Sunday, March 4, 2012
Sometimes I wonder about the people in China who make the stuff we buy, especially the knickknacks and gewgaws that are so particularly western as to be just about absent from the life of those who manufacture them. What do you suppose a person in a plant that makes plastic crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, votive candles, and other crazy Christian paraphernalia thinks? I try to picture myself in a comparable situation. I’m on an assembly line, grabbing naked white plastic religious statues of I don’t know who or what—dead, dying, suffering, eyes heavenward, hearts enchained in thorns on the outsides of their bodies—and taking them on a large handcart to another part of the plant where other people paint their blood, or toenails, or wildly colorful garments. Then they go through a drying oven and pop out the other side, where people pack them into cardboard boxes for shipping to, let’s say, China. Someone new, next to me, whispers into my ear, “What are these things, anyway?” “Goods for export,” I reply knowingly.
One of the features of the web site on which I create my blog before publishing it on the blog site itself (that web site is www.blogger.com in case you’d like to create a blog and take a stab at it yourself) is an array of information about who visits the site. I can see who, if anyone, has been on it today, and how many have visited this week, or this month, or all-time. It’s a great feature if you love statistics like I do. Click on the tab that says "Stats" then on the one that says “Audience” then on the one that says “Monthly,” and it will give, in descending order, the top ten countries from which blog visits were made and the number of such visits during the previous month. For instance, out of the total of over 16,000 page views since I started the blog back in the fall of 2009, it turns out that about 12,500 views have been from the United States and another 1,500 or so from France. Nothing to wonder about there, really, since my cousins in France are regular readers (thank you, as always), and just about everyone else I know of who reads it lives here in the U.S. (thank you, too). But what’s really interesting is the makeup of the remaining two thousand views. For instance, did you know that my blog has been viewed 91 times in Slovenia, and in addition, 86 times in Belize? It’s not necessarily that 91 separate individuals in Slovenia have viewed it, but rather that the blog has been accessed 91 times by one or more persons while they were somewhere in Slovenia. At least I think that’s what it means. But who goes to Slovenia from somewhere else on a regular basis (maybe my cousin?), much less to Belize? Slovenia, just east of northern Italy at the top of the Adriatic, somehow doesn’t seem as remote to me as Belize does, even though English is the official language of Belize and it’s right next door to Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. Formerly known as British Honduras, it became independent in 1981, the last area under direct English control on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere. I’m not sure who goes to or lives in Belize and why they might have happened on my blog, but there it is.
Aside from the Slovenians and Belizeans and the French and Americans there have been hits from such other locales as the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, South Korea, Ireland, Malaysia, Romania, India, and Indonesia. Malaysia, really? Isn’t that where they cane people for spitting on the sidewalk? Could I be in trouble? Or is that Singapore I’m thinking of?
It could be one person in each country who has visited on all those occasions. Naturally it has occurred to me as well that some of the more obscure places (from my point of view) from which the viewings have occurred might be because of random blog searchers (I think there really are such people, who like checking out blogs for the sake of checking out blogs). Other hits could be from those whose job is to put spam comments on blogs about erectile dysfunction drugs and the like. “Vjagra, Cjalis. Very good price. Best penis.” Really, the most common version of spam I get on the blog is in the form of long entailed messages written in somewhat demotic English that end up offering me a chance to improve my blog. I’m certain there’s a great deal to be done in the way of improvement here, but I doubt the ability of anyone to be of real help in that department who uses verbiage like this: “Facebook.com is effortless to use for Company and is a single of the most well-liked social networking web sites close to.” Syntax redolent of other languages and other climes. I picture the man with the beard named Peggy in the room full of telephones. Or the Czechoslovakian brothers on the old Saturday Night Live. “Now are the foxes! We are . . . two wild and crazy guys!”
Countries about which I know next to nothing continue to hold some fascination for me, even if I wouldn’t care to live in, or even visit, them. I am content to read a bit on Wikipedia and satisfy my curiosity that way. Slovenia, one of the hobby horses I ride today, is a comparatively new country in its present incarnation, having split away from Yugoslavia in 1991. Like practically all countries, it has a proud tradition of striving for independence, against the historic totalitarianisms of empire, fascism, and communism. Every country, no matter how beleaguered or obscure it might be, wants to have proud traditions. Even North Korea, as messed up as it appears to be, has its Great Leader, its Dear Leader, and now its Halfway Decent Leader to look up to.
All of which brings up a sort of parallel question: how must what I write sound, or look, to the people in these other countries, if they do actually read it? Pop culture references, talk about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, chatter about American sports. I’m pretty sure that while most folks in other countries imagine they know a lot about the United States based on news stories about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. military, and the depictions of us in television reruns and movies, they really don’t know much about how the country works, or doesn’t work as the case may be, on a regular basis. People from countries where the national government runs the economy, educates the young, cares for the medical needs of the people, regulates the activities of businesses, and so on, can’t know what things are like here, nor would they learn from episodes of Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond, or movies starring Brad Pitt or Jennifer Anniston. The truth we all live with every day, particularly when it comes to the role of the government, is that the President of the United States, however famous he might be throughout the world, can’t do a hell of a lot at the domestic level. He can nuke you, or rain down the wrath of the Valkyrie on some sorry-ass desert hideout in your country, but he has no power over the price of gasoline or medical insurance, or anything else for that matter, in his own country. Abroad the President is seen as the representative of the potency of America; here he’s not much more than a figurehead, even though the people who seek the office continue to imagine they can do wonders once they’re in it. Oh, you say (those of you who have studied the tripartite nature of the U.S. federal system), so it’s the legislature that really controls the government? Wrong. Okay then, the Supreme Court? Nope. It’s business.
And so it would be appropriate if the only interest people took in my blog in the recesses of the second and third worlds was in terms of its potential as a business opportunity—a chance to try to sell me something. The pecuniary spawn of the dot com revolution. Someone in Ljubljana, or Kiev, or Delhi, or Bucharest is looking at my blog. I’m talking about walking through East Jesus, Indiana. I’m crossing the mighty Mississippi River. I’m telling about the Big Easy, or the Naked Book Guy. I’m dipping my toe in the Pacific Ocean. That person is inserting a comment, at random, after one of my postings. The comment suggests that I can do better at reaching a wider audience by consulting a certain web site. Or it is advertising urban real estate in the Ukraine. Someone comes in the room while that person is reading and says, “Peggy, vat you are doing?” Peggy answers, “Business. I’m doing business.”