Flat Earth: US? Not us

HAVING an all-American image has suddenly become a liability in the wake of the Planet Hollywood bombing in Cape Town last week. Six bomb threats were made to other restaurants in the city, including four belonging to the Spur steakhouse chain, which had to issue a denial that it was connected to the US in any way, despite its Wild West theme.

Does this mean that sports bars around the world are going to hide away the baseball memorabilia and bring out the cricket bats (although Britain, of course, is also in the firing line, having given the US such quick and uncritical support for its missile attacks)? Will Hard Rock Cafes play down Hendrix and Clapton and find safer heroes? Bryan Adams, maybe: he's Canadian. Or INXS - did the Australian government take a position on the Sudan and Afghanistan strikes?

It is more than a little ironic. As PJ O'Rourke, among others, has observed, the countries which are most vituperative against America seem to have more of their citizens trying to get into the US than any other. There is only one reason why establishments such as those in the Spur chain cultivate an association with movie stars, cowboys and rock 'n' roll: it sells, because we all want to feel American.

Porn, Bjorn?

THE other thing that sells is sex. About 120,000 Swedes aged between 18 and 20 recently received a videotape in the post which began with a young couple kissing and fondling each other before sinking beneath a billowing drape. It then cut to more young people talking about their "first time".

Was somebody trying to emulate the teenage boy and girl who were allegedly going to shed their virginity live on the Internet? That turned out to be a hoax, and so, in a manner of speaking, was this. It gradually dawned on eager viewers of the videotape - about the time that the former deputy premier, Mona Sahlin, appeared - that it was about nothing more exciting than exercising one's right to vote for the first time. (Sweden has a general election next month.)

This revelation came too late for some viewers, who had already switched off the video and called the police. The leader of the Socialists' youth wing, who also appears on the tape, was unrepentant, saying those who considered it pornographic "must have a sad life".

Bubble blues

LAST week we brought you key evidence that the Asian economic crisis is biting: good-time girls in Bangkok are asking to be retrained for other work. Now a disturbing trend has been identified in Japanese pop lyrics, which are striking a new note of resignation.

Like their Western counterparts, Japanese kids used to have a taste for nihilism, but that faded around 1987, when they started to become anxious about the "bubble economy". The worse things got, the greater the demand for upbeat, positive songs.

But now, it seems, things are so bad that people are fed up with fantasy and want a dose of reality. The most common message in Japanese pop music today is that "things may be tough, but we've got each other". The three key words in current songs, it has been determined, are "OK", "happy" and "persevere". We will know an upturn is on the way when "despair", "oblivion" and "suicide" make a comeback.

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