Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Is US culture fake and trashy?

A recent comment, I received, from a young man from Austria went as follows:

“when i watch some stuff about it (The US) on TV it seems so fake and kind of trashy ;) .. but probably that's only the image that is drawn by european television .”

I have a few readers who are not living in this country and it would not surprise me if they are wondering the same thing.
So are we fake and trashy? A person could get that impression from our movies. And if they can get a look at our TV shows— we look even worse. Our TV programming portrays the worst in us. Many movies are not far behind. But how accurate are these images?
A better way to judge us (USA folks) is from our own internal critics. There are many, but three come to mind instantly, the late musician Frank Zappa, the late artist Andy Warhol and cartoonist Bill Griffith.

All these people have poked fun at various trends in US society and the quality of our popular culture.

As a friend of mine once said:

Italy has the Sistine Chapel. We have McDonalds.”

That does say a lot about our culture. Is it shallow? Much of it is. Zappa often described things in our society as “plastic,” cheesy,” and “commercial.” These themes can be found in some of his older songs, such as "Plastic People," "Who Are the Brain Police?" and that wonderful X-mass classic “Uncle Bernie's Farm.”

Andy Warhol is known for imitating our culture’s mass production and monotonous repetition promoting pop culture icons. Besides his soup can painting, which points out what most of our culture really looks like, he is also known for his Marilyn Monroe paintings, in which her image appears over and over on the same canvas.

Then there’s Zippy the Pinhead by Bill Griffith. Zippy is an idiot who is manages to play a shallow alter-ego to Griffith. Griffith makes the observations and Zippy focuses on the shallowness of our culture. He lacks the intelligence to go any deeper. But he’s a cartoon character. Why then do Americans in general tolerate being patronized by such a culture? We can’t all be retarded people as Zippy is. We have these artistic critics who constantly have pointed out that our culture lacks depth. Intelligent people learn to just ignore our cultural clutter. Un-intelligent people don’t notice it. US corporations love our culture because it keeps us occupied with possessing things we don’t really need, while diverting attention from the shitty way our lawmakers and bosses (companies we work for) treat us.

As Zappa said before the US bi-centennial:

“This is a song that deals with the rapidly approaching 200th
birthday of the United States of America, ladies and gentlemen. This
is a song that warns you in advance, that next year, everybody is
gonna try and sell you things that maybe you shouldn't ought to buy,
and not only that, they've been planning it for years.” – Frank Zappa, “Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead”

“Yes, there are a lot of things we really “shouldn't ought to buy.” We are at war for Mid-East resources, (oil for example) our government has been taken over by a single party that has no affective opposition, and our lawmakers have convinced enough people to trade our civil liberties for a false sense of “safety” (The Patriot Act).
We don’t have as many cultural critics as we used to. The war is starting to rip the country apart. Our government is beginning to resemble Germany right before Hitler consolidated his power with the military.

We have a lot of serious problem in the US today. There is little doubt that the trashy shallow culture that outsiders see is being used to divert our attention from these serious problems.

BUT DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE MOVIES & TV. Some of us can see through the smoke and mirrors. We are reacting and taking actions, especially in regards to the political situation and the war. We are not fooled by the “consumer culture” shoved down our throats by corporate America. We are not all Zippy the Pinheads. Some of us are not part of the culture of “cheesy plastic crap.”

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