Ecuador is pretty Americanized. In fact, last week, I was talking with the father of our new quasi-host family about America’s 50 states and how Puerto Rico is not a state and how that fact causes some controversy, and he joked that Ecuador is going to be the 51st state because “somos bien Americanizados” (we’re pretty well Americanized). Which is true. They use US dollars here. And there are American movies and music all over the place. Plus there are signs in English everywhere. But they don’t really speak English. Thus, you get signs like “Quito Friend Chicken” or “Smocking Center.” Or the best is a shirt Eileen and I saw on a mannequin in a shop window: in big red lettering, the shirt said, “Trash up your ass.” We almost bought it.
When we were in Banos, we saw a guy wearing a Lawrence Crew jacket. We were so excited because we thought we had actually run into a rower in Ecuador. But no such luck. Apparently, a friend of his had sent him the jacket because it was Gore-Tex. He pointed to the “Gore-Tex” logo on his sleeve and gave us a thumbs-up sign.
Just the other day, I saw a guy wearing a Georgetown Crew T-Shirt. And I found myself faced with a true rower impulse. You see, in rowing, when you win a race, the losing crews give you their shirt. So shirts are pretty much trophies. You shouldn’t be wearing a rowing shirt unless you A) rowed for the school or club in question, or B) beat the crew or club in question. I should qualify this whole explanation by saying that this is the way men’s rowing works, not women’s. Thus, if you wear a Wisconsin Men’s Crew shirt in public, you damn well better have either beat Wisco or rowed there. So when I saw this guy wearing the Georgetown Crew shirt, I actually got annoyed. Assuming he didn’t row at or beat Georgetown, he had no right.
And the whole thing’s made worse by the fact that so much of the English here is displayed just because it’s pretty. Like the other shirt I saw in a window of a clothing store that said “Very Fashion.” Or I saw an ad with a picture of Eminem; it was for a tattoo parlor. And it got me thinking, “there’s no way they can appreciate Eminem on the same level as native English speakers.” When I saw a dude wearing a Green Bay Packers Superbowl T-Shirt (true story), I thought, “That’s Wisconsin! That’s my state!”
I own the Packers.
I own Eminem.
I own Georgetown Crew.
Trash up your ass, buddy!
But alas, I’m like a dog barking at random passers-by. Yes, I’m from Wisconsin, but I’m not really a Green Bay Packers fan. And yes, I know a couple Eminem songs. I even studied the poetic devices in one of them to use in a freshman English class, but I’m not at all an Eminem fan. And I know a coach at Georgetown, but I certainly never rowed there. I don’t think I ever even competed against them.
Still, isn’t it better not to be so divorced from meaning? I mean isn’t that what American adolescence is all about? Finding the real. Labeling those divorced from meaning as fakes or posers or phonies (a la Holden Caulfield). Shouldn’t you know what your shirt means?
Of course, I can see the argument on both sides. Eileen and I almost bought that “trash” shirt, which would have been a sort of postmodern, ironic statement about the ridiculousness of being so divorced from meaning. But look at that! Look at how individual and layered meaning can be. Thus, in keeping with postmodernity, how can we say that something is meaningless?
But again, language is social. Yes, we all have some slightly different associations with various words and whatnot, but we have agreed-upon meanings. This is why we can communicate with each other. Because meaning isn’t individual. “Trash up your ass” means nothing! Or rather, it means “garbage in your butt!”
What’s my point?
I’m not really sure.