Hail the all-American world!
The American dollar may not long remain the natural international currency, job losses may be hurting Americans more than others, and President Obama may no longer look like the magic man he was thought to be. But don't underestimate America. It will continue to control the world as tightly as ever.
Even at the height of its superpower omnipotence, it was not military-economic might that really gave America the power it wielded. Arms were just the icing. The cake was the cultural hold America established over the hearts and minds of peoples across the world through music and cinema, education and books, food and drinks and glamorous drugs, jeans and T-shirts and brand names and the thousand tantalising ingredients of pop culture. Each of these ingredients is a throbbing organism with the power to enslave those who come in contact with it. America is the only nation in history to rule others through civilisational conquests.
Look at the number of emotionally charged national symbols it wields. If the first US astronaut, upon landing on the moon, had planted there a bottle of Coca-Cola instead of the American flag, it would have been just as natural. For Americans the Bottle and the Flag are equal in status. The MacDonald Arch, another national emblem, proclaims American supremacy as emphatically as a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier in the Bay of Bengal. The way Hollywood has cut across linguistic and cultural barriers around the globe, Bollywood can never match even if Raj Kapoor is a household name in Russia, Amitabh Bachchan in Morocco and Rajnikant in Japan.
Perhaps the most deep-going, subliminal - if also pernicious - mind control weapon at America's disposal is its news media. We hardly notice it, but we get most of our information about the world through American sources. CNN is the ubiquitous presence in every respectable hotel room in every city in the world. In India this presence is not confined to hotel rooms; CNN is directly involved in one of our national news channels. Rupert Murdoch owns a major entertainment channel.
Our newspaper mughals make much patriotic fuss against foreign direct investment in our media. They forget that even without any investment in shareholdings, foreign interests control their news and features columns. Almost all our papers are dependent on Reuters, AP, AFP and Western Syndicates because our mughals, for all their patriotism, know that maintaining their own bureaus abroad will cost big money. Dependence is cheaper than independence.
American media has been forced to become cost conscious lately, with major newspapers closing and network TV scaling down. But what is left of it is enough to control news and opinion that reach - and influence - much of the world. This was brought freshly home to Asia when the Far Eastern Economic Review formally shut down in Hongkong a few days ago.
From the late 1940s the Review was the most influential weekly in Asia and countries interested in Asia. Its monopoly of influence was broken only in 1975 when Asiaweek quickly gained ground by being proudly Asian as opposed to the Review's perceived Western (British) stance. But soon the twists and turns of business saw both magazines falling into American hands, the Review into Dow Jones's and Asiaweek into Time Inc.'s. In due course, Time Inc. killed Asiaweek and Dow Jones (now a Murdoch property) killed the Review. Murdoch-Dow's Wall Street Journal and Time Inc.'s Time magazine now fly the American flag over Asia, unchallenged by lesser flags.
'Asia through Asian eyes' was the slogan that helped Asiaweek rise. Forget it. You can only have Asia, and the world itself, through American eyes. Hungry kya? Have a MacChicken with Coke. You've no choice.
(TJS George is a well-known journalist, columnist and author. He began his career in Bombay's Free Press Journal in 1950 and moved through the International Press Institute, The Searchlight and the Far Eastern Economic Review to become the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). He is currently the Editorial Advisor of The New Indian Express.)