ours. Our culture that … like it or not, and a lot of them don’t … squats across continents like a massive toad, its reach and power far exceeding our military and political influence.
A court led by a hamming, weepy judge who desperately wants a TV bench, argues about what to do with the rotting corpse of Anna Nicole Smith and debates what to do about all the daddies. A producer of epic Hollywood extravanganzas is diving into the mystery of the ages … where the heck is Jesus … with some gratuitous CSI-style DNA analysis thrown in for effect.
No wonder they hate us. I look at it, and sometimes I hate us.
Big-bosomed barely clad blonde women. McDonalds. Hollywood. Blase blasphemy and pseudo-science. Everything you want. All the superficial, glittery trappings that are the most identifiably American things you will find anywhere you go in the world.
They really hate it. They love to hate it. Because their people love it. Hey, wait a minute. I love it, too. And they can’t resist it. I really love that. Our pop culture, at its cheesiest, has a lure they cannot fight, which is why bootleg DVDs and CDs are wildly popular on the streets of every Arab capital, even Baghdad, where the battle is most fiercely joined. From the banned satellite dishes of Teheran to the forbidden pleasures of Kim Jong Il’s private screening room. All that Ronald Reagan John Wayne cowboy stuff they can’t stand? None of them can get enough of it. You know there are grown Germans who dress up like cowboys?
Rambo, the ugliest of Americans? Huge, even 25 years later.
The Golden Arches and Anna Nicole Smith’s breasts? Forces for freedom.
With all its libertine amorality and immorality, our popular culture is and has been for decades a bait that draws people to freedom. That’s right. All the cheese and schmaltz and brass and come-hither. It makes them ask, “Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I have some of that?” Free enterprise, free thinking, free everything. “Why can’t I wear what I want? Why can’t I speak to a girl? Why can’t I say what I want? Why can’t I have a little bit of that exciting life and the things I see on TV?”
Hold on. I’m going to have to stop myself before I get too deep and preachy or all sobby and flag-waving about Anna Nicole’s iconic American bazooms. Poor Anna Nicole. The girl never had a chance. That’s an American tragedy.
OK, serious. The future of our political and military might, and the future of our ideals, is what is at stake in the bloody battles of Iraq and the bloviating battles of Washington. It is in those places, far from Hollywood where all that other crap resides, that it will be decided whether the United States is to continue as a force for good in the world.
I personally don’t believe our nation’s own self-destructive tendencies — the self-loathing and self-doubt, the greatest dangers we face — will prevail this time. We’ve already seen that the American people, pulling out ahead of the politicians they elected last November, are beginning to recognize what is at stake and are turning away from the short-term gratification of withdrawal from Iraq. Every now and then they do something like that, the American people, to remind you what sensible, good people they are. That they are so much better represented by the GIs in Iraq than they are by that freak show in Hollywood or the other one in Washington DC. The politicians, searching so hard for ways to make us fail, are discovering that their own positions are at best impractical. But at heart, immoral, amoral, morally bankrupt. Even more than McDonald’s or Anna Nicole’s breasts ever were.
At times like these, when we face fundamental challenges to our existence as a force for freedom in the world, you have to ask yourself, what have we brought and what will we leave behind, when our time comes to fall as all empires before us have?
The Golden Arches and a pair of double D’s? (No way that uncanny resemblance is a coincidence, by the way.)
Should a Dark Age fall … if we buckle in the face of puny forces arrayed against us, they will blame it on those things. Also, the cowboy thing. All the things they love to hate about us.
If we choose to buckle, and a Dark Age should fall, we’ll deserve it. To be mocked for the wild party that was the late 20th and early 21st century, the exuberant orgy everyone wanted a part of.
But don’t worry, there’s a booby prize … so to speak.
Our noblest gifts to the world will have survived. The Roman orgies and the bloody spectacles of the Colisseum may be objects of historical fascination today. But Latin and the learning and philosophy of the ancient world are the underpinnings of our own modern language, sciences, and many of our notions of free thought and free government.
Our language. Our science. Our freedoms. The good things we tried to do. The things we lived and so many died for. These will be the things that lie in wait for a new Enlightenment.
Jules Crittenden is an editor and columnist for the Boston Herald.
Crittenden’s web page is at Forward Movement.