Flaskaland
Sunday, July 06, 2003
 
This person's pained and witty musings "Context is Everything" about his recent exposure to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas ... you should read this linked article.

That reminded me of "The Great American Disaster", which was a world view owned by two American entrepreneurs who had just opened their whimsical place in London when I was visiting in 1971. That, too, was an early version of a theme restaurant located in an older Victorian-style frontage painted in a high-gloss acrylic patriotic red, white, and blue on the exterior. An expansive building, rumored to have been the site of a recently extinguished Rolls Royce showroom. They served hamburgers in an upscale setting and were written about in magazines like "Time Out". Their big publicity point was each that each meal was served with a glass of water with ice in it, "just like in American restaurants," as the press cooed. “Chips” were called “fries” on the menu, (not “French fries” as they were in America, as that may have been offputting to English diners of the era).

As the theme, there were large framed photos on the wall from famous Depression Era photographers. As unschooled as I was, I recognized a few of the oversized enlargements as images captured by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, whose work for the Farm Security Administration photographing and chronicling the hardships endured by tenant farmers during “the Dustbowl Years” was in the public domain in the Library of Congress. (Meaning you don’t have to pay for their exquisite photographic work, they’d each gotten something like gas money and $17 a week for this project and were damn glad they were working. In 1971, entrepreneurs didn’t have to pay now for the art, the government and people of the US had already paid for it, just fork out the cost of reproduction).

As James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” had long since fallen from print, and the
“Family of Man” likewise was relegated to a limited existence on the bookshelves in liberal
homes, I doubted many of the besatined English trendies snacking there knew much about the basic human heroism and endurance that these photographers were chronicling, unless they stopped to examine the photos, but the seats on the counter were turned away from the display. I felt they were missing an essential part of the trip. So while you didn’t actually see them you got to think about different Americans who had suffered and starved back in the 1930’s while you ate your overpriced hamburger in a trendy upscale restaurant in the major capital of a European country.

That was considered a “trendy” sort of twist to the English humor back then, the twisted turnabout being fair play, as millions of Americans had perceived the English as sooty-faced starving street urchins from the movie “Oliver”. I did not see a single solitary English rock star or a rock star's guitar in the whole time I was there eating my burger and fries.

But the burger joint’s entrepreneurs continued on and it’s obvious to say that place prospered, mutated, corporated, migrated, and those two boys eventually hit their stride with their new breed, “The Hard Rock Cafes” that are everywhere.

Well, these are stories from a past long gone, before “The Great American Disaster” changed its name and spread around the world as “The Hard Rock Cafes”. When I read "Context is Everything", I felt a little sad as everything now seems to be methodically and mercilessly stripped of context, even though I recognize we can bring some semblance of coherence through history or story. But, really, it seems to me that the world at large just seemed a little more coherent all on its own back in 1971, as I still think I understood the reason for the photos at the Great American Disaster. They were trying to be funny.
 




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