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HE’S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS…OR, AT LEAST, FRANCE
“I have a fascination with the hyperreal,” commented a young woman at a concert venue in Orlando. She stood beside the merchandise table, disinterestedly browsing the selection of CDs, 12” vinyl records, and T-shirts available for purchase by any comers willing to part with small amounts of hard, green American cash.
“I hear that here, in Orlando, the hyperreal is often mistaken for the real,” I replied. I fidgeted in my seat behind the merchandise table and, ever so gently, adjusted the Trapper Keeper in front of me so that its edge lay perfectly parallel to the edge of the merchandise table itself. This Trapper Keeper contained the well-worn pages of my musical project’s email list.
“Your observation is not a new one,” the woman replied. “Walt Disney’s ubiquitous presence in Orlando has long proven fodder for armchair cultural commentators eager to discuss simulacra and simulation. Orlando, though populated by less than 200,000 people, is the home of Walt Disney World—-not California’s lesser, decidedly dilettante-ish Disneyland, but a miniature, fairytale universe where young, wan Midwesterners’ animated dreams are conjured up with dramatic lighting and hidden sound systems blasting bland, vaguely impressionistic neo-classical music.” The articulate young woman lit a thin cigarette. “All for a price, of course,” she added.
“Fascinating,” I replied. “I myself have often been struck by Epcot Center’s World Showcase, where, in the course of a few hours, one can visit idealized, strip-mall versions of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco (the only African country represented), France, England, Canada, and, bizarrely, even America itself.” I let my fingers creep across the colorful surface of one of my CDs. “Like these CDs—-which, incidentally, cost $10—-Epcot provides a shrink-wrapped version of Spaceship Earth.”
“Epcot Center is, indeed, striking,” the woman replied. “As a liberal, Marxist, post-feminist cultural theorist—-and as a supporter of Barack Obama (not because of the very real ideas that lurk behind his flashy rhetoric, but because I enjoy supporting a candidate who so many Middle Americans feel is ‘just an idea’ to further my own eschatological vision of irony)—-I am, at this time, forced to point out the numerous meanings of a theme park that so brazenly insists that ‘It’s a Small World After All.’” The woman breathed a plume of menthol-tinged smoke into my face. “Would you agree?” she inquired.
“I agree in every sense,” I replied. I fingered the fine cotton of one of the T-shirts for sale on the merchandise table. “In fact, I would add that the candidacy of Barack Obama is not unlike these T-shirts in front of me. Like a T-shirt, Barack Obama has a superficial message conveyed in a memorable slogan. But, at the end of the day, whatever slogan is printed on any shirt, the T-shirt is still a T-shirt and will provide cover, warmth, and protection from a blazing sun. That is, if the T-shirt has been vetted, and can be trusted.” I held the T-shirt out for inspection by the woman. “Like these very sweatshop-free T-shirts,” I continued. “Ten dollars for one, or $15 for two.”
“I appreciate your sentiment, and agree with you in part, if not wholly,” the young woman replied. She pitched her cigarette into an unexplored corner of the nightclub in which we conversed. The butt joined the dark things that lurked there. “I need a beer,” the woman added, and walked away. I watched her disappear. A moment after she left, a bandmate approached the merch table.
“Did that woman buy a CD, record, or T-shirt?” my bandmate inquired. “Or did she sign the email list?”
“Negative on all counts,” I replied. “Unfortunately, we are unable to charge for pedestrian conversations about the postmodern condition.”