Introduction: The Future of America
Issue #13, April 1994
The Pacific Rim region is a geographical space uniting countries and continents bordering on the Pacific Ocean. It is significant mainly as a figure for the kinds of national and cultural alliances most likely to affect generations raised in America after the Cold War. Contemporary discussions of the Pacific Rim in America have tended to focus on its status as a political region and as a variant on American multiculturalist society spread over a larger area. In both instances, the Pacific Rim is set up as a new hub of the 'global community' which takes after the United States in its commitment to the international free marketplace and a culturally diverse population. Americans, not surprisingly, imagine the Pacific Rim in their own image, and an idealized image at that — one in which 'democratic relations' might finally bring together national and ethnic groups at odds with one another for centuries.
What the Pacific Rim represents for Americans, in other words, is a glimpse of their possible future. This makes the Pacific Rim a region in the American cultural imagination, as well as in the confederation of several countries and continents. In fact, many Americans have become acquainted with the idea of a Pacific Rim community through science fiction narratives like the movie _Blade Runner_ (1982), in which 21st Century Los Angeles has become the epitome of Pacific Rim multicultural society: dominated by a thoroughly international capitalist elite, people on the street speak a language and participate in daily activities which combine Spanish, English, and Asian cultural influences. The current TV series _SeaQuest DSV_ (1993 -1994), about a future in which the UEO (United Earth Oceans) is a geographical and social space owned equally by all Earth nations, is another attempt at representing what American society might look like after its assimilation into something like a Pacific Rim multiculture. Ultimately, these fictional narratives help lay the groundwork for an American nationalist ideology which anticipates the consolidation of a Pacific Rim NATO-like alliance in the future. Popular American narratives about the Pacific Rim also work as a type of national wish-fulfillment in which 'America' emerges as the social model used to organize half the globe.
Most of the contributors to this issue of Bad Subjects have chosen to explain Pacific Rim culture by looking at the kinds of popular fantasies Pacific Rim nations exchange with each other. Specifically, we analyze narratives circulated in the international mass media and enjoyed by audiences both foreign and domestic. In our choice of subject matter and method of inquiry, we hope to call people's attention to how political and economic communities such as the Pacific Rim are formed, and the price Americans might have to pay for this new development in global multiculturalism. Nations on the Pacific Rim which import and export mass media narratives are converting aspects of their cultural self-representation into commodities. This underscores the way 'cultural exchange' is often simply another form of economic exchange. Moreover, what Americans celebrate as the future of cultural diversity on the Pacific Rim might in fact be understood as a hope that America can retain its potency as an international imperialist power. Imperialism, after all, need not involve military occupation of another country; most often, in the post-Cold War era, one country dominates another through cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism is the process of encouraging one country to submit to another by using popular culture and ideology persuasively rather than resorting to force. Contributors to this issue wish to underscore that culture — even a multiculture — can act as a form of coercion.
The Pacific Rim is, as I stated up front, a description of what Americans hope lies in the future. It is an ideological and geographical location — but most importantly, it is an historical location on the timeline we know of as capitalism. One must distinguish the Pacific Rim from its obvious 'opposite,' the Atlantic Rim, for many centuries the region around which early imperialist powers such as Britain organized their capitalist empires of 'free trade' and 'cultural exchange.' America has come to occupy a transitional point on the capitalist historical continuum. Geographically positioned on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Rims, it is also the imperialist nation which reached the height of its power just as the Atlantic Rim was being replaced by the Pacific Rim as a global focal point of international trade and diplomatic relations. What contributors to this issue of Bad Subjects suggest is that American expectations about their role in Pacific Rim capitalism may indeed be sheer wishful thinking. The future of capitalism appears to lie on the other side of the Pacific, in Asian nations whose culture and economy could very well colonize the United States.
As people living in America, we are in a position to participate in the future of capitalism along the Pacific Rim. We also confront the possibility that we will participate as a 'colony,' or as a nation subordinate to a new imperialist power. But as bad subjects, we work to suggest that there is a future after capitalism, in which the Pacific Rim region — and all regions — will be united by a common culture, rather than the exchange of mass media narratives; and brought together by shared material goods, rather than the circulation of capital.