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Sunday, October 20, 2002

Malleus Mallickarum

That's what we need.

Damian Penny brings us another treat from the alleged brain of Heather Mallick. She works herself into posturing tizzy about the coming US takeover of the planet. All I can say for Heather is that one is liable to come up with anything once one has fused history, movies, and memory as she has here. (Affronted by a picture of the Queen in her local post office, Meryl Streep uses a guillotine to cut off the hand of King Leopold, and then presents it to the Italian husband of her widowed daughter-in-law in exchange for their baby, which is then killed on the way back to England. This prompts the Bengalis to spread tales of the dreaded Black Hole of Calcutta, secure in the knowledge that future historians and dumbass Canadian columnists will assume that it was a British atrocity.)

Allright, Mallick's a twit. Not really any need to harp on what a twit she is, right? But I am interested in the aspect of her twittitude illuminated by these passages:

And if Osama bin Laden was distressed by American airfields in Saudi Arabia, he won't like American prefabricated picket fences in suburban Basra.

What does America bring to a colony? After a decade of sanctions and all those dead children, some food would be nice.

Norwegian journalist Erik H. Thoreson tosses off a list: HMOs, unaffordable drugs, household guns, fast food, obesity, factory farms, universal Wal-Mart, two weeks of annual holiday, SUVs compulsory, oil and coal vs nitrogen as fuel, and credit-card debt as a social asset.

I would add: white plastic patio furniture, novels with only nice characters, the copyrighting of everything, hostility toward clever, literate people, and the use of spy planes in neighbourhoods even after that Washington sniper is caught.

Canada has already participated in its own transformation into an unofficial U.S. colony by adopting their slogan "We want stuff and we want it cheap."

She then goes on another fevered rant---I assume it must be fevered, because, as Damian says, it ain't funny. We will discreetly draw a veil over the rest.

(Don't tell anyone, but Niles does not have an SUV, and I don't even have a car! And neither of us have credit card debt; but this does explain our lack of friends, if such debt is a "social asset".)

But what of these phrases:

...American prefabricated picket fences...

...universal Wal-Mart...

...white plastic patio furniture...

...their slogan "We want stuff and we want it cheap."

This is another wonderful example of snobbery. What is it about the picket fences that irritates them so? That they're American? Prefabricated? Picket? Is it the whiteness or the plasticity of the patio furniture that troubles Mallick? Or is she just envious that most Americans can use their patio furniture more than two weeks a year?

Somewhere I have a dreadful biography of Jane Austen which swoons over the 18th century, when people had beautiful things instead of cheap, mass-produced crap. But the idiot author doesn't stop to remember that only a relatively few people had those nice things---most people had to do without many beautiful possessions because they were costly in labor in materials. No doubt this author assumed she would be among those who could afford beauty, and as for the rest, well, self-denial is good for the soul, you know.

Since September 11 I have read---as have all of you---many justifications of why America "had it coming". Those referencing various foreign policies at least have the virtue of being amenable to rational argument, although there's been precious little of it. But there have been many commentators blaming resentment of the spread of American culture, especially consumer culture.

One particular galling aspect of American culture seems to be its universality, that is, it doesn't appeal specifically to an elite. Mass production says, to anyone, "You deserve useful and presentable things at a reasonable cost, and we're going to sell it to you." If it weren't for that awful mass production I'd have no belongings at all---not furniture, nor clothes, nor reading material nor music. All hail cheap mass-produced crap!

And what's the beef against Wal-Mart? You walk into a Wal-Mart, and you can buy practically anything the average person might need or want. You might not have an enormous amount of choice, and not all of the stuff you find there will be the most beautiful of its kind, but you can still obtain it, at a reasonable price.

(Like little purple harem outfits bedecked with tinkly "gold" coins, which we saw at Wal-Mart last night. Not that I bought one---that doesn't bear visualizing---I'm just sayin', is all.)

If I were not constrained by a rudimentary sense of logic---not to mention a disinclination to look as stupid as, oh, Heather Mallick---I might be tempted to declare that this bizarre grudge against American material culture is due to the fact that the masses seem to like it better than some benevolent and fair arrangement under which we all have the same amount of nothing.

Or perhaps it's some old-fashioned elitist idea that you must wait and work and slave away before you acquire nice things, so that cheap things which look halfway decent allow the proles to live in a dignity they have not yet earned. Destroys their natural proletarian character, you know.

Or, possibly, complaining about what the brain-washed lemming-like sheeple do makes Mallick and Thoreson believe they are clever and literate.