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TinotopiaLog → Politics, Entertainers, and Art ( 8 May 2003)
Thursday 08 May 2003

Politics, Entertainers, and Art

The Clash have long been one of my favorite bands, even though they were an overtly political group that championed theories that I believe to be diametrically wrong. That they came out of the mess of 1970s Britain does not give them a pass; but their music was great, and it’s certainly worth listening to, whatever their politics. I have no problem with listening to music about the injustice of capitalism, if it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

The Dixie Chicks, Susan Sarandon, and Sheryl Crow are no different than The Clash in this case. I am not fond of any of those specific performers, but for aesthetic and not political reasons. They’re entertainers, and I don’t see what their political views should have to do with my enjoying their work.

(For the same reason, I refuse to boycott French wine and cheese and German car parts. A boycott is not going to cause Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder to become less odious, or to rethink their Fascist scheme for conquering Europe; I’ll still have to listen to those two idiots on TV and I’ll be denied the good things that result from the existence of France and Germany.)

I certainly lose some respect for the intellect of people whose opinions are based primarily on politically-correct Marxist ideology, but if I otherwise like their work, I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy it. Past a certain point, of course, the feeling that the person up on the screen is an odious idiot can make it difficult to separate the performer from the work; but I haven’t yet reached that point with anyone whose work I otherwise find entertaining.

Margaret Drabble has found a place, I think, that is well beyond the point where one ignore the idiocy and enjoy an artist’s work. While Sheryl Crow et al. have shown arrogance at their own importance and errors in their own judgement, a recent column in the Telegraph by Ms. Drabble makes me think that the woman is mentally ill.

Drabble is a British highbrow author (aside from her own books, she seems to be the official writer of introductions for classic novels written by women), and she, according to her article — indeed, according to the article’s headline — “loathes” America.

To begin with understand that my basic premise here is that Drabble is an idiot. Among other things she offers to justify her loathing is that some American warplanes she saw on TV had sharks teeth painted onto the nose.

But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.

In support of the argument that Drabble doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about, I offer these images:


These are RAF planes from World War II. Note that they are all equpped with painted-on teeth. I believe this originated because the distinctive radiator housings on the lower fuselage of some of the aircraft of the era. Regardless of where the idea came from, the United States, the UK, and Canada, at least, all painted teeth on their fighters. I do not believe that Ms. Drabble would judge the Battle of Britain as “madness”, “insane”, or “unaimaginable irresponsibility”, despite the fact that painted teeth were deployed in that conflict. I believe that it is more than safe to assume that Ms. Drabble’s horror at the painted teeth is a reflection of her opinions about the United States, rather than vice versa.

I’m not going to go in for examining Ms. Drabble’s argument point by point — she’s really too incoherent for that to even be possible, much less interesting or entertaining. Based on part of her article, though, I think I may be able to see some of her motivation. She says

I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.

I detest American imperialism, American infantilism, and American triumphalism about victories it didn’t even win.

All of which is frankly baffling. She detests American ‘imperialism’, but the United States doesn’t have an empire. As far as ‘infantilism’ and ‘triumphalism about victories it didn’t even win’, I have to say I have no idea what she’s talking about.

Some clues to the roots of her hatred might be found in the previous paragraph, though, where she mentions “Disneyfication”, burgers, and Coca-Cola. I think that her charge of ‘imperialism’ has to do with these three things.

“Disneyfication” presumably refers to the tendency of the Disney company to dilute culture to a watery gruel that’s fit for consumption by children, and, in a broader sense, the tendency of American mass culture — particularly the culture that’s exported — to be, well, Disneyfied. Burgers and Coca-Cola presumably refer to the popular sandwich made with a patty of ground beef in a bun and a famous sugary beverage from Atlanta.

These things are often cited, along with Britney Spears, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, Baywatch, etc. as evidence of American “cultural imperialism”.

I will leave Disneyfication aside for the moment, and address burgers and Coca-Cola. What, precisely, is the matter with burgers and Coca-Cola?

Nobody is forced to purchase or consume Coca-Cola, in the United States or elsewhere. It’s an industrial and not a natural product, but other than that and the fact that there’s no alcohol in it, I do not understand the difference between Coke and the national beverages of any other countries. I don’t like skunky beer, but I don’t allow that to color my opinion of the Canadians.

And burgers…? A hamburger consists of beef and bread, often with pickles and/or other condiments. It’s admittedly an informal dish, and one that Americans perhaps eat too often. But I do not understand what a non-vegetarian can possibly have against hamburgers per se. It’s likely that what Ms. Drabble loathes is McDonald’s and other American globe-spanning fast-food chains. There are two problems with this. First, as any American will tell you, what McDonald’s serves are not proper hamburgers. The Big Mac may be tasty, but it’s a pale imitation of a real hamburger. Second, as with Coca-Cola above, nobody is under any obligation to buy and eat the things. McDonalds and Coca-Cola continue to sell their product overseas, and to make money doing so, because a lot of people want these products. It’s not the United States that’s the odd man out here, it’s Margaret Drabble. To paraphrase Homer Simpson — whom Ms. D. almost certainly loathes — everyone is stupid but her.

‘Disneyfication’ I’ve left for last because it’s a bit more realistic charge. American culture does genuinely tend to chew things up and to spit out a much more watered-down version. Disney — they’re not the only company that does this, but they make a perfect example — makes much its money from bowdlerizing classic tales while at the same time doing its level best to monopolize the culture to the extent possible. This might be sound business practice, but it’s unhealthy for the culture as a whole.

But, again, nobody is consuming Disney culture at gunpoint. As amazing as it is, even to me, people voluntarily pay their hard-earned money to be entertained by Disney. I assure you, Disney’s plan for world domaination extends only as far as amassing all the world’s money. If what the people of the world really wanted was to see dramas about lonely pergnancies, jealous sisters, fears of physicality, and loss of identity, Disney would be satisfying that desire and raking in the dough — or someone else would be, and Disney would go out of business. Observation — of Disney’s success — indicates that people around the world prefer Disney’s treacle. Again, this is because everyone is stupid but Drabble.

Margaret Drabble does not hate America because it is the source of Big Macs, Coca-Cola, and the nasty, fat, yellow Winnie the Pooh. She hates these things because America is their source.

While my disdain for Disney and Disneyfication in general should be apparent, I’ll also admit that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are not always unalloyed goods. Perhaps the worst effect they have is in creating a world in which you can not ever really leave the United States. If you leave France, for example, and travel to another country, you leave almost all of France behind. But America and American culture is everywhere — something that can be annoying, and something that must be quite threatening to someone who isn’t American and whose profession is culture.

But — not to be repetitive, but this is an important point — the spread of American culture is spread by private enterprise hoping to make money, and nobody, anywhere on Earth, is under any obligation to spend his or her money in order to make this strategy work. American culture spreads not as the result of a diabolical scheme by gnomes in the basement of the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, but as the result of millions — billions — of people around the world making the decision to consume American cultural products.

Ms. Drabble would do… what? Ban such behavior and such culture? Require people to adhere to the view of the world that she prefers? Require them to loathe what she loathes? No wonder she’s so upset at the United States; in Iraq, it recently deposed a leader whose policies were presumably in line with Ms. Drabble’s own thinking.

Posted by tino at 13:29 8.05.03
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