Hearing the Pussycat Dolls blaring from the speakers of the tiny Xiao Lin Cafe in a Hutong in Beijing was an interesting experience. Hutong are the traditional method by which Beijingers architecturally divided up communities. They are alleys along which little shops, restaurants, homes, storage rooms, public facilities, and other types of space are found, nestled into centuries old mortar and timber structures one story high but often snaking deeply back from the alley in a labyrinth of low rooms and corridors.
So in this traditional, culture-rich environment was heard the unmistakable electronic rhythm of American industrial club rock/rap, and? Well, like hearing the futuristic pulse of Lady Gaga along a remote Laotian river or the frenzied syncopation of the The Black Eyed Peas on a bus in Latin America it is symbolic of an extension of American culture into remote corners of the world, even if they aren’t quite as remote as they once were. In turn, what is important about the spread of American culture and American cultural products into remote corners of the world is that those artifacts of americana carry with them the embedded, often inextricably so, values of a society in which consumption reigns supreme.
Before designating me a racist, ethnocentrist, classist, cultural warrior, neo-conservative, jackass, or unimaginative fool for assigning to popular dance music sole responsibility for the shallow commercialization upon which mainstream American culture is founded, please note that music here is being used symbolically only, rappers might spend lavishly but they hardly compare to the oligarchical excesses found among our financial, corporate, and political elites.
Anyway, the values being pumped out across the planet via the ubiquitous virus-like spread of American top-40 sound are echoed and enhanced by the march of fast-food, the corporate theological orthodoxy of ‘efficiency’, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean, vehicle ownership, and in general an intense demand for things that happiness is supposedly derived from. One could probably disappear into the himalayas only to be confronted, on some rocky plateau completely devoid of vegetation the strangely hypnotic petulance of Katy Perry’s voice.
Are we doomed? I think so, because America, a single country, can barely sustain its own ferocious appetite for things and stuff. And now, on the wings of formulaic music, 7 billion people are being taught that ferrari’s and lambo’s and champaign waterfalls and G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S, and everything else represented by that attitude, are realistic expectations. Barry Diller, a media titan of some sort owns the world’s largest private sailboat. At over 200 feet long, it has a couple submarines and cost Diller some 230 millions of dollars. That kind of obscene acquisitiveness regarding monetary wealth and the physical items wealth provides is just as implicated by the nonchalant frivolity of mainstream American music as the consumption made explicit within that music itself. As are the absurd displays of personal wealth and private opulence evidenced in the elite classes from all sectors, whether they be entertainment or oil, finance or international trade.
No, I really don’t think there’s hope, so find a cave, learn how to tan leather and smelt iron ore; get reacquainted with fishing and hunting and start studying the art of food preservation because I think, once the rest of the world catches up to us, its going to be game over man, game over. And did I just blame the Pussycat Dolls for destroying the planet and humankind? Kind of, yes, I admit that. But only in the most tenuous of comparative, symbolic ways.