I did my best to stay off the news and internet today. I went into the mountains and spent the morning walking. I didn’t want to intake discourse about the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. But it’s hard to avoid all discussions of American influence and it’s place in the world. Even when you are watching a tv show. Perhaps especially if you are watching tv. American cultural hegemony is alive and well, even if our political, military and economic might is waning.
I like science fiction so when Netflix suggested a Norwegian horror show about a small town experiencing an environmental apocalypse I clicked watch. It’s called Ragnarok so I was hoping for claustrophobic terror, glaciers and the end times. But aesthetically it feels like I am watching Riverdale or one of the CW “Arrow-verse” teenage dramas. Which is to say it feels very American. I’ve been watching an American television show in Norwegian.
All the music is American. There is hip hop playing as the background music in a small rural Norwegian town. All the clothing is American from the track suits to the basketball shoes. Even the food is American with teenagers enacting personal dramas over baskets of French fries in a diner. The backdrop is a remote village on a fjord but you could easily mistake it for any town America.
This despite the fact that the plot and the cast of characters are all Nordic elder gods. Presumably inheriting a rich culture that is not straight out of Compton. But such is the reach of American culture that it pervades the imaginations of even the remotest and oldest cultural legacies. America may never have had an empire in the geographic sense, but we’ve had a strong hold in your mind. We live there rent free.
But that power was born out of a dynamism we are losing. America won’t be the center of geopolitical or economic power for much longer. Eventually this will slip our cultural power. As we lose the high ground of the world’s imagination other cultures will be emulated.
I’m actually afraid of the end of the empire. Where will I go to be part of building the future if it’s not here? Will I be allowed in? Will I be able to assimilate into whatever culture is making what comes next? I was born into an era of American dominance so manifest that attacks had to be brought through asymmetrical terror. It was impossible to imagine anyone taking on America any other way.
And while it’s true we still hold sway in the far reaches of global imagination, are we headed the way of the Norse elder gods too? Has it already slipped and we kid ourselves that we could fight back to prominence. Maybe Ragnarok already came for America and no one noticed it.