Saturday, March 19, 2011

The World vs America: Why the USA is Easy to Hate

Because of the places I've worked, and the jobs I have had while at those places, I've been able to travel to other countries.  While in these places, I've had countless hours of conversations with people from those places, most of whom have never traveled outside of their own countries.  These conversations, frequently, are about America.

Today's blog started with me reading something that someone in the UK posted online after a rock concert.  'The band mentioned that they'd just returned from a 7 week tour of the USA. That was met will a wall of boos, and shouts of "fuck the USA" and "America sucks".' 

Since I've discussed these opinions so often with people who have never been here, and I thought it would be something that would make a good blog post.  So, sorry for the long setup.  Here goes.


American Exports

The backdrop of America, to most of the world comes from our most prolific export.  America exports culture better than any other country in the entire world. However, we do this almost exclusively through our entertainment.

Think about that.  For every single thing that as an American, I see on TV, and think embarrassingly, what an idiot, the rest of the world has no choice but to equate that to "Americans".

That's right, all that crap that is on TV, that actual Americans know for certain is the fringe of the fringe sort of stuff, happens to also be a wildly popular export. We send forth Snookie to be a cultural liaison. The kids on "The Real Life" or "Jackass" movies are in "reality shows", so that is what Americans are like, right? Borat, similarly, was a great teacher that it doesn't take long to find a complete, total, ass-hat, pretty much anywhere in America.

In both in China and India I've spent a strange amount of time pointing out that this stuff is entertainment in the US and exported from the US because it's also weird and freaky to Americans.  These reality shows are always set up after finding people who have a very unusual lifestyle, and a very non-typical world-view.  Then, more often than not, these odd people who have been found are taken out of their economic status, put up in a home that is larger than most Americans would ever live in, and given fame and fortune for being perpetually odd.  It's a great way to entertain, but it isn't "reality".  I point out that the people who are on their own local TV shows and movies also have little resemblance to the way that they themselves live their lives, then, I will point to specific examples.

Moving away from reality, what about the mainstream fiction?  Sex and the City is a great example of people who cannot possibly make 1.3 million per year, but live as if they do.  Desperate Housewives was really popular while I was in China.  I know exactly one couple where the wife doesn't have to go to work every day.  On that show, it's the exception.

In India, I looked around and said, "Why isn't everyone singing and dancing?  Every movie here, everyone sings and dances.  Would a foreigner who's never been here not automatically expect that every disagreement is resolved through song and dance?"  In China, very few people actually know Kung Fu.  Their movies certainly show otherwise.  "Why don't you know Kung Fu?"

Unless they've really been here in the US for a substantial amount of time, this is the first time they start to grasp that America isn't exactly like the movies and shows they have seen.  Even travelling here, most will never fully get it.  The perception is that Americans are all rich, and they come here, and stay in a hotel that is cleaned daily by a maid service.  Isn't that exactly what they've learned to expect?  They are here, and treated as a guest, and so they don't get a chance to really "get it".

Just like most Americans can't spend a minute to feel bad for the CEO of HP who lost her job, the rest of the world has little care to spend a minute to feel bad for us Americans who sometimes, if not often, disagree with what our government is doing.  After-all, we are a Democratic Republic, and one of the few countries in the world where we directly elect our leader (unlike Parliamentary systems where you hope the ruling party chooses a good Prime Minister).  We are all rich, and should know better than to elect a government that won't do what we want.

Which brings me straight into

American Foreign Policy

The USA war policies of Bush are currently our main issues within Europe. Most Europeans, and especially the British that I've met, totally understand the crux of entertainment IS strange (though, still, we all must be rich), but it doesn't give us anything to explain why we are still in Iraq. Still being in Afghanistan wouldn't bother anybody if we were not also still in Iraq, mostly on a set of lies.  (It can be argued that now, we are almost out of Iraq, but we are not actually out yet, and this doesn't explain why we've been there as long as we had been). 


Let me be clear, the Bush war policies didn't start with Bush, just the current wars that we are hated for came from Bush.  Generally, Obama is blameless for these, regardless of the nit-picking of what he has not done about them.  The world is at least a little disillusioned that Obama didn't immediately end all wars, because, really, that is what the world wanted (including a large section of the Democratic base, here). Logically, if any one person thinks about what that would mean, it can be understood quickly that it would be a really bad idea, but logic and emotion do not have to jive.

So very recently, it was FRANCE that was the first to reach out to the rebel leadership in Libya. This, we absolutely can blame Obama for, but the move, even from the French, was a bit of a risky move. It fits the country's personality though, even going all the way back to the US revolution. If the US were that consistent, would the world hate us as much? Probably not.

Most of the worlds really bad political problems that have happened in the last 40 years, can be traced back to something our own CIA was involved with at one time, but fucked up. Please don't discount that.  The rest of the world has certainly not.


But what about the UK, our closest political ally?  My opinion of this is, they hate us because of the way we seem to drag them down. So, on the world stage, the UK is also hated along with us. I think the British, mostly, dislike us for that, in the way a clean living man hates his drug dealing brother (hate with caring).



Ancient History


America, as a country, has the shortest memory of any country I've ever visited. We see ancient history as anything that happened before we were each 10. No other place I've been has an easy dismissal of things that happened before they were born. I've met Chinese who still take it personally that the US supported the British opium war more than 100 years ago.


Similarly, don't look back at World War II, and say, "See we rebuilt your countries, and now you hate us!"  At the end of the Eisenhower administration, the US deeply changed the way it dealt with the world.  We started acting with the arc of "superpower".  Also as importantly, we started nurturing a full time Military Industrial complex.  Nobody really blamed us for that because the Soviet Union was much more feared than we were.  That all changed in 1989 when the Berlin wall fell, and the Soviet Union fell right behind.  The good-will of our helping to rebuild Europe has been replaced with questions about why we still have so many permanent military bases there.  These are valid questions, but they also have valid answers.

It is Not Really Hate


Think about a neighbor who you worry about because he's got NRA stickers all over his pickup trucks and if anybody asks how he's doing he says, "Did you see Jersey Shore last night?  Them's my kind of people!"  You really don't like him, but he's your neighbor, and you worry about him.  Also, when you asked him to help you fix that leaky sink, he took the spanner home, and didn't return it.  Sure, you didn't know how to use it to fix the problem, but damnit, it was yours.  That is, you know he'll help if you really need him to, but you really don't like asking him for help.  Funny though, everything you hear about his family is all about success and money.  We wish he'd adopt us.  He's kind of a jerk, and you don't really know if he's actually friendly or not.  Yep, that's us.


I Am NOT Apologizing


I need to make it very clear that this is not about hating America.  I love us!  However, I've talked to a lot of people, while on THEIR turf, and these are the lessons I've learned.  Maybe you'll find it useful.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, the thought that all Americans are rich goes back many years. My parents came here at least casually influenced by the thought that the streets are paved with gold, and life would be better here.

    I have a close friend whose relatives from Haiti are always calling for money, assuming he's rich because he's in the US.

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