Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me or Ten Things I Hate about American Culture

This post has been "in the can" for some time now.  I hesitated to go public with it because it seemed so whiny.  Grouchy, I think, would be the right word.  You see, I was only 59 years old when I wrote it and still bedazzled by the prospect of making moral choices, ethical decisions, and persuasive arguments that would affect people's behavior.  Today, however, I am 60 years old, and I now realize that most of this is just the griping of an old hippie who has a head full of earned gray and doesn't give a rat's auntie who does and does not agree.  Therefore, get your virtual tomatoes ready to throw.  What would have hurt my feelings yesterday is tripe today.

WARNING:  This post will contain opinions, assertions, and criticism.  I learned in college that before I opine, assert, or criticize, I have to read some books and then tell you what all I read.  I believe that applies to you as readers, as well.  Therefore, you can opine, assert, and criticize right back at me.  I wish you would.  But you have to read books first.

That being said, there were reasons why I read these particular books.  Somewhere along the late '80's, I realized, along with many of my contemporaries, that the safe, predictable culture I grew up in had lost some of its warm-fuzzy charm.  It had, in fact, taken on some sharp edges and ugly extremities.  I had had my feathers ruffled before during the '60's and '70's, and usually flapped my left wing in response.  There was much to respond to in those days--Viet Nam and Watergate primarily, followed by the insufferable decade of disco.  What we emerged into at first seemed like a fresh breeze what with New Wave music and some cool new gadgetry to play with.  But the 80's ushered in Reaganomics and an in-your-face set of attitudes that had very little to do with counter-culture sass-to-society.  I set about trying to learn what was causing the seismic shift in behavior.

Here's the book list I told you about.  Several authors were out there trying to explain what had taken place in the Land of the Free.  As early as 1981, Marvin Harris blamed women (Why Nothing Works).  Arlie Hochschild blamed men (The Second Shift, 1989).  Allan Bloom in 1987's The Closing of the American Mind blamed higher education, while Jonathan Kozol blamed public education (Savage Inequalities, 1992).  Most recently, Lynn Truss, a British lady, blamed inexcusable, brash, no-home-training rudeness (Talk to the Hand, 2005).  To sum up, the "rudeness explosion" of self serving, victim-mentality, non-cooperation has been caused by the breakdown of the procreative imperative, the refusal of husbands to do their part in running households, the softening of university moral and ethical standards, poor allocation of public education funds, and the F word.  I admit I oversimplified all that a bit.  Go read the books.

While all these authors contributed some relief to my cultural concussion, none of them applied enough balm to make the headache go away.  There were, and are, some things about American culture that I really, really, really dislike.  And though my reading has helped me to understand why we sometimes behave as badly as we do, I still find my patience taut as a twin-size fitted sheet stretched across a full-size mattress.  So without further ado, I present my list of the TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT AMERICAN CULTURE.

1. Excessive appetites--Back when Johnny Carson ruled late-night, and late-night was still considered to be 11 p.m., the Tonight Show was host to a singer named Sheena Easton.  I believe the young lady was from Scotland.  When Carson asked her if anything about Americans struck her as oddly different from Britons, she replied, "You go out for breakfast . . ., " and she described plates piled overwhelmingly and unnecessarily high with more food that a Scottish family would consume in an entire day.  Carson agreed with her.  That was back in the 80's. The breakfast bar still exists in all kinds of restaurants, and one venue gleefully serves up their "Grand Slam" breakfast that no one has any business consuming for any reason, hunger included.  I blame factory farming, grossly inhumane animal slaughter, and disregard for overall personal health for the overkill.  Don't condemn Obamacare.  Embrace it.  One more Grand Slam Breakfast and you'll need it.
2.  Big for big's sake--From our Big Box retailers to our campus football stadiums, to our fishing trips down at the Gulf, we tend to think that bigger is better.  We're pandered to by folks whose sole purpose is to tell us exactly how big a crowd, a building, a boat, or a fish turned out to be.  AT &T is running a low-budget commercial these days showing a marketer "interviewing" little kids in a school library.  "What's better?"  he asks them.   "Bigger or smaller?"  "BIGGER!"  they chorus.  Bigger isn't better.  Bigger is unmanageable, unwieldly, and unfriendly.  If you don't believe it, take your next road trip in a Bigfoot Dodge Ram and try carrying on a conversation with the person riding shotty.
3.  Sports entertainment--the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball:  overblown. overrated, overpaid, overattended, and over attended-to.  They attract huge crowds that pay huge amounts for tiny tickets to sit in tiny seats and drink bucket-size Cokes.  See #2 for more information. 
4.  The drive-through--Talk to the sign and get mad!  Signs don't earn much for their effort, so their service is generally low-quality.  As for our feelings of frustration when we learn, for the umpteenth time, that our orders are wrong, we deserve them.  We're  pretty lazy if we're willing to drive around in a circle formed about a building, lean out the driver's side window, holler our lunch selection, and drive forward to window #2 just to get a hamburger with fries and a drink.
5.  Choices, choices, choices--My Russian exchange student, Tonya, always left the local grocery store feeling worn out.  In her hometown in Kamchatska, she and her mom went to the store, located the cooking oil, bought it, and left.  In the U.S., we are constantly strapped for cash and complaining, but is it any wonder?  Our stores have 12 brands of olive oil, and if we aren't buying the olive oil that costs $15.00, we must be getting crappy olive oil.  Same wisdom applies to margarine, salad dressing, cereal, and frozen limas.
6.  Reality TV--Survivor was first.  It should have been last.  Actually the Louds of PBS' An American Family predate today's glut of reality shows, but few of the recent series attempt to capture the social drama of the PBS documentary.  Instead, they aim for the low common-denominator that allows us all to say to ourselves, "I may be dumb/redneck/overweight/stupid/irresponsible but I ain't never been that bad."  Besides, reality shows have low overhead (they're cheap to produce), making them extremely profitable for the producers.
7.  Professionalization of just about everyone--Kurt Vonnegut predicted this in Cat's Cradle.  Thus, we have "professional" bus drivers, "professional" manicurists, "professional" oil change specialists, and "professional" paraprofessionals.  LOOK THIS UP:  A professional is an individual having an advanced degree in one of several select occupations.  They aren't any smarter than the rabble.  They don't all perform their responsibilities excellently.  But professional refers to the type of position they hold and the amount of education it took to get there.  Sorry, "pro" wrestlers.  See #3 above.
8.  Flip-flops--Nice that you could afford a pedi.  Hope the pedicurist was a professional!  But I don't want to SEE your pedi or HEAR your shoes-that-are-not-shoes flapping down the hall where I work.  You didn't get a pedi?  Then there's one more reason why you need to wear those slides in your house.
9.  Designer dogs--The King Charles Cavalier spaniel is a beautiful pup!  and smart!  The Bichon frise is also adorable.  But your "Cavachon" is a mix-breed.  So is your Golden doodle and your Peke-a-Poo.  If you paid some one top dollar to confuse some recognized breeds, I hate to tell you:  It would have been cheaper and more compassionate to adopt from the local shelter.
10.  People who say "If you don't like it, I'll help you pack!"  One thing I LOVE about American culture?  The insistence that we are free to be as cranky, critical, condemnatory, and cantankerous as we please, as long as we don't push those four C's on everyone else. So if I offended any hapless reader out there, I certainly understand if you wish to un-read all of the above.  I won't need your help in packing.  However, I cannot resist closing with a cousin to the quotation I just disrespected:  Can't stand behind our Troops?  Feel free to stand in front of 'em!