Thursday, November 12, 2009

Henry Rollins on Globalization for Vanity Fair

In today's "Straight Talk Espresso" for Vanity Fair, Henry Rollins writes a snark filled indictment of the banality of Globalization masked as travelogue. In today's post, Rollins shares in typical "Rollins-rantese" an experience he recently had in Jakarta. The center piece of the post is his sighting, and subsequent photographing, of an elderly female vendor on the streets of Jakarta who happened to be wearing a Black Flag t-shirt. It happens that she has no idea who Henry Rollins is or what Black Flag was, and Rollins uses this as an opportunity to contrast the ubiquity of American iconography with the lack of any real cultural understanding.

Rollins lets the facts stand as they are and presents the global encounter with American pop-culture as so much absurdist flotsam and jetsam -- pop culture as pollution.

The irony that Rollins mentions, but seems to fail to grasp himself, is that the young couple with whom he shares the absurdity of the moment are themselves the perfect example of more meaningful globalization. The couple both recognizes Rollins and is able to communicate the humorous situation to the older woman, a fact that speaks more genuinely to a flattening of the world.

What Rollins presents as an "ironic" encounter that supposedly demonstrates the lie of the emergence of a genuine global culture -- influenced by American culture -- instead becomes only slightly more incongruous than some American Gen-Xer's grandmother wearing a Black Flag t-shirt while grocery shopping. In both cases, a younger individual would likely be necessary to explain the history of the seminal punk band's history to the woman.

While Rollins may be missing some of the point of pro-globalization arguments, he is certainly right in reminding us that American culture is not world culture. Even when you think about our most monolithic pop-culture globalization industries, film and television, one can see that other cultures have influence American film making as much as we have that of other cultures. American film wouldn't be what it is today without the French New Wave, the Hong Kong Wave of the 80s and 90s, or the increasing influence of Bollywood. American television is filled with content influenced by the television of other nations, Britain in particular.

But the globalization of culture is only possible, and meaningful, when it comes with global experience. Americans spend to much time navel gazing and not enough time looking out at the world. Rollins is right when he hints at that necessity.

More genuinely ironic is that Henry Rollins is writing posts for a magazine that once featured articles by T.S. Eliot, P. G. Wodehouse, Aldous Huxley, and Thomas Wolfe.

An icon of my rebellious youth, okay the rebellious youth of some of my best friends, now writes for Vanity Fair. What is up with that?

[For full disclosure, I am a big fan of Rollins. He doesn't just talk the talk about the things he believes in, he acts on them as well. That deserves respect, that and the fact that he can rip my head off with one hand tied behind his back.]
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