Sunday, August 13, 2006

Q: What’s the fastest way to bring peace to the Middle East?

A: Build more shopping malls.

I was in Mississippi last week on business. It was my first time to that area. Before my trip I imagined the state to be pretty much as depicted in the film, Mississippi Burning—lots of twangy voiced, inbred rednecks of marginal intelligence and education, doing twangy voiced, inbred, redneck things that involved the desire to do bodily harm to "colored people" and Yankees like me.

I was wrong, very wrong. In fact, I was so wrong that my preconceptions could be considered chauvinistic, almost bigoted, definitely prejudiced. Funny in a way. That which I feared I had become. It's embarassing.

What I discovered in Mississippi was that the state was more like New Jersey than not. I found Starbucks in competition with Seattle’s Best, MTV on the tube, classic rock stations on the radio, multiple channels of HBO just like I have in LA and more than a few Mercedes on the roads, some driven by African Americans. There were independent restaurants going up against Applebee’s, KFC, McDonald’s and Wendy’s. And, there was so much highway building going on that you could feel decades of growth on the horizon.

I did not see one "whites only" washroom or lynching. I did see African American policemen and TSA workers in the Jackson-Evers Airport. (The Evers part named after Medgar Evers, the slain civil rights activist.) The only people that said ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ to me were white and they did so out of respect, not deference.

I expected to find a lot of violence. Instead I found a lot of commercepeople from all walks of life just trying to get over and grab a bite of the American Dream. That the dream has become a homogenized, credit driven experience based on the continual consumption of Asian produced goods and the overreaching acquisition of questionably constructed McMansions leads me to say this: “So what?!

The fact is that in the wake of chain stores, shopping malls and credit cards comes pacification and integration. It was blindingly apparent to me as I walked the aisles of a CVS in Ridgeland, Mississippi looking for shampoo; the store had black and white employees, black and white customers and the automatic debit/credit card processor at the checkout counter didn’t really care too much about the nationality or race of the person using it. All that mattered was that the customer’s card was good.

My personal sentiments aside, it seems that consumerism really is the way to peace among men. It’s hard to want to blow things up when you have to worry about paying down your credit card balance and keeping your cable service on.

I have seen the future. Just as the post Civil Rights South went through a period of violence and adjustment, so too will the Middle East. Then slowly, very slowly transnational corporations will infiltrate at the retail level. Wal-Mart, Toyota, Borders, Home Depot, TGIF and the Gap will come spreading consumerism based on easy credit. KB Homes will start to rebuild Iraq, Lebanon, and all the other countries decimated by the horrors of war.

We will run out of fossil fuel. We will all want more money. We will never have enough.

ExxonMobil, BP and General Electric will devise new energy sources based on magnetism and atomic energy. The private automobile will be a luxury of the rich. The rest of us will use mass transit aircraft and trains for long distances, and for short distances, light rail vehicles, subways and cabs just like they do in Manhattan and Athens. We will rent cars when we really need one.

All of us will have unlimited access to easy credit. Credit will be expensive for poor people, affordable for the middle class, free for the rich.

Everything will be made in China, except movies and credit. Movies will be made in Hollywood and Mumbai; credit in New York, Hong Kong and London.

The best cheese will still come from France.

It’s sort of weird. Martin Luther King had an amazing dream. Deutsch Bank, Sony, Intel, Microsoft and PepsiCo will be the ones to fulfill it.

And, that’s what I learned from my trip to Mississippi.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen.

1:30 AM  
Blogger papa said...

My mother was born and raised in Mississippi and I have long considered my grandmother's house there a second home, though my visits are too few and far-between. I know that my claiming a connection to the state has occassionally earned me a black mark in the eyes of some who do not know the place as it is.

Coincidentally, I had the good fortune of visiting Mississippi for the first time in eleven years just last month. "Good fortune" because Grandma's is still like home, and she's doing fantastically for a 96-year-old. However, I can see the truth in what you say about consumerism being the great equalizer more plainly even than I could on previous visits.

I suppose the god Consumerism demands we sacrifice both old prejudices and local charm on the altar of progress.

Thanks always for your thoughts.

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