An advertisement for a group excursion to Cancun, Mexico, describes the location this way: “The hotel is within walking distance to shopping malls, restaurants, fast-food locations and a golf course. The hotel itself has four restaurants, all-purpose and adults-only pools, beach and pool waiters, a fitness center and lighted tennis courts. Car rental and tours are available…” and so forth.
It reminds me of a letter I received recently from a much-traveled friend who is taking a round-the-world cruise, including stops at places as different as New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The most notable impression of this trip, he writes, is how much alike everywhere is becoming. Visiting once-very-diverse cultures is now more like choosing between a Shoney’s or a Bob Evans at a freeway rest stop.
From my own recent travels to Mexico, I understand what he is talking about. I make a very strong effort to avoid tourist routes but, nonetheless, even “out-of-the-way” Mexico strikes me as a little bit more like the United States than it did the year before. And the little bits add up.
For example, most of the buses now have TVs installed and show obnoxious video movies such as “The Bikini Shop” or “Killer Cop,” or something equally silly or violent. How silent a bus ride through the moonlit Mexican desert used to be compared to having one’s ears filled with such tripe.
The Mexicans themselves, however, seem to appreciate these “advances.” It was once my impression that there was a stoical depth in a Mexican that an American lacked. I thought this depth came in part from the greater silence in their lives. The silence of an all-night bus ride, having to deal with empty time on occasion. Now even the booths in the colorful Oaxacan marketplace are equipped with 12-inch black-and-white televisions, and the vendors pass their days soaking up American-style soap operas and game shows.
Indeed, about the biggest differences nowadays between formerly remote places are the prices of things. Mexico is still inexpensive (though catching up), whereas Europe is out of the price range of most Americans. A cab ride in London can easily cost $80. Riding the trains through Europe a few years back, I couldn’t afford to buy a simple lunch in Paris, except at the Burger King. It was a slightly different Burger King, grant you. For example, I could buy a draft beer (for $5) with my lunch.
Although prices may vary, the awful homogeneous truth is that everywhere strives to be like America now—even places that used to disdain America or hate America, like Paris or Vietnam. Even America strives to be like America. There is very little diversity between our once far-flung regions anymore. What is the big difference between a few days in Meridian, Miss., or Rochester, N.Y.? The weather, maybe, but with central heat and air-conditioning, not even the weather.
If one lives in Jacksonville, Fla., would there be much reason to visit Los Angeles? The movies, the art world, would run about the same. The restaurants would offer the same “variety” of choices. The malls, the nightclubs, the styles, the accents, the politics—pretty much the same. Disney World and Disneyland—what’s the difference?
There is still another awful side about the world becoming one big America. In the Third World, they used to complain about the ugly American, swaggering around, waving his dollars. Now it’s the ugly Japanese waving his yen, the ugly German waving his marks, as well. Even the locals get ugly too, emulating their rich lords and ladies from abroad, striving for the images of success that they see on TV.
Who knows? Next generation, it may be the ugly Brazilian or the ugly Korean, or the ugly Mexican. If that sounds absurd, who would have thought 25 years ago, that we would be seeing so many Japanese taking pictures of themselves in front of the Lincoln Memorial, taking their vacation in America to take advantage of the cheap prices.
The places to go, the people on the go, change; but so what anymore, when where people go is all growing toward one big America? In Moscow, the line at McDonald’s goes around the block. Is there any reason, really, to see this line firsthand, or to join in it? Fast food is OK if one is poor or in a hurry. Otherwise, standing in line for fast food reveals something terribly lacking.
Better to stay at home now and begin to master one’s hometown on a depth level, or that undeveloped continent within sometimes referred to as the self. Or has that become a kind of American processed hamburger, too?