Sometimes you think: what makes an American a slave to speed and pace, which dooms him to the fate of a man at the conveyor, predicted once by Chaplin in the film “New Times”?
Here and uncertainty about the future and fear of being behind the neighbor. For the spirit of competition electrifies the American not only in work, but also in everyday life, whips him not only as a producer, but also as a consumer.
“We have to run all the time, and to run on tiptoes, stretching our necks, just to stay below the level of a“ decent life, ”the familiar American journalist bitterly sneered.
If you drive along Madison Avenue – the one where the most expensive shops are located and where the most thoroughbred dogs are strolling – then you will find yourself not just in another district of New York, but as if in another world. And not only because there are only dilapidated houses around, burnt brick walls with gaping empty windows. Unusual spectacle – and the people that sit on the porches. Perhaps only here, in Harlem, where the Negroes and Puerto Ricans live, can one see a person leisurely talking to a neighbor. Only these people, deprived of many rights, have reserved the right not to hurry anywhere.
The budget of the American family is not limited to current daily expenses. We need to think about contributions for a house bought on credit, for furniture, for a car. It is necessary to postpone the education of children, for old age, for a rainy day. A powerful commercial advertising device seeks to add to the concept of “decent life” all new needs, convinces people that the acquisition of things that they impose, and is the only measure of life’s benefits.
The heroine of Ilf and Petrov, Ellochka Shchukina, is known to have competed in elegance with the daughter of an American millionaire. Making millions of people just as blindly and mindlessly reach for certain unattainable samples in their variability – such is the strategy of the ideologists of the “consumer society”.
Americans are aggressively taught that you can buy and not having money with you. Following the checkbooks, a credit card system based on the use of electronic computers came into use. By a convex number on such a plastic card, the computer instantly inquires about the availability of money in the bearer’s account and debits the required amount.
At first, credit cards introduced petrol stations, and now they can be used in department stores and large restaurants.
“So, in the United States you can leave the house without any money at all,” I somehow joked.
– In no case! – Americans waved their hands. – It is advisable to always carry around $ 20 in cash. It is dangerous to carry more, but it is dangerous to carry less with you, so that in the event of an attack you do not annoy the robbers.
It was thought that this, perhaps, is also one of the forms of credit, which forced us to discover the criminal world.
– The loan has become in our US a truly blatant form of enslavement. Compared to this yoke, usury interest and the debt prisons of feudal Europe are utter nonsense, ”a history professor told me in the California town of Carmel. – It would seem that a loan is just a means to ease the terms of payment in order to sell goods in a saturated market. But here is an example. My colleague recently bought a car. Long bargained with the owner of the store, until he made a substantial discount. And when the contract was already signed, my friend refused the usual installment plan and said that he would pay for the purchase immediately. The seller was taken aback. And it is not at all from the joy of a rare occasion to get everything in full. He was furious that he had been held, and if he could, he completely terminated the contract. The fact, that under the usual conditions of the loan from the buyer a monthly charge of one to one and a half percent of the unpaid amount. It seems to be a bit. But it is often forgotten that this is a month, therefore, 12–18 percent a year. So a car, sold by installments for four years, can actually cost one and a half times more expensive.
The American is spinning like a squirrel in a wheel, in order to have time to get out of this growing tangle of debts, until energy and strength have subsided.
Yes, and employers also strive to put a person in such conditions so that it is in the best years, during the heyday of his strength and abilities, that he could “lay out” as a distance runner.
With the same calculation designed American cars. They are deliberately intended not for long service, but in order that after a certain period of time it would be more advantageous not to repair them, but to replace them with new ones. Boundless wasteland like a motley mosaic covered with seemingly looking limousines thrown at scrap metal.
You look at them, and before your eyes stand the motionless figures of the elderly on the benches of parks, on the terraces of cheap boarding houses. The debts were paid, the children grew, they learned, they got on their feet. Here it would seem to switch the speed, live and work without strain and haste. But it turns out that for a person, as well as for a car, obsolescence comes before the physical, that it is irrational to use it halfway, no one needs it.
How many lonely old people are here! It’s just single people, because you’ll see an older person walking a dog much more often than, as we used to, grandfather or grandmother with a grandson or granddaughter.
I remember that in Asia I came across everywhere to see crowds of elderly American tourists – in Japanese temples in Kyoto, and at the Sigiriya rock on Ceylon, and at the columns of Baalbek in Lebanon. I was surprised: what drives them so far? But the tourist bus is a refuge from loneliness, if savings allow. And if not, – a bench in the square, a shelter for lonely.
And when you see a motley car cemetery, past which glittering limousines are rapidly sweeping, you think: the one who is raised for the race, there is nothing heavier than stillness, inaction, alienation.
Undoubtedly, Americans are sociable people. However, getting into the family is not so easy. Willingly invited to a restaurant for lunch. Having a lunch break with a person in the middle of a working day means keeping in touch with him. But in the evening the family is invited only with his wife, and this is already a personal relationship.
Old-timers say: the richer the American, the worse he will feed you. This, perhaps, is not entirely fair, but to some extent true. First of all, in this country there is a cult of malnutrition, the more pronounced the wealthier the person.
For the first time in my life, being at a table with a millionaire who invited me to a restaurant, I was rather surprised. Having opened the menu, my host began to write out some numbers from there on a paper napkin, fold them, cross out something and fold them again. It looked as if the millionaire was afraid that the costs would not be met in the estimate. It turned out, however, that the menu indicated not the prices, but the calorie content of the dishes. And my companion had to refuse from apple pie, which was. however, it is strongly recommended to me as a dessert loved by Americans.
If I happened to see people in the United States who ate with good appetite, without regard to any kind of diet, then they were Negroes and Puerto Ricans who had breakfast next to me in pharmacies and paid unemployment benefits.
The cult of malnutrition affects the way visitors are received in the USA. It is believed that the guest thinks about how he will be treated. Having served the guests drinks and some nuts, the hostess will calmly chat, but not run with her eyes bulged into the kitchen and back. And only an hour and a half later, when a guest from Russia, after drinking almonds, begins to think that he will remain hungry, he is invited to the buffet where something is on the dishes and plates – put yourself, what you see fit, and eat. Therefore, everyone can choose something in accordance with their diet, and maybe nothing at all to eat.
The American will be surprised if, having entered someone else’s apartment and found the hosts at the table, he will receive an invitation to share a meal with them. When you come to an American, the hostess will treat you to coffee, the host will offer you to drink whiskey. But this does not mean that if you were not specifically invited to dinner, you will be treated to something or seated at your table. It is customary to come to visit the uninvited after nine o’clock in the evening, that is, after the time when people had already dined.
America, which did not know feudalism, secretly longs for coats of arms and titles, even though it boasts of deliberate democracy of human relations. The owner of the upper floor in a skyscraper, taking a car from the doorman, which he had just brought out of the underground garage, easily slaps him on the shoulder:
“We’ll be back at eleven o’clock.” About six guests will be with us. If they fall behind, let them through, dear.
– Well, my dear, certainly, – he answers.
And in the selection of expressions between the apartment dweller and the doorman, everything is permeated with ostentatious rural cronyism. However, the cadillac owner depicts a crown on the radiator. The crown decorates a pack of expensive cigarettes that she smokes.
Apparently, every person rediscovers America. For me, as, apparently, for many, it was a discovery to make sure that the United States was not built up from coast to coast with skyscrapers and factory buildings (I note that most visitors have the same misconception about Japan along a narrow strip of its Pacific coast ); make sure that America is a green country, where there are still a lot of untouched spaces that have retained their original beauty despite the colorful advertising props of gas stations and motels.
Since photography was invented, cinema and television came into being, the most distant distances have opened up to the eyes of people. However, these new horizons, having become accessible to one and all, almost deprived the traveler of the joy of unexpected impressions. It’s a shame that the notorious sights sometimes appear to be seen as something already familiar on postcards or on the screen.
There are, however, exceptions. No matter how much he heard, or knew in absentia about San Francisco, the meeting with him worries much more than you expect. Among impersonal, standardly lined American cities, it attracts by the fact that it has its own face.
The city of the American Far West seems to explain by its example why the notion of picturesqueness is expressed among the peoples of the Far East with the words: “Mountains and waters.” San Francisco grew up on the ocean, on a hilly peninsula separating the entrance to the bay.
Here, too, there are skyscrapers, but they do not crowd, do not crowd each other, and tactfully emphasize the originality of the relief created by nature. The streets here also intersect only at right angles, but the hills hide the monotony of traditional American planning. From each of their summits, along with the urban panorama, the sea is sure to open. And this neighborhood, or rather, the presence of the sea in the city gives it another attractive feature: fresh and clean air.
After the sweltering dampness of the Atlantic coast, after the sticky perspiration that is covered in New York or Washington, it is surprisingly easy to breathe here. Despite steep climbs and descents, and, perhaps, just because of them, San Francisco remained a cozy city for pedestrians, unlike the neighboring, utterly motorized Los Angeles.
And the carefully preserved heritage of the last century is cable trams, which, as the song about San Francisco says, climb almost to the stars ”!
The old-fashioned trailer, which was still at the time of the rider, stubbornly creeps up to the crest of the hill, where the passengers are breathtaking at once – and from the new horizon, and from the steep, from which the trailer rushes down merrily, while the leader and conductor are in sweat individuals are wielding some kind of leverage.
It seems that Americans are people of a purely practical warehouse. But how touched by such a sight of San Francisco as cable trams! Another foreigner grins indulgently: a typical, they say, tourist lure. It’s not for nothing that the writer Steinbeck was ironic about his compatriots’ addiction to old things when he offered them an original way to get rich: collect all the rubbish at the dumps and keep it for a hundred years, until some 1954 vacuum cleaner will acquire the same antiquarian value as a grandmother’s coffee mill .
But over the numerous, sometimes unexpected, often paradoxical manifestations of the Americans for something peculiar, non-standard, man-made, it is worth considering. They lose their attractiveness, as if many of the features that Americans used to boast of themselves develop into their own opposite.
A little schematizing, one can say that America is beginning to deny exactly what set it apart from other states, which made it America.
The country that marked the beginning of the mass conveyor production of consumer goods, with anguish looks at the artisan, the lone handicraftsman. The highest certification of goods – to say that this is handmade. In a country that has long ago put the production and primary processing of agricultural products on an industrial basis, it has become a common fad to grow vegetables near the house. A resident of the suburbs proudly registers a guest with eggs from their own chickens. Family magazines are full of tips on how to bake homemade bread, to smoke sausage. Department stores keenly picked up the motto “do it yourself”, offering blanks for homemade tables, chests, stools. It is unlikely that all this is just a whim, as well as the fashion for bicycles that swept the country, which, in the words of Ilf and Petrov, grew up on a large highway.
The world of reinforced concrete and canned products, the world of stamped things more and more oppresses people, causes irritation, spontaneous protest against excessive mechanization and standardization of life, of all forms of human existence.
In the United States, every now and then you hear talk about the adverse side effects of urbanization. But the point is not only that the major cities of America are suffocating in the automobile and factory chad. Man does not want and cannot tolerate the heartlessness of the capitalist social machine, which turns people into standardly programmed robots. Americans are protesting against attempts to stamp their souls, against the patterned, conveyor production of not only material, but also spiritual values.
The United States took the lead in organizing production, in labor productivity, creating an abundance of material wealth. But even if you do not touch upon the question of how blatantly unevenly distributed these benefits are, it is striking that, apart from the disadvantaged materially, in this country there are immeasurably more destitute people spiritually – even among people who consider themselves to be prosperous and successful.
The priests of the cult of profit and acquisitiveness inspire a person that the things he possesses are the only measure of life’s benefits, deliberately stimulate material consumption in such a way that it pushes spiritual needs into the background. America is by no means becoming more enlightened in the same proportion in which it becomes richer and distributes its wealth.
In the United States, it is perhaps the most striking thing about the incompatibility of the country’s enormous material capabilities with the fact that this potential is negligible used to enrich people’s cultural life, broaden their horizons, instill new spiritual needs in them. Talented books are being published, there are excellent symphony orchestras and art galleries, but too insignificant, imperceptible component includes all this in the cultural ration of even the so-called “middle class”.
Do not get tired to be surprised: why do so many people prefer the tabloid newspaper “New York Daily News” to the much more substantial and serious “New York Times”? Why handicrafts, discrediting the genre of a detective, become bestsellers with multi-million copies?
Why, in fact, do you need to impose on the average person the level of cultural needs inherent in the intellectual? And if he really likes to read more about baseball than about politics; if he really prefers pornography from 42nd street to Dostoevsky’s novels? After all, freedom of choice in the end for him, – convinced me a young economist.
The so-called freedom of choice of spiritual food is a vivid example of what kind of freedom such a capitalist has in a capitalist society. In the atmosphere of commercialism, which permeates the press, radio, television, cinema, the media become tools of cynical speculation on the dark sides of human nature. Masters of advertising believe that it is easier to hook people up by not appealing to their virtues, but by indulging in their vices. What is presented as the “taste of the tastes of the majority” actually predetermines the degradation of these tastes.