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David Bouchier: World On The Move

barbed wire fence
Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

The Vice President has been given the thankless job of overseeing immigration from Central America, and she was there last week. “Do not come,” she advised the poor citizens of Guatemala, but that’s not a very persuasive message when everything else they hear and see is urging them to come.

The world is on the move, and millions of impoverished people are on their way to what they hope will be a better life. They don’t head to Russia or China — their border problem is people trying to get out — they head for western Europe and North America. The prospect of welcoming a potential three billion impoverished immigrants has made the citizens of those countries understandable anxious. They’re afraid that both their economies and their cultures will be sunk without trace by these masses of people looking for a better life.

Migration is a force of nature, as unchangeable as the trade winds. The Vice President’s only hope of success, as I see it, is to correct the fantastical mirage of life in the West that acts as a magnet. Western television shows and movies dominate the global market. They show a life of infinite wealth and leisure, huge homes full of gleaming appliances which nobody ever seems to clean or use, big cars, perfect weather, and a population of beautiful, well-dressed people who spend their lives involved in personal problems of stunning triviality, and who never seem to work.

Migration is a desperate measure. Nobody really wants to leave their home country, their culture and their language to start all over again. In an ideal world everyone would have a good life in his or her home place. But they don’t, and we tantalize the poor people of the world every day with images of an ideal place that doesn’t exist any more than the Land of Oz exists. If we set out deliberately to create dissatisfaction and unrealistic expectations over the entire planet we couldn’t do better. No wonder so many people want to come here. No wonder they don’t try to change things at home. Why bother, when a ready-made earthly paradise is just over the horizon? Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery, but it is always flattery based on an illusion.

Filmmakers could (but they won’t) do an international public service by bringing their products just a little closer to reality. Small things would make a difference: for example showing western people doing real work and commuting, failing to get health care, sinking under their credit card debts, harassed by insecurity, gun violence, racism, anxiety and paranoia (including paranoia about immigration). In other words, they could simply make the West appear more the way it is. If you can’t control your national image, you can’t control anything.

A modest dose of realism wouldn’t stop migration, of course – migration is about dreams. But the creators of dreams should take some responsibility for their consequences. In the nineteenth century millions of Europeans were lured to America by the railway companies, promising another kind of utopia out west. Now their descendants find themselves stuck in places like Kansas or Nebraska, when they could have been back home in Germany or Norway. Was that fair? Was that nice? A little truth in advertising now would save a great deal of disenchantment later.

Copyright: David Bouchier


David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.