It’s true, though. It’s not like America is complicated anymore.
Back in 2001 (nearly a century ago, if you don’t think about it too hard) the New Yorker published a truly ground-breaking article on the ways that Powerpoint (itself around and changing worldviews since 1987) was reducing the American capacity for original thought.
PowerPoint, which can be found on two hundred and fifty million computers around the world, is software you impose on other people… The usual metaphor for everyday software is the tool, but that doesn’t seem to be right here. PowerPoint is more like a suit of clothes, or a car, or plastic surgery. You take it out with you. You are judged by it—you insist on being judged by it. It is by definition a social instrument, turning middle managers into bullet-point dandies.
But PowerPoint also has a private, interior influence. It edits ideas. It is, almost surreptitiously, a business manual as well as a business suit, with an opinion—an oddly pedantic, prescriptive opinion—about the way we should think. It helps you make a case, but it also makes its own case: about how to organize information, how much information to organize, how to look at the world.
and, as anyone familiar with human interaction or communications theory could tell you, the way you get information about the world changes your concept of the world, and that in turn changes the world in which you live, if you do in fact live and not just exist. And what does this have to do with burgers, YouTube, and America? Plenty, my friends, plenty.
Think about this: the greatest technological success story of our time is Twitter, which limits what you can say to 140 characters; or we can equally say that it gives you 140 characters of void to fill with existential screaming. Some people have to pad to make the word count.
You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?
Think about the Tea Party, and think about exactly how deeply its members are thinking about the most important issues of the day. You can’t say their politics are not heartfelt, but you’d be hard-pressed to defend this particular capito-populist tribe as an intellectual movement. They make Pat Buchanan look like Bill Kristol. On the opposite side, a relatively intellectual President had to dumb down his message to single-word talking points; not much room for nuance when it has to fit on a Shepard Fairey poster.
And of course, popular culture is debased to the point where the Kardashians have not one but two television series among them, simply because sister Kim has a sex tape and a legendary caboose. It’s not exactly Witness to Yesterday, my friends.
So, yes, everything you need to know about the USA right at this moment, you can get from two brief YouTube videos and twenty or thirty minutes of cogitation thereon.
Here is the greatest scene from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle that does not have Neil Patrick Harris in it:
Now that immigrant can-do-ism and aspirational capitalism have been explained, it’s time to take on geopolitics, and who better to tackle that nest of vipers than Team America, World Police?
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