Displeasures of Empire

Excellent essay by our own J. M. Tyree in Agni:

Any Yankee who has spent more than a few hours in London knows that the sense of encroaching Americanism, so often attacked as the “blanding down” of the indigenous culture, is a bit of an illusion or superficial surface appearance. There’s no danger of anyone turning American anytime soon, and indeed one of the primary delusions of our current foreign policy—that everyone has a “little American,” in Slavoj Zizek’s apt phrase, waiting inside them, dying to experience the joys of unfettered capitalism and free market health care—comes to grief the moment you leave the country, even for Canada or Costa Rica. It is always embarrassing and baffling to see only the very strangest aspects of your culture promoted in other countries. I have in my mind the McDonald’s in Cambridge, which actually has a mock Greek temple made of plaster inside it, looking a bit like the sadly diminutive Stonehenge in the film This is Spinal Tap. Of course, it’s not news that the evidence of rampant Amerification is everywhere increasing—from the overnight mushrooming of the Starbucks chain to the more curious success of the U.S. bookstore Borders, and even the little-brother copycat Guantánamo Bay of the Belmarsh secret detention system.

The displeasure of empire involves the creeping physical sensation that no matter how far you travel you cannot escape yourself. This is, doubtless, true of everyone, but to be an American in this particular place and time makes it even worse. You keep running into little bits of yourself scattered over the entire world. Innocents Abroad? Not anymore. Essentially, the world had a raging teenage crush on America for awhile, but now they’ve gone off and dumped us. Our secret lycanthropy has been exposed by Iraq. We seem normal most of the month, but then the full moon arrives and we just go crazy and the carnage begins.

More here.

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