Thursday, July 03, 2008

Democracy on Aisle Ten

Once the Fourth of July has come and gone, will our patriotism have lessened in any way? Will our fervor, passion, and love for democracy and freedom reach a crescendo as the last firework pops in the sky and fades as the black of night descends over us in its place? Heck no! We’re happy to be Americans, warts and all, year round!

I have not travelled abroad extensively – Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong are the three places I have visited – but I’m willing to bet we have a unique perspective of the world. That’s not to say that it’s better or worse than, say, a Belgian’s view but unique.

For example, when you watch the business portion of the evening news or read that section of the paper, you continually come across reports about “offshore” or “overseas” materials and technologies flooding the US market. You never see the reporter dancing a jig over this news; it’s always with a very stern face akin to that of someone who just wolfed down a box of prunes thinking it was a Whitman’s chocolates sampler. And when they speak of these “offshore” or “overseas” items, they’re always from a third-world country or China. Those terms are code for “inferior”.

By these news media’s standards, basically everything outside of the United States is “offshore” and/or “overseas” even if we’re connected by land. So, does that mean that the rest of the world just settles for crap? Does the guy from a Taiwanese factory that produces “offshore” lighting fixtures just go home and sit in the dark because he’s not going to be caught dead using the flop his company turns out? Does that thought ever cross our minds?

We as Americans are very selective about what we deem as quality and how we talk about it. If something’s from France or Germany, it’s “imported”. That’s code for “classy”, which if my Latin serves me correctly is another word for “ridiculously overpriced”, or something like that. Conversely, if I buy a dress shirt that’s made in Indonesia – I own my share – I’m not wont to tell people it’s made from imported cotton.

Speaking of France and Germany, we really should be careful how we “value” their imports to us. There’s something off with both of them. Even today, the French just love Jerry Lewis – yes, it’s the same guy who has the telethon over Labor Day weekend who can’t ever seem to get his bow tie on his tuxedo clasped properly around his neck. And the Germans are absolutely ga-ga over David Hassselhoff’s music, which is even worse than his acting.

The ironic thing about what makes us different is that most of those things that make the American culture so uniquely “American” have their roots in or association with the South. You go to the Northeast, and they have deep ties to Italian and Irish culture. In the Midwest, you have a lot of Polish and German influence. The Southwest is predominantly Hispanic. And the West (read: California) has its origins from another planet. But the South gave us NASCAR and Elvis, Wal-Mart and deep-fried everything.

Fortunately, David Hasselhoff was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which is north of the Mason-Dixon line, so for all intents and purposes we don’t have to claim him as part of our culture and can let the Germans have him to keep. The Belgian guy would agree.

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