...I mean, is it me, or is the world goin' a bit nuckn' futz?!?
January 13, 2003
Regular readers may recall that I often catch the NBC Today Show at the YMCA, where the idiot box never sleeps. Katie Couric has been dispatched lately to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where she is conducting public relations exercises -- trying to make friends with the "noble" people of that kingdom. If we could only understand their quaint customs, diverse folkways, and religious practices then the great canker of misunderstanding might heal and peace would reign forever among the multicultural peoples of the world. Scout's honor.
Of course, the actual impression one gets is of a culture even more fucking crazy than our own. The spectacle of Riyadh itself -- artificial island of air-conditioned towers, malls, freeways, and limousines -- is a chastening lesson on the ephemeral wonders of cheap oil. One can easily imagine it a hundred years hence, with camels lurching among the obsolete towers and skeletons of the Mercedes-Benzes shimmering in 114-degree heat.
Katie handles all the incongruities like a bewildered kindergarten teacher, unable to comprehend why the class wants to cut her throat. The bottom line is that the Arabs evince nothing but contempt for Americans who have the same relationship with them that a community of heroin addicts has with the Columbian drug lords.
Meanwhile, holding down the fort back in New York, co-host Matt Lauer is sporting a new "Sluggo" style haircut, a quarter inch buzz-clip. One notices that Americans in many walks of life are affecting a kind of military thug look. Where I live, there are a lot of young Navy men training to operate the nuclear reactor engines on our submarines, and the thug look is very popular among them, including massive tattoos -- like, a whole arm at a time. In the event that America gets its ass kicked or pulls off some heinous atrocity in the upcoming hostilities with Iraq, we are going to look very foolish to the world in our thug get-ups.
I believe in the social theory that a culture gives itself broad blanket permission to behave a certain way. It is often not a conscious thing. In this case the idea that thuggishness was okay, even cool, percolated up first from prison, then into rap music, into mainstream teen culture, into the military, onto the campuses, and now onto the NBC Today Show. We'll show these towel-head motherfuckers not to mess with thug nation! is the general idea here, I think, only Matt Lauer can't actually say that on the air. The off-gassing carpets and the video games must really be getting to us now.
On another and perhaps more academical note, I just finished Globalization and Its Discontents by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. It is hard to imagine a shallower discussion of this rich subject. According to Stiglitz, there's nothing wrong with globalization that could not be cured by reforming the International Monetary Fund. Has he gotten out and taken a look at America lately? The other side of the globalism coin is the utter destruction of local economies, social networks, occupational niches, and civic interdependence that add up to civilization. The wreckage is everywhere to be seen in America, a nation running on little more than gasoline fumes and borrowed funds. A much better book on globalism for you e-con mavens out there is Edward Luttwak's Turbo Capitalism. John Gray's False Dawn also should be required reading.