"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.




There was a period - not

coincidentally, around the time

of the second OPEC energy crisis -

when Monty Python's Flying

Circus was about the only

European import we ever saw.

Sports cars, classical

recordings, and tacos were the

only products we Americans had

to remind us there might be a

larger world beyond our borders.

But the go-go '80s made a lot of

idiots rich, and the first thing

rich idiots do is book a flight

to Europe. Not long after that,

those annoying triangular candy

bars started infiltrating our

beloved strip malls.


[Beer on the Wall]

Perhaps it was an inadvertent

coming-of-age. Today, we're not

only overwhelmed by European

products from Nutella to Range

Rovers - we're actually being

colonized on a cultural level.

How else to explain the sudden

spectacular popularity of

absurdly un-American products

like "hand-crafted" beer and

boutique bread? Since when are

Budweiser and Wonderbread not

good enough for Americans?



Organic spelt baguettes and

honey-weiss beer are expanding

nicely in the market niche that

muesli was able to boldly chip

out of the monolithic American

pantry back in the '80s. And who

can argue with the apparently

rediscovered aesthetic of

quality? Who (besides the vast

majority of middle-class

Americans who aren't burdened

with good taste) would actually

prefer a can of beer to a bottle

of ale? The problem, though, is

that all formulas are

susceptible to counterfeit or

co-optation. Hence Coors

licenses "Killian's Red," Kraft

invents "DiGiorno Tortellini,"

and Nabisco spreads the "Grey

Poupon." These are great

American companies. They ought

to be proud to just keep pumping

out the hot dogs, root beer, and

antacid tablets.



That's not the worst of it. The

one thing that created a

consensus in America, the single

most common reason to get out of

bed in the morning - coffee -

has been forever spoiled by

Starbucks-style upscaling that

smacks of European pretensions.

Fifteen years ago, who'd ever

heard of "espresso"? Even the

hippest cosmopolitan coffee

houses (a decade ago, a "cafe"

was a rural diner) used to

unabashedly advertise "expresso"

with a great big foolish

American grin. "It's just real,

real strong coffee in a little

cup," was the mantra long before

scones made their crumbly North

American debut.


Indeed, with the universal age of

consent inching upward, it would

seem there are plenty of young

Americans who need a place to

legally hang out. Where idle 18

year-olds used to be able to

drink themselves into a stupor

at the bar, now they can sip

themselves into apoplexy at the

cafe. The upscaling that turned

a "Cuppa Joe" into a "Double

Latte" couldn't have come at a

more opportune moment. And what

a terrifically quaint, European

thing to do: hang out in the

local coffee shop controverting

radical politics. Or at least

look like it.



There's proof everywhere you go.

And don't think our American

institutions - like baseball,

Mom, and apple pie - are

invulnerable. In recent weeks,

Newsweek and others have

published polls on the

presidential campaign that

actually include a demographic

category made up of "soccer

moms." Soccer moms. Who really

believes that this dubious

European graft could actually

prove to be the swing vote?


A quick glance at a Pottery Barn

catalog will show you just how

far we've come in trying to

reproduce Europe's dilapidated

infrastructure, too. Taking

their cue from the photographs

of Jan Saudek and postgraduate

pilgrimages to Prague, upscale

condo developers, architects,

and decorators across the land

are trying to make their

properties look like peeling,

pooped-out bomb shelters.



Why stop with the walls? A

hundred years ago, Americans

were embarrassed that we didn't

have any civil history in the

form of monumental ruins like

the Parthenon or Stonehenge.

Today, we've simply put our food

and home furnishing industries

to work redesigning the props of

American life to look old and

comfortable... just like what

they have over in the Old World.

You know, like France. Because

you're an American, you don't

actually have a history. But you

can afford to buy one. Henry

Ford would be proud.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner