Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 23, 2007

Wotta Country!

Yakov

   Yakov in costume 

The above motto was first popularized by second-tier cheesy Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff back in the Eighties sometime (he’s now a second-tier tourist-draw down in Branson, I believe), but it’s been on my mind almost non-stop lately. Whether it’s in an appreciative way like Yakov says it or in a semi-disgusted way like Kevin Smith makes movies (best lampooner of America ever, hands-down), I’ve been saying “Wotta country!” for most of my life.

For weeks now, I’ve been saying it to signify a moment when I notice some surreal moment of conspicuous consumption in my personal life.

It all started when my wife and I bought a new car. We were feeling both guilty and stupid for driving a behemoth Mercury Mountaineer 8-cylinder that drinks gas like Keith Richards drinks scotch, so it was time for a change. We test drove some used hybrids (pretty good, but small and pricy, even used with high mileage), plus some other roomier compacts, and settled on the Vibe. So the new baby is a 2005 Pontiac Vibe, with under 10K miles on it, and I like it alot.

Yet I’m careful not to love this or any other car. For if I did that, I’d already be on my way down the road to Consumption Junction, with no hope of turning back. What’s Consumption Junction, you say? Well, first you have to recall that old Scoolhouse Rock video about conjunctions. Then you have to sub in the following lyrics:

“Consumption Junction… What’s Your Function? Buyin’ them cars and houses and TVs, sayin’ complex sentences like: In the morning when I’m usually wide awake, I like to take a drive through my garden and down by my lake, where I often see a duck and a drake, and I wonder as I drive by just what they would say to me if they could speak.”

And, now that I’m older, I know exactly what they would say to me:

“Hey idiot! You don’t own me! You don’t own this lake, either! And if you don’t start changing your life and taking care of us, it won’t be safe for ducky nor drake anymore, startin’ in about ten years or less.”

So we got the Vibe, and almost doubled our mpg. Could’ve done more, but I’m a man, not a saint– and a biggish, piggish man at that. Thus the wrestling with my conscience every time I buy something I want but don’t need, either large or small.

I was faced with this dilemma the very afternoon we bought the new car. Right after we drove it off the lot, as I got back into the car a few minutes later, with a hot-to-go fast food cheeseburger in hand, I turned the key and the following song came on. You know it, …so go ahead, sing along again!

Doot-doo-do-do-do-doot-doo, livin’ in the U.S.A.!
Doot-doo-do-do-do-doot-doo, livin’ in the U.S.A.!
Stand back, dietician
Stand back, television
Stand back, politician
Stand back, mortician

It was one of those moments where God or Something Like It reaches through the radio and slaps you upside the head. It was just Graham and me in the car, so I just laughed out loud and drove home, aware I was deep in some groove now, but not so proud as to think I was being completely hip or ethical or godly or anything else. It was just a frickin’ car, and as I was livin’ in the USA, I had to keep America’s materialistic values at arm’s length, lest I sell my soul for a roof rack, three bedrooms and a good school system. Not that those are bad things, but I come from people –from a nation, really– where we often forget ourselves and start to believe those are the only things that matter.

The most ironic part of all is that in writing this blog, and looking closer at those Steve Miller Band lyrics, the last line of Livin’ In the USA was eerily appropriate for that moment:

Somebody give me a cheeseburger.

If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. Click the link above and look it up.

Cheeseburgers… The American fast-food that sets the standard by which all fast food shall be judged worldwide. Which leads me to Kevin Smith, whose brilliant seventh movie, Clerks II, is set in a fictional burger joint. I just saw it on DVD, and while I’m sorely tempted here to just launch into a rave review (I especially love Rosario Dawson as an actress), I’ll go against my instincts and stick to the main subject here, which is America and our consumer-based behaviors.

In addition to Clerks II, a few other great movies –both narrative and documentary– have taken on other aspects of this problem in a serious or semi-comic way the past few years: Fast Food Nation (by another personal fave, Richard Linklater), SuperSize Me, and of course An Inconvenient Truth. And I suppose Bowling For Columbine is cut from that same cloth, especially in the sections about gun marketing, and the ones comparing us to Canadians.

Kevin directs But I’m a firm believer in Smith’s approach, which gets us smiling awkwardly by telling a weird but simple story –about our religious beliefs, our comic-books, our sex lives, our movies and other fan-based compulsions, our shopping malls, even our families and career choices (Jersey Girl really wasn’t a bad movie… it just suffered from the whole Jen & Ben fiasco… go rent it. George Carlin rocks!) .

Then after that little smile, before we know it, we’re on the floor laughing, with Vanilla Coke running out of our nose in a surprise spit-take that sends us right back to the silliness of the junior-high lunchroom, where we probably first learned a lot of these warped values. Smith is less shrill than many filmmakers of his caliber. Though he’s a smart aleck, he’s a genuine and sincere one, and more focused on building community than on destroying it. He’s a funny guy out to make a serious point, and he genuinely appreciates these people and their peculiarly American compulsions. He takes very little for granted, and he loves America, warts and all.

As do I. Remember, you heard it here first. Just don’t tell anyone I said it. First I’ll deny it. Then I’ll smear you in The National Enquirer, or on Good Morning America (where that moron movie critic Joel Siegel went on record as hating Clerks II), or to anyone else who will listen. Or maybe I’ll just take you to the movies, to instruct you on the finer points of a genius at work (click for Kevin’s top ten movies of 2006… if you page down, that is…)

If we go see Kev’s next flick, I’ll drive, unless you’d rather ride our bikes like in junior high, maybe go through the drive-through on the way and mess with their heads.


Responses

  1. Nice post, bookmark it

  2. Major League – Filmcritic.com

    Major LeagueFilmcritic.com-4 hours agoBob Uecker (yes, Bob Uecker) is great as Harry Doyle, the longtime Indians broadcaster who has dropped


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