Wednesday, August 17, 2005

American Cancer

Mark Morford's screed this morning reminded me of something I've noticed over the last few years and just never put down in words. If you travel as much as I do and to as many different places both in the U.S. and Europe you begin to notice that regardless of where you are in the U.S., whether Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, Sunnyvale, Atlanta, or Seattle, everything is becoming homogenized. Once place looks pretty much like every other. Mark has the same observations but, of course, says it much better.
Ah, there it is, yet another massive big-box mega-strip mall, a giant beacon of glorious community decay, a wilted exclamation point of consumerism gone wild. This is America. You have arrived. You are home. Eat it and smile.

There is the Target. There is the Wal-Mart and there is the Home Depot and the Kmart, the Borders and the Staples and the Sam's Club and the Office Depot and the Costco and the Toys "R" Us and of course the mandatory Container Store so you may buy more enormous plastic tubs in which to dump all your new sweatshop-made crap.

What else do you need? Ah yes, food. Or something vaguely approximating it. There is the Wendy's and the Burger King and the Taco Bell/KFC hybrid (ewww) and there is the Mickey D's and the Subway and the Starbucks and the dozen other garbage-food fiends lined up down the road like toxic dominoes, all lying in wait to maul your arteries and poison your heart make you think about hospitals.

You still don't see this in Europe, though around some of the bigger towns in the U.K. you are seeing the cancer, pretty much everyplace seems to have its own personality. It is a shame we are doing this to ourselves in the U.S. as it must be doing something to our mental health. Again, Mark hits it on the head.
Do you want to know what depresses the American spirit? Do you want to know why it feels like the center cannot hold and the tyranny of mediocrity has been loosed upon our world? Do you want to know what instills more thoughts of suicide and creates a desperate, low-level rage the source of which we cannot quite identify but which we know is right under our noses and which we now inhale Prozac and Xanax and Paxil by the truckload to attempt to mollify?

I have your answer. Here it is. Look. It is the appalling spread of big-box strip malls, tract homes like a cancer, metadevelopments paving over the American landscape, all creating a bizarre sense of copious loss, empty excess, heartless glut, forcing us to ask, once again, the Great All-American Question: How can we have so damned much but still feel like we have almost nothing at all?

I don't have an answer other than to revolt, if possible. Try and do your shopping away from these places and support local retailers and vendors if you can. Avoid the big box places like a plaque and look for alternatives. Maybe mail order is the answer. Regardless of where you can or have to shop try and buy American made stuff even if it costs you a couple of cents more.

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