“How We Know Americans”
by Michael Fowler
This month Elvis Presley number 2 million has rolled off our assembly line. We carefully loaded the three-and-a-half foot clay image of the towering American into a packing crate along with two hundred and forty-nine of his identical twins, and marked it bound for Graceland, Tennessee. My new wife from the mountainous regions, recently promoted to packing supervisor, has inevitably drawn conclusions. She is young and strong and pretty, but woefully ignorant of the outside world, particularly America, and so her conclusions are hopelessly wrong, as I am at pains to point out to her.
She claims in her ignorance that Presley must be a god to Americans, able to pass judgment on them and bend them to his will. More than once I have shaken my head no, and pointed to the plaster Palestinian whose 5 millionth two-foot-tall likeness rolled out our doors last year. This, I tell her, is god in America, woman. Learn his features, how different his sideburns are from Elvis’s for instance, so that you may talk knowledgably of our products to your employees and visitors from the Party do not find you foolish. Also learn to speak more softly, or I won’t promote you again.
My knowledge is superior to hers because Uncle Bo allows me to look at his web-connected laptop. The Party granted him this device due to our last quarterly figures, on condition that he share it with no one, not even me. Bo has relented in my case, but not in my wife’s. Lacking access to the web herself, my headstrong wife is destined to remain narrow-minded and backward, and she knows this.
But she is not without guile. Insolently she compares the order sheets for the Palestinian and the Tennessean and claims both must be gods, with the Palestinian the more powerful by two-thirds. I repeat that this is nonsense. The Americans would never tolerate two gods, I say. They struggle to understand two political parties and seldom permit themselves two wives. Besides, Presley served in the U.S. Army as a private. He had no power befitting a god or even a semi-deity. Had he such power, the Chinese Wikipedia would not call him Private Presley but General Presley, who earned the respect of the world by skillfully commanding his many divisions into a position of world dominance. But under Private Presley’s achievements I see “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and Blue Hawaii, and there is a world of difference. I say, get away from me, my young and silly wife. And she goes away, angry that she is uneducated and does not have access to the Chinese Wikipedia as I do.
But later on, after much brooding, she accosts me again. See here, my cocksure husband, she says. Whether a god or a general or neither, the great Presley must nonetheless be adored by the masses in America, or we would not have received orders for two million of his kiln-fired image to be shipped across the sea. He must be an inspiration to the proletariat, and every American family of commoners and patriots must strive to own his likeness, as we honored Chairman Mao in his day.
Here she is not entirely wrong, and I yield some ground. Yes, persistent one, I say. But it is not the true salt-of-the-earth worker in America who adores Presley, but only the wage earner of the middle class who can afford the finely molded, brightly glazed and multihued statues that we produce, along with the velvet portraits crafted in neighboring Guangdong Province, and countless bottles of fine Jim Beam Bourbon that we Chinese do not yet know how to distill, but are obtainable in Louisville. In America, since you must know, the true proletariat and underclass prefers country fiddler Charlie Daniels.
This completely stumps her. She has some idea what Charlie Daniels looks like, since they produce a figure of him playing a tiny glazed violin over in Gansu Province, and she has handled it. But she knows nothing of the Grand Ole Opry or she would know that Daniels replaced The King as the real hero of the U.S. working class in 1979. Her lack of familiarity with Daniels displeases me greatly, since Bo and I plan to manufacture a statuette of this musician, with a better-looking fiddle than they do in Gansu, any day now. Maybe I’ll show her the video of “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” when Uncle leaves on a business trip next week.
My wife is also confused about the true meaning of another of our perennial best sellers, the “I love Lucy” lunchbox that rolls out of our tin shop in a steady stream. In her backwardness, she maintains that the lacquered picture of Lucy on the lid, showing the American performing factory work with her comrade Ethel, means that Lucy and Ethel are heroines of the working class. I tell you, show my wife a well-known person, even an American, and she sees a worker’s champion every time. That must be how they still educate females in the highland village she hails from. The old Marxist teachers must really be amusing themselves there.
But nothing could be further from the truth, I tell her. Far from being a worker, Lucy was a TV actress whose shows poked fun of the proletariat, precisely because she and other Americans find menial work humorous, since they no longer have to perform it. We Chinese are now pleased do it for them at a modest cost, namely the cost of our ascending employment rate, growing infrastructure, and expanding military.
My wife also dislikes the way Americans exploit the female body in our popular Daisy Mae Scragg salt and pepper shaker set. At the behest of our American trading partners, we produce this set and export it by the gross to the Dogpatch Trading Post and other tourist boutiques in their southern regions, so I have nothing against it. In fact I support it. But my wife demands to know if American women are really so immodest as this Daisy Mae, who displays herself on her back in a bale of straw, barefoot in the shortest of shorts and tightest of blouses, her breasts protruding upward like twin rockets, one marked Salt and the other Pepper, and each detachable for use at mealtime. This surely is the denigration of the low-born female in America, and to be despised.
But I point out that American women are frequently endowed and relaxed to this extent, particularly in the Province of Kentucky. Hearing this my headstrong wife says I am crazy, but since Bo has departed on his trip, I prove what I say by showing her the internet at last, and the picture I have bookmarked of another female Kentuckian. When she sees it, my contrite wife can only bite her tongue and weep. I nearly do the same, since the image displayed is the endlessly fetching Ellie Mae Clampett from “The Beverly Hillbillies” television series. Had I been allowed to purchase an American wife, I might now own such a beauty as this Ellie Mae.
Now maybe my thoughtless helpmate will learn to keep her mouth shut. But I’m afraid I’ve only made her want her own computer, and she’s liable to rat me out to Bo unless I get her one.