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The present and future of the world is global. So we’ve been told repeatedly, in a variety of ways, in a number of different contexts. It is a recurrent theme in our education at UCSB and its discussion is amply encouraged for the expert and layman alike. Globalization is the big boogeyman of modern monsters because though most of us don’t know exactly what it is, many see it as threatening and serious.
Now, the world is much less regional than it was in years past. Globalization is an absolute fact insofar as I can read the daily newspapers of Ireland and the Philippines without leaving the comfort of my pajamas. Globalization is important because of how the English language proceeds to pioneer in foreign lands like Israel and Fiji. Globalization is true in its concrete examples, and I don’t question it there. The aura of globalization, though, the vague feeling of its mechanical imposition and the notion that regionalism is on its way out — of these, I’m not so sure.
In the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya, globalization takes on its truest form, its most amusing form and a hollow form which I think gets at the root of what globalization actually is. In a recent election for the state assembly, 345 candidates put their hat in the ring. The winner was… Adolf Hitler. Adolf Lu Hitler Rangsa Marak (his full name) is a middle-aged father of three and winner of three previous elections who defeated a throng of opponents including Frankenstein Momin and Jhim Carter Sangma.
According to the Associated Press, Meghalaya is known for a certain fascination with Western cultural figures as well as a certain naïveté as to the role those figures play in Western culture. Frankenstein has reached northeast India, but not the vision we have of Frankenstein as a childhood monster of varying malevolence. There are no Holocaust museums in Meghalaya, and the suffering of Europe’s Jews during WWII doesn’t quite register there as it does here. Consequently, Adolf Lu Hitler’s father, who worked in the British army, is not perceived as the monstrous child-abuser that some counterparts in the West have been (a New Jersey couple lost their children for giving their son the same name).
And this, I believe, is what globalization means, because in the end regions can only absorb so much of the wider world, and personal experience counts for more than anything else. I grew up minutes from The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and I have family who barely escaped Europe alive. When I first heard the name “Adolf Hitler” a dark and mournful look came over my father’s face. It pained him to the say the words. The idea of giving the name to my son is unimaginable because I am from a place and background that understands European history and culture in a different way than do the people of Meghalaya, India.
Likewise I remember trick-or-treating with my cousins and neighbors in Frankenstein masks; I remember Burger King kids’ meals with Frankenstein toys inside. I know that I could never name my son “Frankenstein,” because the name’s associated identity is one of fantasy, not reality.
A ‘global’ world exists. You can find Coca-Cola in countries where once you could hardly find water. The most popular radio stations in Iraq play American pop, and of course the failure of the Euro will undoubtedly send financial shock waves to many outside of Europe.
But I am not a citizen of the world first, second or even third. It is impossible for me to understand the perspective of Meghalaya, coming from my suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles. The same goes for many, many, far-flung places, and I’m not sure that can ever be changed. In the end, we are all from somewhere, and as long as those somewheres are separated by oceans, there will be distinct imprints on the children born there.
Ben Moss hasn’t been anywhere where he couldn’t find a Coca-Cola.