Up late at night/early morning (3AM) with my mind in one place (Europe) and my body in another (Wakefield, RI) having flown back during the day yesterday. Nothing significant to report about the flight, except one last good inexpensive espresso at 4am in the Lisbon Airport and two quite passable films on the plane. One was ‘Two Grandmothers’, coincidentally based on the book of the recently passed Doris Lessing, a hero of the Left and of Feminism and a person who embodied the fragile balance between utopian politics and dystopian personal behavior. The other, ‘Side Effects’ starring Rooney Mara, who, for you football fans, is related to the Mara’s of the NY Giants ownership clan and is named after the revered Rooney family who founded the Pittsburg Steelers. My book for the plane was ‘America’s Assembly Line’ by David E. Nye.
My tour that included stops in Bulgaria, Sweden and Switzerland and ended in Portugal was rich in work, food, people, cities and more. Portugal was however, a revelation. I had never been to Lisbon and it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, rich in history, but not frozen in time. It is a city where the layers of its history are both evident and in continual creation. I visited the church in Belem where the explorers who helped create the unlikely, far-flung and the world’s first global empire were blessed. I wondered where people thought these explorers were going and if they were ever coming back? What were they considered in service of and what were they motivated by?
In Nye’s book, a history of the creation of the assembly line, I realized that its invention was also part of the creation of Empire. Just as the Portuguese exploration of the ‘unknown worlds’ was embedded within a context that included smaller physical steps that both depended upon and created significant mental and psychological changes, the creation of Ford’s assembly line depended on intellectual changes that were created by smaller steps towards the rationalization of production. Which, in turn, created both the logic and birth of a new world order based on mass production and consumerism, along with it’s own religious fervor and evangelists. For instance, (and how’s this for an underappreciated date?) in the mid 1950’s, the United States Information Agency created films, conferences and a globally traveling exhibit, “People’s Capitalism – Man’s Newest Way of Life,” a ‘positive’ refutation of Communism that promoted democratic creation and shared (Utopian?) abundance that mass production and consumerism could bring. One of its placards said according to Nye, “people’s capitalism – ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’ “
The relentless march of large hotels and condominiums up the beach from Lisbon and on the hillsides of the Alps, the big box stores and Soviet style mass housing on the outskirts of Sofia and the airports in Stockholm and Amsterdam with similar stores and ways to gather your attention…these are part of our Empire of course. As I return to my little home on the salt marsh coast of Rhode Island, I’m happy for all I’ve seen that was not totally corralled by the predictability, rationality and efficiency brought by the invasion of our particular kind of ‘Empire.’
- Marc Levitt, Host & Co-Executive Producer