Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The plastic palm at the end of the world

It's impossible to sum up American culture these days.  It's a farrago of barbarian freak chic, phony Euro faddism,  retro-futurism and gross slob-snobbery. That's only a sample, of course.  There are more sub-cultures, cults of style and lack thereof than I care to or can enumerate, but when a plain old cup of plain old coffee becomes an "Americano" even in the heart of America -- when Wendy's serves "Tuscan" hamburgers, when anything from dogfood to doughnuts, not made entirely by robots is "Artisinal" (and perhaps Tuscan as well) I might have to stop using the word culture at all and substitute circus, but for the fact that the large number of retired circus people and side show freaks in Florida are generally nice people and not given to parading around in "look at me" mode, unless of course they're getting paid for it.

Who the hell are we trying to fool but ourselves?  The waitress at the diner or Dunkin' Donuts or the Waffle House isn't any more a Barrista than a μπάρμαν  yet we've accepted that peremptory commercial intrusion unquestioningly as though it retroactively had been painted into the Nighthawks where the patrons were doubtless drinking "venti's" or Frappuchinos with hand harvested Madagascar Cinnamon -- free range, artisinal and fair trade, of course. In Germany they call it Barkeeper, In Paris and Madrid it's a barman, but English isn't good enough here.  You'd never order squid or snails and if you want Dolphin caught off Vero Beach, Florida, you'd better ask for it in Hawaiian, you uncouth American you.

Does the near universal phoniness and inept pretense indicate that Americans, for all their boasting and bravado really feel inferior?  Do we suspect that our commercialized, mechanized, industrial culture leaves us with an inchoate longing for authenticity that this same commercially manufactured culture is willing to provide in a chrome plated, sanitized, injection-molded and fake "Euro inspired" form?  Is it our American insecurity motivating our fashionably unshaven McEpicurians, Bourgeois bohemians, Natural Food and alternative medicine alchemists to seek out erzatz  authenticity and attach exotic names to our pedestrian lives and quotidian pursuits?  Is the white teenager with the shoes and baggy pants and rasta hat and the Kia Soul with "rims" really seeking the "authenticity" of not being middle class and white?

Come on, half the studded leather Bikers at Daytona Bike Week are dentists and accountants, pretending to live a life that wouldn't allow them to keep their Lexi and Audi-Doodys and suburban houses or to sip those 15 dollar artisinal Tuscan Latte's on their lunch breaks. How many of those red Ferraris on South beach are rented by the day and saved up for all year?  How many of the sad losers in those smoke filled casinos feel like high rollers when they toss the keys to their ten year old Hyundai or their leased Lexus to the valet ( or is it carrista now)? only to be made fools of by a beeping and hooting machine that just ate their Social Security check.

Yes, we'll raise hell with you if  you hint that we're not "number one" but I suspect we hate being Americans far more than the rest of the world hates us for being Americans. 


rockync said...

Wow! It's like you're hanging out in my head! When I was out of the country I hated admitting I was an American. More than once I saw the eyes lower and the air become cooler. Americans have truly become ugly, self absorbed and ridiculous parodies. We have no cultural identity - we are cultureless and clueless.

Capt. Fogg said...

It's happened to me countless times. Sometimes hilariously so, like when I was chastised by French kids for the US being in Vietnam back in '65. And then there was the French girl who told me we were arrogant about WW II because after all we walked into France without hardly a shot being fired at us. We don't have a monopoly on ignorance.

But yes indeed I've been embarrassed as hell sometimes because although they sometimes aren't fair in their accusations, sometimes they're right.

Oh you're American? please don't tell me about your diet, OK?

Oh, you're from Chicago? bang, bang

Thelma said...