A verbal thrashing from a journalist who visited many countries and discovered that even as they adopt our pop culture and consume our Big Macs, they hate us for our greed, arrogance, ignorance, and more.
No one likes punitive visits to the woodshed, except perhaps the one bearing the birch rod, so Hertsgaard (Earth Odyssey, 1999, etc.), who wields a Big Stick of Righteousness, will not find himself welcome at his local Chamber of Commerce meeting. Most of his cultural targets are fat and static. The media are too cozy with the government and Big Business. Americans are wasteful. We too readily surrender our rights in times of crisis. We are religious but we don’t practice what we preach. There are no real differences between Republicans and Democrats. America has no credible left wing. Too much money corrupts politics. Not enough of us vote. The Bush administration favors the rich and the powerful. We are exporting the worst of our culture (“The modern American empire colonizes minds, not territory”). Race remains a problem. The rage of the terrorists that led to 9/11 is understandable, though not excusable. We are ignorant about other countries, cultures, languages. We don’t know or care about our own history. Gore won the 2000 election. We love guns. And so on. The author offers eclectic allusions to Elvis Costello and Goethe, Freud and Faulkner, Pragmatism and The Wizard of Oz, but many are secondary quotations: does Hertsgaard read Emerson, or rely on others who have? Still, Hertsgaard’s work is not without entertainment value, for he can sharpen a sentence to a deadly edge. Of journalists, he writes, “Nowadays, it is a radical thing simply to be intelligent.”
It barks, it bites—but will anybody hear? Or feel?