By now most people are aware that the U.S. produces little of its own furniture, carpeting, paint, plastics, chemicals, textiles, toys, sports equipment, clothing, shoes, jewelry, electronic equipment and kitchen appliances. Those once flourishing industries have been exported. The country that invented the microwave oven basically no longer makes them. Even American flags are manufactured abroad.
Alas, we've also lost most of our "novelty" joke base. Our plastic vomit and artificial dog poo -- iconic, time-honored staples of American humor -- are now being produced in China. While most people will shrug this off as no big deal, I see it differently, and it's not just about the economics.
What worries me is our image. After all, decades of military adventurism and corporate bullying have already damaged America's international reputation. I worry about what the Chinese will think of us.
The following is a dramatization of a conversation between two Chinese workers, employed by a plastics factory in Shanghai.
Woker 1: Have you seen next week's production schedule?
Worker 2: No.
Worker 1: We're scheduled to run three cycles of vomit... then switch over to dog poo.
Worker 2: What kind of vomit?
Worker 1: One cycle of medium-gauge gritty, one of medium chunky, one of heavy-gauge pebbled.
Worker 2: What kind of poo?
Worker 1: Standard size, light brown. Two cycles.
Worker 2 (pleased): Not too shabby. It should be an easy week. (pause) Wong, I've always considered you an intelligent person. Can I ask a question?
Worker 1: Fire away.
Worker 2: Why do Americans buy this stuff?
Worker 1 (shrugs): They think it's funny.
Worker 2: I don't get it. I realize they're rich and aggressive, and that they love their dogs, but why would they pay money for a mound of fake excrement? And what's up with the vomit? I don't get it.
Worker 1: Why they buy it isn't our concern, Chang. As long as we get paid to make it, that's all we should care about. Factory jobs aren't easy to come by.
Worker 2(grudgingly): You're right, Wong. I should be grateful.
Worker 1(brightening): By the way, have you heard the news? We're getting the truck nuts account.
Worker 2: Truck nuts??
Worker 1: Plastic testicles enclosed in a plastic scrotum. Very life-like.
Worker 2: What are they used for? Science museums? Medical schools?
Worker 1: No, they're ornaments.
Worker 2: Ornaments??
Worker 1: Drivers hang them from the rear bumpers of their powerful, American-made pick-up trucks.
Worker 2 (stunned): Why would they do that?
Worker 1: They think a set of dangling testicles is funny.
Worker 2 (pause): I have to admit... I'm a little surprised.
Worker 1: Surprised a country as accomplished as America could be so vulgar?
Worker 2: No... surprised they still make trucks.
David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org