Eye on the United States

We Are All Americans

Families of the victims of the Erfurt shooting spree (Photo: AFP).

Years ago, we believed that the Americanization of the world was due to cultural influence. Now we know that it is because of a gene. The final phase of capitalism, of which the United States is decidedly in charge, has ceased to be a system of material production. It has become a civilization, and sooner or later all of us will be caught up in it, for better or worse.

The most recent massacre by a young man in a small city in Germany is a repeat of what happened in April, three years ago, in another small city, this one in Colorado, called Littleton. The shooting then also took place at a school, and in exactly the same way: The victims were students and teachers. And the attacker killed himself afterward. 

The American model of life repeats itself like a fractal in the many different aspects of everyday existence, be it community life, sex, art, or money. There is an international prototype, which coincides with the American model, to be found in painting, architecture, and even in cyberspace. So why shouldn’t there be an international mass killing with its own “Made in America” label?

Until recently, the image of the serial killer who burst into a McDonald’s, pulled out a machine gun, and shot down everyone eating their Big Macs was something distinctively American. But now this is a worldwide brand, and it can be found in 116 countries, with over 40,000 franchises in all. How could one not expect that in these identical settings, we would not find identical events, given that values, formations, and arms trafficking have become global?

American influence is not, in and of itself, harmful, despite what the French say. And after all, on March 27, the French themselves witnessed a similar massacre in Nanterre. American influence consists of a whole bundle of things, of varying degrees of goodness and toxicity. Thanks to the example of the United States, a large part of the world takes democracy as a natural value. Almost no nation for many years now has dared to declare itself anything except a democracy, and in doing that, subscribe to an entire list of human rights—regardless of whether or not it continues to violate them.

Equally, no one doubts the Puritan mandate for transparency, although it may exclude such murky incidents as Enron and others. The American way has become the global paradigm, and the world follows its example, follows its orders and those of its representatives at the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

Thanks to the Americans, we have ecology, although the United States did not sign the Kyoto Accord, and thanks to the Americans we have hard-line feminism, militant gays, nontraditional couples, equity within couples, and acceptance of multiculturalism.

The United States is like a unit of currency that magnifies the role of the dollar, fast food, and English to encyclopedic dimensions. It has been costly to accept it, but it seems as if contemporary American life will continue to become our own, and will be adopted with increasingly shorter delay.

To give itself some local color, McDonald’s in France serves salade niçoise along with hamburgers; in Greece, it serves feta cheese; and in Singapore, it serves fried chicken. In Norway, McDonald’s uses salmon instead of beef, and in India, they call the Big Mac a Maharaja Mac and make it out of lamb rather than beef in accordance with Hindu beliefs. But it is still McDonald’s. And, as is well- known by now, since 1986 Big Mac has been the term used by The Economist to express the varying values of the world’s currencies.

Is this Americanization sufficiently appreciated? Probably not, because how can it be distinguished from globalization? And how can we distinguish it from ourselves? This article will be one of the last texts written to separate what is American from what is not. Soon, we will not be able to compare what happened at the school in Erfurt with previous events at American schools. We will all be part of the same institution, the same psychiatric hospital, the same dreams, and the same destiny.