April 28, 2006

BOOK REVIEW:

AMERICAN DREAM: GLOBAL NIGHTMARE
By Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies
Icon Books UK
Distributed in Canada by Penguin
ISBN 1-84046-572-7

Soon after the terrorist attacks of 11, September, 2001 Sardar and Davies published their international bestseller, Why Do People Hate America? They thought they would help stimulate fresh understanding about America’s role and relations with the rest of the world. Wrong. What has unfolded instead, according to their observation is a deepening malaise, among dissenting Americans and other countries around the world, over U.S. reliance on the pre-emptive use of aggressive power in the name of self-defense and pro-active democracy-building.

The focus in this book is on a cultural condition, fashioned out of history, with recurrent themes and responses that are expressed and represented in the cultural products of American society itself. These are embedded in the self-image and definition of America as a nation in ways, the authors argue, that makes even rudimentary change almost impossible. They wrote this book to try to make the cultural psychosis of the American Dream visible as a Global Nightmare. It is a Dream that begins, Sardar and Davies argue, with a perception that is central to American life, namely the proposition that America is different, exceptional and cannot be judged in the same way as the rest of the world. They present ten laws of American mythology as roots in the American psychosis. These cultural forces work to make America incapable of wrestling with its own problems, of properly appraising the impact it has on the world or apprehending the scale and nature of the real problems facing America and the world today.

The Global Nightmare is that America has the power to impose the limitations of its Dream on the reality of everyone’s life, largely through Hollywood as its dream factory. Mass-produced and commercially driven to affect, entice and resonate with the sensibilities of Americans, these dreams are produced and distributed internationally, mirroring their preoccupations, interests and view of the world. America’s greatest export, the authors explain, has always been its vision of itself. Consequently, whether by virtue of its direct interventions or through the spread of its ideas and cultural products, America has cast a long global shadow. Image, for example is a political growth industry while substance in political debate withers. They give examples of how the surest route to political success today in America, is to be a celebrity. A kind of synergistic interplay between government and entertainment now dominates the political process which has given rise to troubling conditions coined by some academic observers as “Superpower Syndrome” and “Empire Psychosis”.

The authors conclude by reminding us that freedom must mean something more than corporate profit and consumer choice. For the vast majority of the inhabitants on this planet, freedom does not equal free trade, a “euphemism for corporate plunder”. Consequently, we all have a vested interest in helping Americans deconstruct their mythology and come to understand that their historic experiences and culture are not universal narratives. Only then can new possibilities emerge. The notion that an innocent and virtuous America must save itself from a frightening world, by isolating itself or imposing an awesome hegemony on everyone, is dangerously obsolete. Addressing it is becoming increasingly urgent. This book is a must read for anyone seeking to better understand the cultural underpinnings to current global challenges, not only as these interface with troubling directions in American foreign policy but long term global ecological sustainability as well.

Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication