Wednesday, September 2, 2009

welcome to the island of America

One of the few news stories that got through to us on our recent backwoods vacation was the detention of a Bollywood superstar at a Newark airport most likely because some typist can’t spell.

Shah Ruhk Khan’s recent experience with our official US welcome committee sent shock waves through our house. We are film freaks and Bollywood is on our passion list---last year we watched Om Shanti Om instead of the Oscars. If you are not a big follower of the genre, let me put it this way: How would you react if the Beatles were on a suspected terrorist list because of a typo? Can you imagine Brad and Angelina and their multinational brood questioned for 66 minutes at an airport? For a huge chunk of the world outside our myopic borders, Mr. Khan is bigger than Elvis. And I think he’s a better dancer, but we could argue on that.

It’s a little bit wonky, but if you managed to read through Richard Florida’s work, you will get his point that economic prosperity flows where diversity and creativity thrives, and as Mr. Khan’s experience showcases, this country has been in a creative lockdown for years. We don’t track the flight of artists, but I know film production is fleeing our borders with frightening speed, and with it go the really good jobs that kept me and my colleagues afloat. When you are making movies, you go wherever the box office gold WANTS to go. And there’s the struggling music industry: more than one music festival has had to substitute a headliner last minute because a major, well-known artist has trouble getting a visa. I think it’s really sad and bad for long term economic recovery that it’s nearly impossible for interesting creative folks to get here without jumping through innumerable hoops. I mean I know Art is a Hammer with which to change reality, but famous folk are easy to keep an eye on.

My kids are growing up in a global economy and culture—they have Facebook friends and email pen pals on multiple continents. I am frustrated that the education system only requires them to master a single language--even developing nations require at least 2. The planet is shrinking---but the only way to really be global is to go there whereever there is and have them whomever we designate as them come here. We need to meet, converse and exchange ideas and art with the world. And we need to understand where everyone is coming from, so the worst thing about the fact that the biggest Bollywood movie star in the known universe was treated as he was, was the fact that the folks detaining him had no real idea of who he was. His face is instantly recognizable to at least twice as many folks as the US population. We cannot build our security if we isolate our selves and teach our children a single language: our own. Talking to ourselves about ourselves is not relevant or helpful. We cannot be safe in a world if we don’t know who our neighbors are.

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