I’m not sure where this urge to appear larger than life turned from the preoccupation of a publicity-seeking few into a national fashion aesthetic. In some ways it feels as though the view from the higher seat position of an SUV became some kind of directive or memo to Americans: “And now, seek the view over the heads of others in all things.”
Anyone who has attempted to park their normal-sized automobile in an LA parking facility space lying between two outsized “utility” vehicles knows that the desire to steer one’s life from some higher vantage point translates quickly into “me, Me, ME!” This, added to the acceptance of overstatement referred to as “bling,” might barely qualify as newspaper column fodder except for the fact that the citizens of the United States aren’t as popular as they used to be as a result of our crumbling empire-building efforts in other countries. (Did I say “empire”? Of course I meant “liberty.”) This makes one wonder if rejection of bloat as an expression of self should become a national New Year’s resolution.
All movements require leadership, and we are blessed with an abundance of persons in high places who could lead the way on this. Our newly reelected governor, instead of making a speech about doing something for the people of California, could have actually done something with the $1.4 million he spent on his inaugural celebration. Coming as it did from corporate sponsors looking to circumvent campaign contribution rules, that dough could have been more righteously spent on schoolbooks. And by cutting back on the show and just roasting a few bratwursts in a tent, the Cash-inator could have started his second term on a beautifully visible note of austerity.
Another player who lives locally but acts globally, our state’s own Barbra Streisand was in the news last week for having achieved the distinction of making $92.5 million in 2006 concert revenues having only performed 20 times. That’s because her average ticket price was nearly $300. If we forgave her all the distasteful exclusionary and elitist motivations implicit in this kind of “personal appearance,” would Babs help set a new tone for Americans by rejecting the “gouge them while you can” plank of her personal Democratic platform?
The phrase “high profile” is owned by Oprah, who received not minutes or hours but days of press on bended knee for opening a school in Africa. However we give a shout-out to Diane Sawyer, who, while not pressing the matter, at least noted on camera that Oprah was possibly overdressed for the event…especially in wearing large diamond earrings. Like our deal with Streisand, let’s forgive Oprah for having no apparent understanding of the diamond trade if she agrees to sell the earrings and give the money to children who have been maimed and mutilated in warfare over African diamond mines.
Once these giants wrestle with their shame and take their individual big steps, it’ll be up to us to follow their lead. Assuming that somehow all we do is seen by the rest of the world, is there anything we might do individually to give up bloat and turn around our enemies’ worst perceptions of Americans?
Younger generations are adopting a “smaller is cooler” rule, if you judge by such things as tiny iPod shufflers and compact hybrid cars. Certainly the politically aware boomer generation could do the same. Some things that could be smaller in 2007: Portions of food, expenditures on electronic entertainment devices for the home, quantities of high-end liquor consumed and less preoccupation with labels and fashions that contribute to the exploitation of workers overseas.
Americans continue to use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources. Maybe in 2007 we could help ourselves and our global image by being less preoccupied with wearing our wealth and dancing with the stars in front of a hungry world. Nothing will stop professional clowns like Donald Trump from playing the role of the blithe glitzy American “success” with the rag mop wig. But we don’t really want to be him… Do we?