I was at a nightclub (an old repurposed pharmaceutical factory) with a friend in Zagreb, when I met two girls sitting on a dilapidated couch outside the dancehall on the bottom floor of the complex (or the top – as the night progressed the two became almost indistinguishable to me). One spoke exuberantly and incoherently to my friend (whether she was smiling or angry was impossible to say) while I spoke to the pretty blonde with the permanently skeptically squinting drunk eyes. We smoked cigarettes and passed around a beer. She, a film student at the local university, told me that she hated America, but for me should would make an exception (“You told me again you preferred handsome men…” and so on). She grabbed my hand and held it while we talked about Guy Debord and The Society of the Spectacle (as it seems all film students like to do) – about how in America everything is McDonalds, everything is bought and sold. About how everything is “so fake.” I sipped our beer and agreed because she was pretty and blonde. I would have agreed to most things. But she was wrong. America is not fake. The reality is a bit more sinister.
When you go to a costume party you do not decry the person dressed as Dracula as a fraud. You do not insist that he has intended to deceive you. The costume is merely an act that is meant to be seen through, a playful “what if” scenario but one that makes no claims to reality. America is a costume party. The nature of the American media’s relation to the people is such that, with the increasing sophistication and ubiquity of our advertisements and marketing campaigns, we have, in direct relation, grown more adept at sniffing them out. The people’s ability to identify a sale has outpaced the market’s ability to create them. Even the dullest consumer is now at least partially aware of the predatory nature of American capitalism. And yet we continue to reward mass marketing. We continue to allow ourselves to be had. And it seems to me as if this has always been the case – the costumes have simply become more elaborate. The sale-of-wealth (what a joke) and the sale-of-happiness have always been the masks worn by products, and they have always been transparent. There is nothing fake about them because they make no claims to truly be the characters that they portray. The disturbing cynicism of American capitalism isn’t that it is deceptive. Indeed, the mission to deceive would imply at least a modicum of respect for the consumer – it would be that America does not expect its consumers to go willingly, it expects even an ounce of fight. No, the cynicism of American capitalism is that it does not feel the need to be deceptive. That it dons its masks cheaply and that no one seems to care. That we have left our dignity at the door. S, pretty Croatian film student, pardon my insincerity, but America is not fake. It is starkly, crushingly real.
- Jake Ronim