A civilizational crisis such as the one capitalism is undergoing is necessarily expressed through culture: from the disappearance of Art in its strict sense to the daily experience of (social) defeatism and the vital emptiness reflected in all the great cultural products of our time. But withthe US abandoning Afghanistan amidst a thousand speeches about the so-called end of the American era one wonders whether we are also facing the decline of American culture, which has been globally hegemonic since the end of the second imperialist world massacre.
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The hallmarks of the decline of American culture
1 Inevitably, when a hitherto hegemonic imperialism is systematically challenged by its competitors, the role that its language plays internationally will be called into question. This is what we have been seeing for almost a decade in Africa and Asia, but also, increasingly, in Europe. The decline of American culture begins with the erosion of English’s claim to be the great universal language.
That doesn’t mean it will lose its hegemony overnight. English will remain dominant on the platforms and in the best sellers. But to maintain a dominant market-to-market position they need to start giving play to local languages and stories… or at least localized versions.
The first experience has not been easy. The Netflix style imposes too many changes when it comes to adapting locally successful literary works, which sometimes leads to a pushback from the authors themselves, who are also local references.
This is the case for instance of the Valeria series in Spain: the Netflix team changed the precarious environment of the main characters for banker’s apartments, they also openly said that they “found it inconceivable for the four female characters to be heterosexual, and that’s why a major change had to be made there”. Without a lesbian co-star, the gender pedagogy, which is the hallmark of the company, was harder to achieve.
The response of the great cultural battering ram of U.S. imperialism has been to turn its ideological barrage into a multilingual bombardment. Netflix’s agreement with Harlan Coben sets the first line of defense: keeping ideological control of content by encouraging themselves the localization of American stories in settings other than the American original, in order to facilitate their absorption and acceptance by the public.
2 While there is nothing more characteristic of a decadent culture than expressing a desire for escape, the decline of American culture is taking it to a higher level.
The return of metaverses like the one Facebook is preparing is more than significant. The new trend has emerged, they say at Facebook, from the rise of videoconferencing during the pandemic. The desire for flight from the very heart of labor relations.
And it’s not just a trend of the virtual. The thousand and one “back to the countryside” discourses and initiatives linked or not to telework are not essentially different from the return of the dream of Martian colonization. The future is no longer imaginable from the vantage point of the great cities that, like New York City, once represented “the future of Humanity.” Imagining a better world seems to require scenarios out of the world created by capitalist civilization… because nothing good can be expected from it anymore.
The deterioration of knowledge
The United States is also experiencing another phenomenon characteristic of historical stages of decline: the return of the ruling classes to shamanism, spiritualism and superstition as political discourse becomes more and more identitarian.
Evidently at this point, it’s not uniquely American. The whitewashing of obscurantism has arrived, by the hand of Anglo-Saxon feminism, in Europe. Just a few days ago the eco-feminist and candidate of the French Greens Sandrine Rousseau declared preferring witches to engineers while blaming rationality itself for the planet’s ills. In a world of globalized cultural products, the decline of American culture affects every corner of the planet.
But in the US the dimensions and drivers of this journey into obscurity have a different scale and much deeper consequences. In fact an increasing number of mathematicians and scientists are denouncing that as the US university prioritizes “diversity”, i.e. race and gender, over achievement, it falls further behind its rivals in science and engineering. Exactly the same process that allowed the U.S. to once take the technological lead over Hitler-ruled Germany.
And as then, it is accompanied by fear that any criticism of racialism will generate job and professional exclusion. The fact that the latest census reflects significant changes in racial self-identification denotes that the racialist discourse has the power of social exclusion and that there are many who seek to make themselves safe by classifying themselves in the correct racial group.
In the world of cultural products we can see this reflected in series like “The Chair”. People outside the US might think that the series is a satire or an exaggeration, but they are mistaken. It’s more of a sugarcoating of the impact of feminism and racialism on university teaching in the humanities.
And one need only read the complacent New York Times review to realize it: the puritanical grinder deserves no comment, the students who operate it are branded “idealists.” The destruction through moralizing and ahistorical criticism of professors and great classics produces no pity. Analyzing the plot, the newspaper blames the harassed teacher for his “inability to appreciate the moment.”
The inevitable conclusion is that US humanities faculties are experiencing their own moment of purging and “book burning,” more sophisticated but not essentially different from the hunt for “degenerate art and literature” of the worst moment of counterrevolution in Germany and Russia.
The decline of American culture inevitably takes on sinister overtones.