A major American institution was attacked last week by a foreign entity. The target: Hooters. The attacker: The UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.
The reporter entered the lone Hooters location in the entire United Kingdom, and left irritated by the loud music, the lack of vegetables on the “grubby plastic menu,” plasma screens “oozing sports programs,” “overflowing jugs of beer”—and overflowing jugs of breast.
Thirty-five more locations are apparently planned for the UK, despite opposition from various minority interest groups seeking to dictate to the majority what they should want.
That’s the thing about democracies: nothing can be imposed on people commercially. If Hooters was really, truly a horror—all boobs and no burger—no one would go, and it would fail.
Hooters has worked hard to protect its brand by sticking with “well-equipped” women, even under legal threat, and not hiring women whose appearance would make customers lose their generous lunch. It’s a formula that has successfully been exported around the world, and even into China—a place so politically and culturally different from America that you’d think it would have to fail. Yet, it doesn’t. Why? And what does this mean?
Human beings, despite cultural differences imposed by environments, all have the same basic drives going back to caveman days: food, sex, sleep. Everything else is window dressing and/or some means of achieving one of these three things.
It’s why undercover anti-terrorism officers have told me that they spend much of their time trailing Islamic suspects to strip clubs. And why a reward of 72 virgins in the afterlife can be enough of a motivation to blow oneself up. While they’re waiting to be able to score virgins in the afterlife, they seem content settling for the ones who contort themselves around poles. Dead or alive, the same principle is at play: sex.
Yet an element of the Islamic culture is attempting to export head-to-toe bed-sheet wearing around the world. Hooters is their competition. And that, in a nutshell, is why America will win the culture war—and why culture is such an important and strong political influence. Because even those who claim to hate everything America stands for, ultimately can’t resist it.
Another example: McDonald’s in France. Stroll down the Champs Elysees any night of the week, and the busiest place on the entire street is the McDonald’s (open until 2 a.m. when everything else closes much earlier). What can you expect from McDonald’s? Not gourmet cuisine. But a cheeseburger of the same uniform quality, whether you’re in London, Paris, or New York. Fast service. Low price.
The same people who hate American interventionism and imperialism will break down for a Big Mac at 1 a.m.—something they wouldn’t be able to do if America wasn’t culturally interventionist and imperialist.
Unpopular culture foisted upon a population with the ability to choose doesn’t work. Just ask McDonald’s main competitor in France: Quick Burger. McDonald’s has been springing up beside Quick outlets everywhere in France, and drinking their frappe—literally.
One might argue that it’s because Quick can’t decide what it wants to be: Healthy or crap. French or Muslim. The lack of identity and consistency is troubling. They won’t salt their fries. They leave that up to you, and you can ask for packets of salt if you want. They also introduced “halal menus” earlier this year, which are the only menus available in some of their locations. Rather than catering to a religious minority, it could be viewed as discriminating against the majority.
As a member of the non-Islamic majority, I prefer to take my business next door where I can find a less militant menu. Ronald McDonald doesn’t have a burqa thrown over his head yet—except (not surprisingly) in Dearborn, Mich., where they have him in the back cranking out halal chicken nuggets and burgers. Quick lacks the identity and confidence that makes American brands a success.
The presence of major American chains like McDonald’s and Subway is reassuring, wherever one happens to be in the world: a sign of stability and consistency. Thomas Friedman once wrote that no two countries each having a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other after getting their McDonald’s. Generally the theory holds, with the exception being Vladimir Putin, who probably considers that Georgia is still his anyway.
But what comes first? Getting people hooked on the new, preferable culture? Or creating the democracy or stability within a culture so that the new introduction is welcomed?
The youth of Iran are already quite Westernized, due to Western cultural influence and modern technology—despite the country’s iron-fisted, theocratic governance. Technology and media provide the opening—giving people an introduction, a taste of what can be possible. Then war or revolution and ultimately democracy provide the opportunity for it to take root and grow. The joke I made during the Iraq war about dropping Pop Tarts from planes into the war zone wasn’t completely ridiculous.
Yet there will always be those willing to fight the good fight against the popular will. Cultural guerrillas like the Daily Mail reporter who scoffs at plastic menus and boobage at Hooters—this cancer festering on the pristine cultural landscape in her mind littered with tea and scones and Victorian dresses. The French friend who calls me up to rant about the fact that Subway has followed him to his vacation home in Brittany and that it has no business being there, deep in the French countryside.
There will always be places on Earth they can go to escape what has proven to be culturally popular around the world. There, they might find a polar bear, cannibal, or radical savage to share their plight.