Culture Stew


Guam, February 1999

The more we see of the world and its diverse cultures, the more it all seems homogenous.

Here's a few "cultural universals":

1. Nike

2. Coca Cola

3.The Chicago Bulls

From the beaches and rainforests of Belize, to the top of China's most sacred mountain, these emblems of our "world mono-culture" are ubiquitous. If you aspire, "some day" to travel the world to see the grand pastiche of human existence, you'd better do it soon.

From our observations, we are already the perpetrators of forcing the global cultural stew through a sieve.  The resulting slop is fit only for subsistence of the body - not the soul.  In the same way that street dogs devolve into the same general body-type, so goes our worldwide culture.

This new global culture has the look of South Central Los Angeles - Urban gang/grunge.  Here and there, you may still be able to find a chunk of non-homogenized cultural "spice" but, if you look closely, you'll notice that the village girl performing the spiritual reading in the Kekchi Mayan wedding ceremony *is* wearing a Nike T-shirt.

Even in the most rural of Belizean villages you'll undoubtedly spot a pair of big, black-and-white basketball shoes proudly-worn or the Nike "swoosh" cut into the hairstyle of the young boys not "lucky" enough to be able to afford the actual shoes.  Needless to say, basketball is not a terribly popular sport for the altitudinally challenged Mayans. The shoes, shirts, and swoosh have nothing to do with basketball here in the village. They are, rather, objective evidence that the owner is aware that there is a bigger, better, more glamorous world out there - even if the only piece he can get for himself is that swoosh carved into his temple.  Nike is truly one of the international opiates of the masses.

Thirty years ago, when you traveled to another country, one of the first experiences we kids looked forward to was to discover the "exotic" soft drinks that the locals had to offer.  We would look forward to getting to try a different one with each lunch or dinner, and hopefully get to collect a bottle cap as a coup.  Nowadays, whether in China, Belize, Hong Kong, Austria, or England, you can have any kind of exotic drink you like as long as it's Coke, Sprite, or Fanta (all made by Coca Cola).

Most travelers have been aware that for years, the "cultural" dancing, art, and music offered up for tourist consumption was a westernized, "sanitized for your protection" product. The sad thing today is that even these "tourist shows" are becoming fewer and farther between. They provided at least variability if not cultural veracity. Today we are offered CNN, McDonalds, KFC, go-karts, putt-putt golf, and jet-skis - worldwide.

Why bother traveling to the Caribbean to see the world's second largest coral reef only to have to dodge jet ski's (the noise and smell are un-avoidable?) I believe that, as sad as it seems, Honduras will be grateful for Hurricane Mitch's devastation setting it back 50 years - it's isolation from tourists will likely help to keep what little culture is left intact.

 We traveled to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras last March and were dismayed to find a place so full (once) of natural beauty run over by rampant development of the beach-front condo/jet ski variety. We traveled the length of the island (25 miles) and could not believe the infestation of REMAX Realty signs - Really!!!!  We tried a couple of time to find a way to get to the beach but were thwarted by condo construction. We spent a few days swimming out to the reef each day (three hundred yards) from shore, dodging water taxis and jet skis, in order to get a look at the underwater beauty that the reef still harbors.

So what's my point???

My point is that, believe it or not, we humans are hypocrites.

We say that we want to protect species diversity but don't what to give up our Big Macs. (the connection is cattle ranching and its incredible impact on any land used to graze livestock - go and see it for yourself - Honduras, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colorado.) The fact that old growth forests are in the news, spotted owls, etc. - regardless of which side of the debate you are on  - demonstrates that we as an animal species are rendering much of the planet unacceptable for other life forms, tree and bird alike.

Yep, we love to witness diversity while we demand to consume conformity. We are truly eating ourselves out of our physical and spiritual house and home.

Where do you think it will all end?

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