Gung Ho , the title of a film about the closure of a local auto factory has led to massive unemployment, the shuttering of countless stores, and a general loss of faith in American industry in a small town in Pennyslavania. Hunt Stevenson (played by Michael Keaton) travels to Japan in order to persuade the fictional Assan Motor Corporation to invest in the closed factory and bring the town back to life.
When the Assan executive jet arrives at the local airport, the town has assembled on the runaway to meet with hand-lettered signs saying "We Love Japan" and "We Love Assan". The crowd waves miniature Japanese and American flags, while a delegation of local women wear kimonos and the town's children demonstrate their minimal knowledge of karate.
The amazing thing, of course, is that the Americans in Gung Ho are not the liberators but the liberated. They welcome the Japanese with a certain reverence reserved for saviors and not for guests. The Japanese are inscrutable, but that only increases their allure because they possess the secret of prosperity.
In the 1980s there was a powerful sense of foreboding that Americans had about the impending superiority of the Japanese. Their wealth seemed unlimited as they began to buy up America. Today Americans would welcome such investment as an antidote to outsourcing and an excessive dependence on imports. But that is only because Americans have regained their confidence in the American way of life.
Unsurprisingly, cultural differences lead the Americans in Gung Ho begin to lose patience with the Japanese executives in charge of their factory. In spite of Hollywood's usual passion for political correctness, Gung Ho perpetuates crude stereotypes about the Japanese as authoritarian, cold-hearted and even cruel. In contrast, the greivances of the American factory workers come across as mostly justified, even if their reactions to the Japanese are somewhat intolerant.
When the conflict becomes more than the Japanese can take, they threaten to pull out their investment and go home. Hoping to save the day, labor rep Stevenson (Keaton) persuades the Japanese factory boss to strike a deal: If the Americans can break the one-month production record set by Assan's Japanese workers, then Assan will stay in Pennsylvania. The outcome, of course, is predictable. But what never gets explained is how American workers who weren't productive enough to keep their factory open when it was managed by fellows Americans have suddenly become able to outperform their legendary Japanese counterparts.
In the meantime, the soft-hearted Japanese factory boss begins to embrace his workers' relaxed and individualistic style. Eventually, he stands up to his own boss and demands that the Japanese executive be able to take time off to spend with their pregnant wives and graduating children. Thus, what began as a film about American inferiority ends as a fairly tale about superior American values. Instead of being grappled with, reality disappears.In Gung Ho, the cartoon-like rigidity of the Japanese executives prevents them from recognizing that they should compromise with their American workers rather than just demanding that they accept Japanese methods.
Cultural similarities may be a greater obstruction than cultural differences to improving security and encouraging democracy.
That is, the human race share an incomparable pride and egocentricity.
Read Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle...
Joined: Jan 13, 2004
"The vanity of human life is like a river, constantly passing away , and yet constantly coming on." Alexander Pope, ibid
Another great fable of Reconstruction, Gone With the Wind which is appologist at best for the ante bellum South. It is a fairy-tale kingdom without class warfare, racial violence, or religious hypocrisy. It's only apparent flaw is the tragic enthusiasm of its chivalrous young men for confronting the Yankee aggressor on the battlefied.
Perhaps most shocking to modern audiences is the servility of Scarlett's (former slaves) after the surrender at Appomattox. The film doesn't provide even the slightest hint that they were dissatisfied with their old lives or that they now want something more from life than to wait hand and foot on their former masters.
Of course, this servility is an integral part of the fantasy that animates Gone With the Wind. At first, one might dismiss this fantasy as unremarkable given that Jim Crow was alive and well in 1939, when Gone With the Wind debuted. Gone With the Wind is another window into an alternative universe in which Americans are not only the occupiers but also the occupied.
In the American South the victory of Washington's armed forces secured the immediate objectives for which the war was fought. Yet, the victors also hoped to promote their democratic values by transforming the thought processes of the society against which they had just fought. Sadly, the fantasy at the heart of Gone With the Wind demonstrates just how poorly the Union Army did as advocate of racial justice.
At first, one might hesitate to attribute this failure the cultural divide between North and South, since the culture of both was fundamentally American. Even the racism of the South was not much greater in intensity than that of the North, in spite of the latter's abolitionist impluse. While it had economic roots as well, Jim Crow was an expression of the idea that black Americans should not share the same fundamental rights as their white counterparts.
Given the similarity of Northern and Southern culture, why did the North fail to cultivate in the South even the minimal respect for racial equality that existed in the North? Where the cultural divide is far greater than that between North and South, is there any hope for a successful transmission of the democratic impulse?
That, of course, is a trick question. If the people do not want democracy, there is nothing we can do to make them want it. In that sense, democracy cannot be exported. Yet if the people want to embrace democracy as their own, then the United States can prevent opportunistic elites, violent insurgents, and social chaos from disrupting the transition. In that sense, democracy can be promoted.
One hundred years after the end of the Civil War, federal officials returned to the South to enforce Washington's expectations of racial justice. After a century of social and cultural change, their efforts had the chance to be more successful. Thus, it may be another hundred years before women in emerging democracies enjoy the basic rights that no American could live a dignified existence without.
However, within democratic nations, democratic values have a habit of burrowing into and taking over every social insitution with which they come into contact. It just needs time.
Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting: Read Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle...
Thanks Jeroen. That's an astute recommendation. I'll look out for it. [ July 11, 2004: Message edited by: Helen Thomas ]