The International Writers Magazine: Comment
Is there anything more amusing than watching the decline of an empire? Even if you’re a part of it, you can’t help but cheer for the Earth opening up and masonry crumbling into the abyss.
It was said of Nero that he played to the flames at the very last. Now I too understand the draw, as the Gulf of Mexico fills with oil sludge, the barons of Wall Street fill federal jail cells and America’s former workers fill the austere halls of State Unemployment Departments.
My brother, Flecher, and I watch CNBC together about four times a week. We chortle at the antics of the stock market mandarins, those talking heads who push day trading the way a pimp pushes rental girls. Who would be foolish enough to join this charade, we wonder. Yet both of us have 401K accounts that were sold to us by a coalition of government lapdogs and Wall Street charlatans. We resemble the cat-callers who stand in the crowd in front of the freak show tent and proclaim the two-headed cow a product of a clever seamstress. But by the time we reach the barker, our money is out; we’re ready to purchase our tickets.
We’re Americans, and if we’re going to be cheated, we want to be cheated in a spectacular fashion. We want to pay fifteen American dollars to look at a big screen populated with round headed, grinning Pixar characters with all the depth of balloon faces pinging and ponging from the left side of the screen to the right. Popcorn with butter in a lap tub, twelve bucks. And thirty minutes of commercial previews for more Disney and Pixar garbage that has been reserved, oh so carefully, for next month’s fleecing of the idiot theater-goer.
I have been told that I am a curmudgeon and Pixar movies contain adult themes. I have yet to have one of those “adult” themes presented to me. It doesn’t count that “Woody” was afraid his friend would be transferred to a different toy box. Nor does it count that the toy characters would be sold off in a yard sale resulting in a change of address. I’m aware that the boy who owned the toys is going off to college; I wish that our popular culture could go off to college. I wish that we would stop worshipping idiotic cartoon characters and read some books, for God’s sake!
I’m not saying that I hate my country; it’s great to be an American. But I can’t stand that cartoonish Dukes of Hazard look at ‘em good ole boys go and nothing gets broke after all horse hockey. If a man attempts a two hundred foot motorcycle jump and fails, don’t bellow into a microphone: “He’s all right, folks!” Don’t show me the friggin’ A Team shooting automatic weapons at bad guys until they surrender bloodlessly. We ought to have a sense of realism, here, something to be proud of.
Ah the pride we had, before our jobs were shipped to China. I remember back in the seventies we used to see news articles like the following:
Comparison of labor costs of Russian and American goods-
19” inch color TV=94 hours American labor
19” inch color TV=1,004 hours Russian labor
Dishwasher=35 hours American labor
Dishwasher=405 hours Russian labor
Housing=40 hours American labor
Housing=Gulag in Siberia, comrade
Now we can’t even afford our healthcare premiums. It costs three thousand dollars to be slowly squeezed through a CAT scan like that last bit from a caulking tube.
Americans pay from eighty to one hundred twenty dollars a month for television service. The money could support an African family for weeks. We throw it at commercials and previews of coming Disney products. And we get some news reports that we don’t bother to watch. Our satellites can send information to any corner of the planet. We’re so powerful, we have an eye on every desert cave on Earth.
But we have used our superpowers for good. We have troops enforcing goodness in Iraq and Afghanistan. And lest we forget, blond women read the good news from teleprompters on round the clock TV news stations. The Middle East is coming along. No doubt the Arabs and Israelis will soon be dancing cheek to cheek, sharing their dessicated wonderland in bliss. Deserts don’t make a lot of sense to Americans. Our own deserts are reserved for military bases and Mormons.
Our civilization has evolved into the most useful on Earth. We have kitchen devices that will rescue our citizens from the most basic of labors. I recently saw a device demonstrated that will save you from the pain and heartache of cracking an egg. The white plastic “cracker” takes care of your egg cracking hardships. Simply open the tongs, insert a whole, uncracked egg, and then depress the cracker handle—result, a freshly cracked egg! My brother, Flecher, commented that the device will no doubt be purchased by crackers.
It’s the greatest circus since Rome. In fact, there’s a nagging feeling that it is Rome. Our tunics are t-shirts and shorts. Our swords are handguns. Our coliseum is a big screen TV in every house. Our senate is, well, our senate. Our President is Caesar. Our bread is fast food “value meals.” Our slaves are minimum wage workers. We have aqueducts, highways, army battalions, public squares, monuments, sports arenas, amphitheaters, subsidized granaries, Olympians and actors. Whatever the Romans had, we’ve got it, and it’s newer and shinier. Those arches aren’t golden for no reason.
We seek to conquer the world by franchise. McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s, Arby’s, A&W, Carl’s Jr, Sonic, In and Out, Popeye’s, Church’s, Long John Silver’s, Sizzler’s, Spaghetti Factory, Taco Bell, Togo’s, Subway, Quizno’s, Del Taco, Rubio’s, Baja Fresh, Panda Express, Wienershnitzel, Dairy Queen and Artic circle, these are our occupying armies. They go forth with televised support and dominate markets, domestic and foreign.
Odd it is that our projected power is mostly represented by cheap food. But think about it. Food is the most fundamental of human needs, after air and water. And we’re working on dominating the water supply through the proliferation of commercial bottled water. For the time, however, we’ve got food down. No one can supply food at a lower cost than Americans. Per capita, adjusted by income, we spend less on food than any other country. And we don’t even cook much at home. Our dinners are frequently provided by the fast food companies listed in the previous paragraph.
As a result, we are a large and hefty people. We need larger cars to accommodate our girth. So we burn more gas, and so we need more oil. We have to occupy vast stretches of the Middle East to ensure our access to petroleum.
And as we burn through the zenith of our civilization, as we pass the high watermark, we look to England with longing. Will we be the next England? As surely as we were the former Rome. Some day the Chinese will visit California. They will want to see the old gold miners and cowboys. They will crowd at Sutter’s Mill like Americans lining up at Buckingham Palace.
© Don Bagley July 2010
donalddbagley at yahoo.com