Sunday, March 29, 2009


His Picture Was, until recently, everywhere: on television, on posters that stared out at one in airport and railway stations, of leaflets, matchbooks, and magazines. He was an inspired creation of Madison Avenue - a fictional character with whom millions could subconsciously identify. Young and clean-cut, he carried an attache-case, glanced at his wrist watch, and looked like an ordinary business man scurrying to his next appointment. He had, however, an protuberance on his back. For sticking out from between his shoulder blades was a great, butterfly-shaped key of the type used to wind up mechanical toys. The text that accompanied his picture urged keyed-up executives to 'unwind' - to slow down - at the Sheraton Hotels. This wound-up man-on-the-go was, and still is, a potent symbol of the people of the future, millions of whom feel just as driven and hurried as if they, too, has a huge key in the back. The average individual knows little and cares less about the cycle of technological innovation or the relationship between knowledge-acquisition and the rate of change. He is, on the other hand, keenly aware of the pace of his own life - whatever that pace may be. The pace of life is frequently commented on by ordinary people. Yet, oddly enough, it has received no attention from either psychologists or sociologists. This is agaping adequacy in the behavioural sciences, for the pace of life fondly influences behaviour, evoking strong and contrasting reactions from different people. It is, in fact, not too much to say that the pace of life draws a line through humanity, dividing us into camps, triggering bitter understanding between parent and child, between Madison Avenue and Main Street, between men and women, between American and European, between East and West. America, as the spearhead of super-industrialism, represents a new, quicker, and very much unwanted tempo. While anti-Americans orators single out computers or Coca-Cola for their barbs, their real objection may well be to the invasion of Europe by an alien time sense. This explains the pathological antagonism towards what many regard as the 'Americanization' of Europe. Precisely this issue is symbolized by the angry outcry that has greeted the recent introduction of American-style drug-stores in Paris. To many Frenchmen, their existence is infuriating evidence of a sinister 'cultural imperialism' on the part of the United States. It is hard for Americans to understand so passionate a response to a perfectly innocent soda fountain. What explains it is the fact that at Le Drugstore the thirsty Frenchmen gulps a hasty milkshake instead of lingering for an hour or two over an aperitif at an outdoor bistro. It is worth noticing that, as the new technology has spread in recent years, some 30,000 bistros have padlocked their doors for good, victims, in the words of Time magazine, of a 'short-order culture'. (Indeed, it well be that the widespread European dislike for Time, itself, is not entirely political, but stems unconsciously from the connotation of its title. Time, with its brevity and breathless cycle, exports more than American Way of Life. It embodies and exports the American Pace of Life.)

No comments: