i'm standing on bathurst street,staring. I can't take my eyes off the ad in the bus shelter. A blond woman standing in her underwear. Glossy red-white-and-blue. "Freestyle" reads the logo, "by Elita." Underwear that, its Web site proclaims, "redefines Elita for a new generation." In the background is a giant American flag. The mixing of capitalism with politics. Nothing new. What is new is the brainwashing. What is new is the incredible weight of a myth that shows its strength even in a bus-shelter ad. What is new is the sickness I feel. Suddenly, I'm reminiscing.
Flashback to 1994, the Czech Republic. Five years after the end of the Iron Curtain, I'm smoking a cigarette brand called West while crowds gather in a McDonalds at the base of the Prague castle. American culture hasn't slowly crept in; it's invaded, as severely as any military might. KFC and Coca-Cola. And in a tiny village in northern Moravia, the only clothing store in town has in the window an Operation Desert Storm T-shirt emblazoned with a tank over an American flag.
Flag as icon. Flag as a symbol not just of a nation but also of a power. In the Czech Republic back then it was the thing that could answer any need, that could cut chains, allow liberty, launch new lives. It was freedom. It was what Communists hated. Today it's what terrorists hate.
Fast forward: I'm now in a country that is suddenly being branded by love of this thing, the flag, the symbol and what we're told it represents: "freedom." The war we are waging over there amid dirt and stones, among starving people who are starving for the western way of life, is supposedly about that.
But it's really about the glorification of America, which likes to take over not only in the ways of wealth and power but by ideology, by building a myth, by degrading local cultures.
"I never thought I would see the day," I think as I walk home past houses that have U.S. flags taped in windows. I never thought I'd see the day when it would be us, us, waving that flag in our streets and bus shelters, as if we had no mind, no Canadian mind, no free mind, no free style of our own.
We feel important, like the kid in the schoolyard who is chosen, or thinks she is chosen, by the popular one whom everybody wants, the one with power. This is why people drink more Coke than water. This is why Levis are coveted objects.
This is why red-white-and-blue underwear is being sold here in Canada, and why American flags festoon houses and car antennas.
We're in league with the freedom fighters, fighting a war for a culture we can already call our own, bought and paid for by bus-shelter ads.