in Language, Politics and Other Words, Reflections

McDonald’s in Bolivia. McDonald’s in Moscow. 1988.

A new documentary has just come out about the “struggle” of McDonald’s in Bolivia. In 2002, “Bolivia became the first McDonald’s-free Latin American nation”

McDonald’s opened in Bolivia in 1988, the same year that McDonald’s opened its first restaurant behind the Iron Curtain. With that in mind, I share:

1988: A Lexigraphy on News, from Politics and Other Words

On January 1st, 1988, Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev exchanged “Happy New Year” greetings on television. 1988 was the year when I discovered television news. There was nothing at home or in books that was more interesting. School was still out for vacation on January 2nd when a gas-tank exploded near Pittsburgh, and boys like me imagined that the Mongahela River was on fire. Oil rigs and pipelines continued to explode and spill around the world all year long. Here on the East Coast, Howard Beach and Bernhard Goetz kept coming up again as Jesse Jackson was forming a rainbow coalition and Jimmy the Greek said that blacks were better athletes because that’s how the slave-masters had bred them. There was much argument about affirmative action. Reagan vetoed a civil-rights bill. Congress passed it with super-majority.

People were mad at Israel, and Ed Koch was mad at people who were mad at Israel. We all learned the words “Palestine” and “Al-Aqsa.” The news had brightly colored maps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and we first met the Women in Black. “Nightline” broadcast live from Jerusalem. And we travelled the world for weeks on a Kuwaiti Airlines flight hijacked by Shi’ite militants. The militants were not Iranian but were pro-Iranian.

The television itself was confused about Iran. Vice-President George Bush had to testify about selling weapons to Iran, and the Congress was surprised to learn that America had helped Iran attack Iraq. Friends were foes and foes were friends. Daniel Ortega, the leader of the “communist” Sandanistas met with the Pope. Reagan’s “freedom fighters,” the Contras met with the Sandanistas for peace talks. Congress wouldn’t give the Contras anymore money. Oliver North and Poindexter were convicted (but went unpunished.) Everything was changing and everything would be changed. We would look back and it would be history but right now it was news. Reagan said that he would visit the Soviet Union. McDonald’s opened in Yugoslavia, and later in Moscow.

Nothing was true and everything was permitted. The Supreme Court sided with Larry Flynt. Everyone was selling drugs and after the news was Miami Vice. Noriega was running Panama. By the end of the year, he would wave machetes at the teevee cameras.

It was a great year for Jana Pawla, the world’s most famous Polak. Everyone in Pennsylvania had his picture in their kitchen, or a statuette in the den. People baked cakes for His Holiness on his birthday. Meanwhile, Jimmy Swaggart was crying on teevee and begging for forgiveness. Perhaps he should have asked for absolution from the Pope? Kurt Waldheim was maybe a Nazi—he refused to talk about it. Kurt Waldheim was definitely a Nazi—and so what? Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi–and he had to go! Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi… and John Paul went to Austria and forgave him. 1988 was a good year for the Pope.

The ghosts of genocide were haunting. “Axis Sally” died. “Ivan the Terrible” was found guilty in Jerusalem. People were killing each other, all over the world: Azeris were killing Armenians. Iraqis were killing Kurds. Children learned the words Chemical Warfare. Jesse Jackson exhorted all Americans to come together but in the process pointed out all the ways that we were apart. White people killed black people all over America and got off. A white man killed a girl in Central Park. She was white, too and so he was convicted. Palestinians were killing Israelis and Israelis were killing Palestinians. An Irish Loyalist murdered Republican mourners at a funeral in Belfast. After the funeral of the murdered, mourners beat two of Her Majesty’s cops to death.

Winds of change were blowing: A girl was lifted off the ground by a kite in Mountain View, California, a place I had never heard of at the time. There was glasnost. And perestroika. The Soviets left Aghanistan. Everyone in the world loved Gorbachev, and he met with the Pope, too. It was news and we knew it would be history. Reagan went to the Soviet Union. Intermediate Ballistic Missiles were banned, and we edged back from the imminent anxiety of First Strike to the stable anxiety of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Oh, and there was an election. That was news and it also was politics. George Bush played defense until he won Super Tuesday and then it was smooth sailing. Jesse Jackson seemed surprised that he won Michigan.

Summer came and Yellowstone was on fire. Condoms and turds and medical waste were washing up on beaches. Boat People also washed up, in Florida and Hong Kong. Another oil rig blew up. NASA announced that there was something called global warming.


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