Editor’s Note: This an expanded version of “Cultural Imperialism is a Crock,” the small blog post that started this series.
One of the most pernicious aspects of the world “multiculturalism” nowadays is the underlying subtext and what it reveals about what the users think about America. Time was, we actually believed that America had a culture that was unique and distinct from any other culture in the world. It was an amalgam of the Enlightenment philosophies that animated the Founding Fathers and fueled the Revolution fused with the individualistic cowboy ethos. The beauty of this culture was that it was pretty simple. It depended not on blood, birth, wealth or social standing but on the acceptance and practice of values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — that all are created equal with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That very simplicity was the source of its strength. Since there was no concept of “volk” or blood ties to land in becoming an American, American culture wasn’t threatened by the importation of foreign cultural concepts, musics, foods or folkways. Just the opposite, in fact. Immigration is and always has been the greatest source of strength for this country. People could come here and bring the best of their heritage with them and be completely American. Far from weakening us, American culture grew stronger the more diverse it became. So-called “nativists” in my eyes have always been fools. Schoolhouse Rock’s “Great American Melting Pot” is a wonderful encapsulation of that strength.
The irony today is that that racist philosophy is no longer the sole province of the nativist right, but has become an article of faith for the so-called “multicultural” Left — and that brings us back to that word again. A “multicultural” America isn’t a melting pot — it’s a mosaic of fragmented ethnic and social groups that like tiles on a wall have rigid boundaries and do not mix with their neighbors. It presupposes a blood-based cultural identity that’s bred into the bone — as if merely having a certain skin tone somehow locks you into a certain set of attitudes and beliefs. How is that different from the Nazi belief that there was a “pure” Aryan culture that was being diluted by mixing with lesser races? It’s the basis for “identity politics” and it leads to a lot of really ugly scenarios.
Take for example the blistering attacks that people like Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas and other conservative blacks have to endure. They’re regularly pilloried for not being “authentically black” and parodied with Aunt Jemima and lawn jockey comments and cartoons that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1920’s Klan newsletter. Those who believe in “multiculturalism” and believe themselves tolerant and non-racist see no contradiction in doing this however, as it fits perfectly with that “mosaic” view of American culture. A person with dark skin who holds the same conservative views as someone with white skin is worse for the same reasons that a heretic is more of a threat than a heathen. White conservatives really can’t help it, after all. They’re defending “white priveledge” and a racist/heteronormist social order where they’re on top so from a certain perspective their point of view is understandable. Conservative blacks should know better — it’s bred into them after all – and holding a different viewpoint is a classic example of “false consciousness.”
The result of this is that America becomes a land without a real culture. To the multicultural mind, American culture is embodied by McDonald’s golden arches — an artificial construct built on exploitation, murder, theft, rape and the imperialistic co-option and suppression of more “authentic” cultures. How does one defend such a culture without seeming like a tool of the imperialist warmongering patriarchal hegemony? Put simply, you can’t. Claiming there is anything good, decent or (Heaven forfend) noble about America puts you in the position of rhetorically whitewashing the worst excesses of American culture and the bloodiest episodes in our history.
While acknowledging that our hands are far from clean, I will say right now that I believe that there is something good and positive — perhaps even superior — about the forward-looking, optimistic vision of the world represented by American culture. As a believer in the free market, that superiority is proven every day by those who risk their lives to come here and those who don’t but nonetheless buy and incorporate our culture and its values into their own.
Multiculturalists have an answer for that as well — they call it “cultural imperialism,” which is pretty much the biggest crock o’crap to come out of our elite universities since reader-response criticism. The premise of cultural imperialism is pretty simple. America uses its technological, military and cultural superiority to foist our culture on those simple backwater Third World types, turning them into a captive market filled with zombie-like automatons glued to Baywatch reruns while gobbling down heavily processed burgers made with cows fed in a clear-cut rain forest. It’s actually the reverse of the Great American Melting Pot. Rather than jumping into American culture and making this country stronger through diversity, the Melting Pot in fact waters down and homogenizes foreigners for the benefit of the ruling American capitalist overlords.
To accept this though, you have to ignore reality. Take Saturday morning cartoons — the very place where Schoolhouse Rock comes from. When I took my kids to see an exhibit on anime cels at the Academy for Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Yes, the Oscar people). It was really enjoyable and a little eye-opening. The exhibit was fairly small and mostly covered the most popular anime that’s made the crossover to Western audiences — Pokemon, Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman, Robotech, the work of Studio Ghibli. Still, what I found really fascinatring is how familiar with all of this stuff my four-year old son was. I realized that this wasn’t terribly different from what he sees when he watches TV on Saturday morning. Like it or not, much of American kid’s TV and kid’s culture in general has become an outpost for Japanese culture.
Why are people who scream bloody murder when an Arby’s opens in Paris never equally concerned when a big chunk of America’s youth culture is dominated by the output of a single foreign nation? Why when the threat of violence shuts down one of the pillars of Western culture (as it did during the Muhammed cartoon controversy) do we hear that we need to be “sensitive” rather than calling it what it is — a real example of cultural imperialism? Forcing one culture to bend to another and compromise some of its most cherished principles at the point of a sword seems to me to be the very definition of the term. Everything else is just “life” and “marketing.” And no, I do not consider “marketing” to be evil.
Inherent in “mosaic multiculturalism” and its flip side, cultural imperialism, is the idea that a culture must somehow be kept “pure” (in other words, free from the taint of the racist, hegemonic, plastic, artificial, exploitative American cowboy way ). The things is, a “pure” culture, one that never changes, is never tainted by “outsiders” is a dead culture. More than that, it treats denizens of those other cultures like stupid children as if they aren’t fully responsible beings making their own choices. They perversely buy into the idea of American cultural superiority by treating American culture like a virulent plague that will just wipe out every indigenous culture it comes across.
It often seems like those who cry loudest about “Diversity” mean it in the sense that hothouse flowers are diverse. They’ve got all kinds of pretty colors, but if they cross-pollinate with one another, then they become hopelessly mongrelized. At the risk of losing this argument before it begins, it’s the kind of fascist thinking that frankly scares me and it’s not the kind of thing I’ll allow my half-Jew/half-Mexican all-American-except-that-they-really-like-Transformers-anime-kids to be victim to.