So let me look again at that holy text: ‘if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Huh? But… but… Lemons are amongst the best and most wonderful gifts of nature. They are adaptable, versatile and delicious. A slice for your gin and tonic – juice to zing life into salads, stews, fish and seafood. Oil and sweetness from the rind and zest that is pure and perfumed and precious. They are a staple of what doctors agree is the best dietary regimen we can follow. So if life gives you lemons, shout ‘Thank you, Life, thank you!’ But the American response is ‘make lemonade’ in other words – just add sugar and sell it.
Add sugar and sell it. This can be translated across into culture, can it not? When life gives you folk literature, gothic fairy tales and myth, what does Disney do? Add sugar and sell it. When the body of world art and tradition gives you complexity, ambiguity and difficulty – add sugar. When news and events present obstacles, problems and conflict – add sugar. For America sugar is an unalloyed good in and of itself and as a metaphor, a symbol. It might seem that Americans have the taste buds and desires of children. We know this from their popular foodstuffs: melted cheese, fried chicken, milk-shakes, cookies, candy, fizzy sugared drinks, pappy hamburgers smothered in sugared sauce – even their so-called high-end coffee is flavoured with sweet vanilla, cinnamon or hazelnut. Adults are helped to stay childish though sport, games, gadgets, monster-trucks and escapist movies, cowboys, superheroes, comic book villains and thrilling science fiction. Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin from Family Guy, are lovable forgivable funny and charming inasmuch as they are children. It’s all about how many cup-holders their cars have, nothing to do with suspension or engine, it’s all about feeding their stomachs and their minds with things that are sweet and easily assimilated: non-complex carbohydrates and non-complex concepts. It is no accident that in Family Guy, which if you haven’t seen you really must, the most memorable and popular character is Stewie, a sinister and malevolent babe in arms who is funny because he is entirely adult and sophisticated – and to prove it he has an English accent. He is sceptical about everything where his family is credulous about everything, melancholy where they are pointlessly breezy, direct and secretive where they are euphemistic and lacking in mystery.
While American women might seem less infantile, I think the cultural, social and indeed culinary influence of men allows me to make the generalisations I have. The little girl pageants, the underarm and leg shaving, the depilation and waxing to the point of Brazilian glabrousness of the American female, they certainly contrast with Mediterranean women’s ideals and suggest an infantilising purpose which is perhaps a little troubling. At all events all these are outward and visible signs of inward and invisible properties.
Professor Gomes of Harvard, a black, Baptist, republican, gay theologian told me once: “Americans don’t like solutions that are difficult, complex or ambiguous. If you can’t explain it in terms of good and bad they will not want to know. That is why most of them cannot accept evolutionary theory and why other nations and their systems are viewed as either good or bad, friend or foe.” It was interesting to hear from an American. It made me think that while the monochrome Britain I grew up may have been drab, it perhaps at least inculcated an ability to discern shades of grey. Shades of grey were all we had, we became expert at reading them.
It sounds as if I am building up a rather damning case against America. A land of infantile suckers. Suckers of sugar and suckers who follow every purveyor of snake oil and paradise. Leaders? Far from it. Followers. At worst vulgar simpletons, at best children.
Well, I count myself one of those suckers for at least 50% of the time. I love dumb action movies, and sentimental weepies. I love hamburgers smothered in sweet tangy sauce. I love toys and games and theme parks and RVs and spectacle and simple solutions. I love having my vulgar glands and cheap sensation receptors tweaked and tickled. I love believing in promises of a brighter future. I love the idea that training myself to breathe only through my nose or to chew my food 48 times before swallowing will make me thinner, less stressed and sleep better or whatever the latest fad might be. I love the idea that five simple mantras chanted twice a day might help me concentrate, make love more satisfyingly and become richer or that by following Jesus or Anthony Robbins will make me rich and happy.