THINK for a minute of the cities of this country as entirely different lands. As Gore Vidal has pointed out, in the global economy our cities are city-states competing as much with one another as against other countries-- competing for investment, jobs, tourists, government funds and political influence. Also culturally.
I live right now in an industrial city-state, surrounded by fresh water lakes, whose industries are near collapse.
Imagine, at the very eastern end of the continent, situated on and around a narrow island, a Babylon-like city of more wealth than any city on the planet. More wealth than any city ever seen on the planet. It's moreover a city of caste, a towering pyramid of hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid are the brown-and-black skinned illegals, working in sidestreet sweatshops or serving the rich in some capacity. Substantially up the pyramid are the white ethnic bulldogs who dominate the police and fire departments. Slightly higher, the multi-ethnic political machine bureaucrats. Above them, the much-whiter layer of corporate lawyers, then the rich and ultra-rich investment people.
At the top, culturally and socially, are the trust-fund aristocrats who dominate publishing and the arts. They maintain their own hierarchical pyramids within the pyramid, are sustained by the brightest eager-beaver ladder climbers from the upper levels of other city-states, many educated at nearby "Ivy League" universities, come to the pyramid city to rise higher.
Attend a book party in the pyramid and you'll brush against the elite of the elite, overwhelmingly white, with a surprising number of upper-class Europeans. One stands at such a party with the awareness of being at the uppermost floor of the skyscraper; the highest level of caste. You will witness in the conversation around you utter superficialty, an almost total ignorance of the stark realities of life not only in America, but even in their own city.
Yet, bizarrely enough, these insulated mandarins determine, to a large extent, the culture of the entire nation.
Think of this glittering city-state, with its enormous wealth. Realize that every day many truckloads of books, magazines, and newspapers leave this place to be delivered to other city-states across the continent. (Or, the information to publish an enormous mass of print-media leaves the island.) We who live in other cities are inundated-- inundated-- with the values of this unreal Oz land.
The values expressed in the books and publications, unsurprisingly, are those of privilege and hierarchy; celebrations of wealth; opinions of intellectual mandarin masters; all mirroring the make-up of the pyramid city-state island.