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Cultural Stealth Wars

Mark Twain Home, An Anti-Imperialist, New York Herald [New York, 10/15/1900]

I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with the Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do.

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

We have also pledged the power of this country to maintain and protect the abominable system established in the Philippines by the Friars.

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

Source: From Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War, Jim Zwick, ed., (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992).

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When Michael Jackson released the video for ‘Black or White’ in 1991, I remember thinking that what he was celebrating wasn’t a breaking down of walls between black & white, but between an American dancer & the rest of the world who apparently desired to be an American. Multiple shots of traditional dances transforming into the dance moves dictated by Jackson seemed to indicate that the logical end-state of our ‘coming together’ was to come to America. It was not so much a celebration of difference as an invocation of sameness. A conquering, as it were, where all people – white or black – come together under one very culturally-specific standard.

This is clearly the over-analysis of a young mind. Still, it often seems to me that the flaw in mass consumerism is the assumption we’ll all consume the same thing. Aliette de Bodard has written¬†a challenging post about the export of US tropes across the world. Which, in my estimation, isn’t about ‘THE’ US culture, but is about the ‘normalised’ version of US culture that is so easy to find & easy to digest. In my travels it’s struck me how diverse the US is, how much MORE diverse it is than the TV & cinema (& less often, the books) that get shipped across the world. (Someone even once told me the standards US accent for film is “Chicago”, not that I can gauge whether that’s true or not). And the standard-bearers are the ones making the decisions on what’s bought & sold, written & consumed.

As to dubbing: Police Rescue was an Australian TV show in the nineties that also sold to the UK & some parts of Europe. It didn’t show in the US, however, and according to an interview I heard years back (and warning: I haven’t been able to locate a reference for this while I write this today), that was because the potential US buyer wanted the rights to dub the show “into American”, fearing the Australian accents would be incomprehensible to an audience spoon fed images & sounds of itself.

As screenplay writer David Williamson postulates in his film, Emerald City: if we don’t tell our own stories in our own accents, we forget who we are.

Mind you, I have my own ideas about ‘our stories’ which would probably have to form the basis of an entirely new post (hint: it doesn’t necessarily involve the “great” Australian bush).