‘…with a wishing well’. Not precisely one of Rodgers’ and Hart’s most deathless songs, from a largely forgettable musical ‘On Your Toes’. It was, nevertheless, brought to mind this morning when I received a communication from an erstwhile client, a hospitality designer with a number of international hotel commissions from international hotel chains. No small hotels these, everything in the 300 room plus category, and even those in the remote locations suitable for, pardon me Oprah, ‘glamping’, the interiors and amenities being assuringly if unimaginatively recognizable, and one could easily wake up in the morning thinking one was in Anaheim and not in the Seychelles.
I suppose, as one would transit the country a few decades ago, one would visit Denny’s or McDonald’s with the knowledge that one would find, if not a culinary experience of Duncan Hines stature, then yet a familiar one, a safe one, and in our own benighted country, with most of its residents never venturing outside its borders, ‘safe’ is of paramount importance. Sadly, though, ‘safe’ and its fellow traveler ‘sameness’ is largely what’s become the byword of nearly everything- from merchandise, to hospitality, both lodging and eating, and inexorably, ‘sameness’ has erased local culture. The pope, for instance, can now walk less than the length of the nave in St Peter’s to order a Big Mac in Vatican City. Whether it is fast food stodge or an anonymous luxury hotel room, these are part of the monolithic internationalism in consumer culture, culture that had its birth in but represents something less than the best in American exports, and now, it is all that’s left of retail commerce in any municipality when it has squeezed out of business what’s best locally.
That everywhere and everyplace is losing its national, to say nothing of its local, character is decried by those of us of an age to remember the glory of diversity and loved domestic and international travel precisely to take in local color and is tinged with considerable irony. Ironic in that, with mountains and mountains of cash from the burgeoning pension funds those affluent baby boomers have amassed, it is a capital rich environment that funds the leviathan that’s literally wiping cultural diversity from the world’s landscape. It astonishes me to find, in my own sad case, that the equity in my whole life policy is now more than I ever thought I’d have in total net worth. What use is made of that equity, though, is what’s at issue. All of us require both a reasonable rate of return, and with the prospect of our earning years moving into abeyance and the assurance of actuaries of a very, very long span of life, considerable capital appreciation. Considering who’s to blame for the change in the cultural environment, one needs only to look in one’s LED lit and heated and three sided bathroom mirror.
For all those younger who rail against international business and take to the streets in protest, the seductions of huge amounts of cash nevertheless enmesh younger people at the very moment when their own creative efforts to counter cultural erasure begin to succeed. The young restaurateur, or the young artist, or any one of a number of creative people in any endeavour, once they achieve some public success see followed quickly on offers of cash to expand. It is difficult to resist the cheapening of one’s own product, to say nothing of one’s own principles, through expansion in the face of blandishments that allow one to purchase a Range Rover, hire an au pair, and live in Pacific Heights, South Kensington, or the Upper East Side.