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Does America hate imagination?

That may be overstating the problem but I don’t think it’s far off the mark.

In our universities, science, computers and engineering get most of the money while the liberal arts starve.  There are even calls for the end of liberal arts teaching in colleges.

Poetry is almost non-existent, also computer and video games are booming. Advertising, using words to sell, convince and manipulate are common.  While good literature– not genre– is rare.  Hedge fund operators make billions, while some of our best poets have committed suicide.  Or drank themselves to death.

I was in Panama this summer.  The buildings are different, artistic, they showcase the architects that designed them.  In Portland, I can’t tell the buildings apart, and throughout America, wherever you go, the malls look exactly the same.  There are no unique parts of the United States any more– there are just malls with identical stores.

When I was a kid, the auto show was exciting.  The cars all looked different.  A Corvette, a Cadillac, a GTO and a Volkswagen didn’t look at all alike.  Now I can’t tell a SUV apart.  I was standing next to one last week and I tried to guess its make and I couldn’t.  It turned about to be a BMW.  I didn’t know BMW made an SUV but looked like a Ford, Honda, or GM SUV– I can’t tell the difference, nor can any of my friends.  I asked them.

The Paris and NY fashion shows mattered.  Now they don’t.  The great designers are gone.

Even the movies have gotten far more homogenous.  Gone are Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia.  Now we have Star Wars 12 or endless remakes of Terminator and other “blockbusters.” The only movies I go see used to be Miramax but now appear to be the Weinstein Brothers.  They seem to be the only ones taking a chance on fine cinema today.

Most books read are genre fiction.  Could Faulkner be published today?  Would anyone read him?  Would Steinbeck end up on the bestseller list with East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath?  And forget about James Joyce.  The obscenity trial is long forgotten and irrelevant because no one under thirty-five knows who he is.

I must admit I do enjoy some genre fiction including Danielle Steel, Daniel Silva and Alan Furst.  But I spend more time reading Gorky and Turgenev.  I have read most of Faulkner’s writing, love Steinbeck and Ulysses is one of the best novels ever written.

And an MBA is not just another degree.  It is practically a requirement for business, even if the person can’t read or write cogently.

America is a much more conforming country that it was fifty years ago.  You might have nothing in common with a left/right wing person but you probably dress alike and shop at the same stores, watch the same TV programs, see the same movies and listen to the same music.

So do we like imagination– or have we run so far from it, we can’t even recognize it anymore?

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