A franchised society on automatic pilot

A franchised society on automatic pilot

by -
0 1015

Clinton, Bush, “Star Wars,” McDonald’s, Target. It sounds like the setup for a joke, except that the joke seems to be on us.

Somehow, a nation that prides itself on rugged individualism has wound up with a case of “the more of the same, please.” It’s like we’ve all been chewing the same gum for a long time. As soon as we’re not sure what to do with it in our mouths, we pop in another piece, which tastes OK for a while but then runs out of flavor.

Hey, look, I get it. The unfamiliar could be worse and confusing. We have, politically and culturally, become a country that is comfortable with the devils we know.

Drive through almost any town on the East Coast and you might feel as if you are taking a short trip, over and over, through a movie set with the same props, signs and stores on every corner. What happened to mom and pop stores? Is there such a thing as local flavor anymore? Do we even want to try local flavor, lest we don’t like it or, worse, our digestion doesn’t appreciate an unfamiliar combination of foods? We are a society of specific tastes, avoiding gluten, peanuts, dairy, animal protein and a host of others.

What that’s created is a collection of picky eaters and picky consumers who want things their way from specific restaurants and stores. That has become a recipe for the same stores to open in towns throughout the country.

We have become a society in which franchises reduce the amount of thinking we have to do, trimming the highs and lows of unique experiences.

We don’t have to think about any of our consumer choices, because we can go to the same stores with the same layout everywhere. In fact, many of these stores have saved money on staff, allowing us to self-checkout, so we don’t even have to converse with people about their lives and towns anymore. We can continue to interact with our friends and family on the phone, removing ourselves from our current setting. When we’re done shopping, we don’t have to worry about the type of hotel we sleep in at night because we can stay in the same place everywhere. “Yes, as my profile demonstrates, I like room 518.”

Here we are, 24 years after Bill Clinton took office and Hillary is hoping to move back into the White House as Clinton II. Of course, she’s not Bill and she has her own ideas for the country. But it feels as if we’ve been here before, as if we are in another “Star Wars” between the Clintons and the vast right-wing conspiracy she decried all those years ago.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” it’s a relief that the current film isn’t as bad as the forgettable three prequels. And yet the plot devices and decisions seem to have come from the recycling bin, albeit with a humble woman from a desert planet who has developed the ability to use the force.

Maybe we’ve had enough of the same. Maybe the country has decided to take Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump more seriously because we don’t want to be on automatic pilot anymore. Then again, Sanders sounds like the George Steinbrenner character from “Seinfeld” and Trump sounds like, well, himself from TV.

Where will we be a year from now? Well, we will probably have another “Star Wars” film; we will have a new president, or maybe a different iteration of something familiar; and we will be somewhere in America, surrounded by familiar stores and choices.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, we will make our own decisions and find our own way, without big box retailers and familiar characters and story lines passing in a blur past the windows of our minds.