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Death of a Giant Foretold

This is the first time I’d ever seen a typepad group blog show up on Google news, but Submerging Markets runs some excellent essays, including a great post by Matthew Maly about how America’s view of progress and technology pisses the rest of the world off. A lot of lovely quotes:

If an American soldier dies in Iraq, every inhabitant of our planet learns about his death almost instantly: a giant falls with a thud. When a crowd of Iraqis carried the helmet of a dead American soldier it seemed like it took fifty of them to carry it. Yet like every giant from a fairy tale, the American giant has a vulnerability that may prove its undoing.

More:

India invented quiet contemplation and has congested, noisy streets; Britain invented good manners and reads the stolen letters of royalty; Russia stood for the soul elevated by beautiful literature, and so Russian prostitutes are the best-read in the world. The world abandons its values, and American culture pours in and rules. But the world understands that the American version of good is not good, and the stronger America becomes, the more it tries to impose its will, the more it will be resisted.

Another quote on MacDonalds:

If we compare a McDonald’s to a French restaurant, we are likely to conclude that the McDonald’s is cheaper, cleaner, faster, and friendlier. It is a triumph of technology, research, and training. The French restaurant has only two things going for it: you will not remember a McDonald’s meal for the rest of your life, and you cannot propose at McDonald’s. McDonald’s stands for a satisfying technologically-assured result, but the French restaurant stands for life, whatever it is. McDonald’s has a very useful role to play, but when it proposes itself as a substitute for a sit-down meal, there is a problem.

A few random thoughts. First, this is an insightful essay whose conclusions would be obvious to anyone living outside USA and inconceivable to most people inside the U.S. What distinguishes the U.S. (aside from its arrogant insistence that its way is the superior way) is its ability to market itself. American film is not any better than the film of other cultures, and yet B-movie DVD’s are found in bazaars and musical pop stars like Britney are talked about everywhere. America could market shit and convince the world it’s gold. The good thing about the U.S. is that it changes and adapts. Sure, Bush was a nincompoop, but the media has caught on, and so has the American public. Recently I’ve noticed that the U.S. is no longer the bellwether for technological innovations that it used to be (in environmental engineering, open source, cellphones, etc). Some of it might be a result of unique geographic characteristics (i.e, why cellphones or 3G didn’t take off here), but a lot of it may simple be that the incumbent companies are unwilling to innovate, preferring just to buy other people’s brilliance.

I’ve written several essays about Eastern Europe (which, except for this one, I have yet to post online) and expect to start my Ukraine essay (where I lived for a year) over this summer. I’ve been suffering from withdrawal symptoms for having no more “letter from America” episodes by Alistaire Cooke to listen to; maybe this will help me through these tough times.

Speaking of MacDonalds, I remember making the point to a Ukrainian girlfriend once when stopping at MacDonalds. It’s not that I love MacDonald’s, I told her. But it’s cheap and convenient and sometimes a fast alternative. MacDonalds is really a growth of a culture on the run, where lunch is not something you spend a lot of time for, but instead is something that must be consumed quickly and with little thought. That, of course, is one reason, why Americans are so obese.

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