America Blows

By MIKE MILIARD  |  June 29, 2007

But you knew that already. Rapping concedes, that “what Hollywood does well, it does better than anybody else.” It’s just that “what Hollywood does well” is not always what audiences want — or should want — to see.

Rapping was watching A Decade Under the Influence the other night. That’s the documentary that looks back wistfully on that fleeting golden age of American cinema in the ’70s: The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, Raging Bull. It wasn’t so long ago. What have we now? Shrek III, Spiderman III, Pirates of the Caribbean III, and Die Hard IV. (Otherwise known as Shrek the Third, Spiderman 3, Pirates of the Caribbean at World’s End, and Live Free or Die Hard.)

Asked whether she thinks the American imagination may be a bit fallow, Rapping sighs ruefully. “Yeah, I think it might be slipping.”

In other countries it’s different. “They have less money, but in a way they have more freedom.” It happens on TV, too. “Look at House. I used to watch [Laurie] and Stephen Fry on the BBC, and he’s still as funny as he was then. But House is different from other American TV shows. The Brits can get away with what most American television can’t. We always dumb it down.”

“Meanwhile, globalization has caused a lot of crosscurrents. We’re getting a lot of stuff from abroad.” Abroad? Hell, we’ve got stiff competition even on our own continent. Much was made of the fact that three of 2006’s better movies — Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, and Babel — were made by Mexican directors — Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, respectively — and took place in other countries. And don’t get us started on Canadian comedians. Jim Carrey, Norm MacDonald, Second City Television (SCTV), The Kids in the Hall. Who do we have? Dane Cook.

Mr. Burger, meet mr. Sushi
On June 2, the United States of America breathed a long, collective sigh of relief.

On that day, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, from San Jose, California, managed to cram 59-and-a-half hot dogs down his gullet at the Southwest Regional Hot Dog Eating Championship, in Tempe, Arizona. In so doing, he shattered the old record (53 3/4) held by Japan’s legendary Takeru Kobayashi.

Whether Chestnut can repeat the feat this Wednesday at Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest, on Coney Island, is another matter. (Looks like we may have gotten lucky: at press time, Kobayashi says he’s planning to bow out of the competition thanks to “jaw arthritis.”)

But even if Chestnut does prevail (thereby sealing the USA’s primacy in the manic mawing of tube steaks for at least the coming year), it may still be too late. For the same dire straits in which America finds itself culturally and sports-urally goes ditto for food.

Once upon a time, the burger was a birthright. Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, etc. But nowadays, that most American of all-American meals is under assault. Burger King was slapped with a lawsuit this past month, accusing it of knowingly disregarding their customers’ health by using trans fat. McDonald’s, meanwhile, has taken all the fun out its menus. No more Supersizes. Why not try a salad and bottled water, instead? The New York Times reported not long ago that McDonald’s “buys more fresh apples than any other restaurant or food service operation, by far.” That’s just weird.

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