8.24.2008

Light Lunch with an Old Friend



I had lunch with an old friend today. After making small talk over meat and potatoes, our conversation swung to just desserts. Specifically, we pondered the fate of The Civilized World if and when China decides to focus on something bigger than, say, a global sporting event. I proposed a technical juggernaut like cars that run on salt water, or perhaps a coup d'etat against every theocracy and democracy on the planet. My friend wouldn't speculate on China's master plan, but she did say this:

"If I was an American, I would be scared."

Depending on whose propaganda you believe, this year's Olympics cost the Chinese government 40 billion dollars and required one million people to plan and execute. According to my friend (herself a 50-something millionaire from Taiwan), builders didn't break ground for the Bird's Nest or the Water Cube until 2004. This kind of motivation is mind-boggling. When I rode dirt bikes in Southern California, I watched the same five bulldozers rearrange a few acres of scrub brush behind my house for ten years.

By pulling off the jock fest NBC is touting as the most-watched event in TV history, China succeeded in burying the human-rights talking points of every rabble rouser and self-righteous pop star in the world below the medal count for ping pong on page 27 of USA Today. How many free thinkers were slaughtered by Chinese soldiers in Tienanmen Square? Who cares—Michael Phelps was seen kissing Stephanie Rice at Olympic Village!

The spectre of an immeasurably larger and even more unilateral Super Power than the USA doesn't scare me—we faced a similar foe in the USSR after WW II, and by focusing our collective brains on winning the cold war, we got by. In the process, however, we let sleeping midgets like Japan and every oil-rich religious zealot in the Middle East run amok. Now we're fucked.

Katrina refugees can't rebuild their houses three years after that catastrophe because China's insatiable appetite for building materials has created a bull market on American steel and concrete. Put houses in The Big Easy on stilts, or sell lumber to China for double market value? If you managed The Home Depot in New Orleans, what would you do?

America can't end the war on terror because the first thing we used to be good at—preparing for and winning battles—has become the last thing our citizens have the stomach to accept. Indiscriminate bloodshed doesn't play well on the 6 o'clock news—not when there are 6-foot-tall women in bikinis jumping on a man-made beach in The Forbidden City on MSNBC. 

Note to everyone who followed in Cameron Diaz's tire tracks by going green: Take care of that Prius parked next to the family motor home. If Hadji continues to gouge us 150 bones for a barrel of crude, you're going to need it.

But I digress. The subject was how America The Beautiful will fare in the wake of a galvanized, globalized and thoroughly well sanitized New Red Menace?

My Taiwanese friend says we don't have to worry about China exporting its morality to the rest of the world. According to her and a good percentage of the 346 books Amazon sells on this subject, the country doesn't have any.

According to my friend, much greater damage to the global economy would occur if China simply closed shop to the rest of the world. Imagine—no more iPhones, 50-inch plasma TV's or IKEA bedroom ensembles. In their place: Motorola field phones the size of a toaster, black-and-white Zenith console TV's and $13,000 Ethan Allan headboard-and-dresser sets. Like every other intellectual property born in the USA, China 's next generation has copied our wasteful spending habits to a tee. Unleash 1.3 BILLION people with bad teeth and great credit and every last one will skip the dentist to buy the Chinese version of PrayStation IV. It's the American Way.         

After I choked on that little morsel, my lunchmate raised another interesting point this and every other student of marketing and brand-building should ponder:

If China can build a facade so rich and mesmerizing that it blinds everyone in the western world to the whole of its social, political and ecological indignities, doesn't it stand to reason that she can do anything?

Now I am scared.

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1 comment:

WordLab for copy writing, advertising, collateral, smart remarks... said...

Magoo, you just found all the right words to express the scary vague thought's I've been having for about 18 months now. Fucked, we are.

I have a Sigsauer 9mm, lots of bullets and a year's supply of bottled drinking water. Bring over your PrayStation IV, some games and 10 cheesecakes and we'll fight em off for as long as we can.

M2