Sinclair Lewis wrote this political satire of American exceptionalism in the early 1930s, when one in four Americans were out of work and the complacent assumptions he’d ridiculed in Babbitt were rasped away by real poverty. What most Americans assumed couldn’t happen on the economic front had happened, and even more had happened in Germany, Italy and Russia, with the rise of nationalist totalitarian regimes. So Lewis aimed his satire at the smug assumption of the American politician and parochial patriot that a despotic, militant, nationalist tyrant and, consequently, organized atrocity, were foreign, or only possible elsewhere.
Archive for June, 2011
By the time the sun hits the sidewalk in a West Coast city, the East Coast is half done with a day’s work. In the American West you live with a sense that the East has already established what the world will regard as American civilization—Wall Street, Capitol Hill, The New York Times… Six hours behind and three thousand miles ahead, the West looks back at the East as a youth his parents: “You’ve done your thing—I’m doing mine.” Thus identity and lifestyle are not only common preoccupations in the West, they’re reflected in popular conceptions of what the West is all about: psychedelia, pop psychology, chaos theory, virtual reality, New Age, free love, etc… The East Coast may look patronizingly at this vain experimentalism, but it sometimes has to eat its words of critical admonishment—especially when the West profoundly influences the world.