Monday, January 3, 2005

When Did We Become a Cargo Cult?

The other day Karen, the girls, and I went to a movie and stopped by the local Cracker Barrel for dinner. Yes, I know. Consider, though. We have young(ish) kids and need a place to eat that we can get everyone to agree on. At least we don't have to go to McDonald's as often as in the past.

Anyway. As I stood in line to pay our check, I found myself looking up at all the stuff they hang from the ceiling and walls. They have boat motors and lard presses and lanterns and instruments and and a great deal more. Even, if you are lucky, cranberry sorters. This is a key part of their business. There's a guy in charge of all this and they do an admirable job cataloguing it all on-line.

And it's not just Cracker Barrel that decorates in American detritus. Consider Applebee's. Or Ruby Tuesday's. Or TGI Friday's -- just to stay in the restaurant realm. American diners seem to like to surround themselves with evidence of our consumer history.

I couldn't helping thinking, as I stood there, of the Cargo Cults I read about as a child in National Geographic Magazine. These were quasi-religious groups, on small Pacific Islands, that developed a certain level of worship around the astounding wealth of modern materiel dropped onto their Islands by the military during World War II. The military moved on, but the stuff remained and became a center of culture, if not religion, on the Islands.

Now, here we are. Decorating our restaurants with our left-over stuff. I guess I rather like it; I feel like I am eating in an almost museum.

Then I noticed the antique iron hanging above the customer part of the cashier's station. I decided to pay quick and get out of there.

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