The Second Version

12/03/07

Visible, and Unknown

A few days ago, Al Maviva of Cold Fury wrote a (rather long) piece about the anti-americanism he experienced during his last trip to Europe. I don't want to write a rebuttal - because there isn't much to rebut to, in fact - but some other considerations on the same subject.

The curious situation is that the USA is very visible, but at the same time largely unknown.


American culture dominates all over the world. From France to Indonesia, passing through the UK and Italy, the most seen films, series and shows are American; American writers are those who write the best-selling books and songs by artists from the USA are the most popular ones (generalizing, of course: Vasco Rossi is a rocker hugely popular in Italy, but basically unknown beyond our borders). There is no way to ignore America, and this is especially true for anti-americans, who are truly obsessed with the USA.

The result is that America is very visible - in the news and media - and this creates a vicious cirlce: the media prefer to talk about what's visible, making it even more visible, and the cycle is repeated. That's why a few coal miners trapped inside a mine underneath Virginia got headlines and long reportages here across the Pond, while one hundred coal miners dying in China barely make the news (It is true that we ought to expect better safety standards in the USA than China, but that's not what made the Virginia tragedy so popular).

America is very often the gauge to measure all other countries; some take it as the absolute zero and others as the full-scale; but only few use another scale altogether.
And only very dim-witted folks cannot realize that America is much more succesfull than Europe in many regards. That's why the EU has came up with all sorts of quality-of-life indicators that, strangely enough, always say that life in Europe is better than Over There. I think those are dishonest: only per-capita GDP is an objective enough indicator to be used for comparison; other such as "happiness" are too subjective and thus quite meaningless. Alternatively, the USA is accused of not playing straight, of gaining its wealth from robbery through military force, blackmail and exploitation.

Nevertheless, many in Europe do know that things aren't going so well, despite all the pompous proclamations of the elites. The sense of decadence was palpable in London, at least for me - and Parma isn't the fine city it used to be, anymore. But the ruling elites here are stuck in "Escalation of Failure" mode, and thus unwilling to recognize that the Americans have it largely right, and the Euro-socialist model is flawed at its roots.


However, at the same time ignorance about the United States is deep and widespread. And I don't mean ignorance of the fine juridical details, or the most obscure apects of American culture. No, I mean ignorance of the actual text of the Constitution, or of the fundamental features of American culture.

This ignorance surfaces when talking about gun issues - very few here know of the Sceond Amendment, and the true intentions of the Founding Fathers. But another defining moment was in November 2006, when the Democratic Party gained control of the Congress in the mid-term elections: most media outlets in Europe talked about a "defeat for Bush". Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the American institutions should know that congressional and presidential elections are separate and distinct events, and the President is elected directly by the People; unlike the Prime Minister of many EU countries, he is not the expression of the majority party/coalition. I am a mere amateur student of American things, and I know this... while journalist who have done years of humanities studies, and are supposed to know their stuff get it wrong. Something is amiss, here.

The image many Europeans have of America is gathered from movies and novels; while those are grounded in reality (at least in part), they necessarily give a partial and distorted picture. I shared some of the anti-american prejudices (though I've never been sanguine about them), but then reading blogs I began to see the whole picture in full colours, and those prejudices evaporated. In passing, I should note that many Americans manifest the same lack of knowledge about Europe.


This situation of high, unnaturally amplified visibility combined with severe ignorance is a fertile ground for anti-americanism. I see education as the only serious antidote.

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3 Commenti:

  • Might be a tad to a smidgen of shame at asking America to fend off the Germans twice in but two and half decades, that creates a sense of unease in certain Europeans. Japanese leaders themselves were at a loss to decide what would be done with America should an invasion become reality. How to fight nearly 200 million armed people. One of the reasons we so cherish the 2nd Amendment is because we believe in defending kith and kin ourselves without government intrusion. The US Constitution was designed to protect the people from its own government. On paper, all of the power resides within the populace, and all the government was set up to do was to raise enough men for the occasional war, deal with foreign governments, and pave the bloody roads. We'll tend to the rest thank you very much.

    Di Blogger Fits, Alle 18/3/07 05:43  

  • Of course the attitude and culture are different this side of the Pond. The point I've hovered around is that ignorance does not really help to get along despite the differences.

    Di Blogger Fabio, Alle 18/3/07 19:08  

  • In my experience most Americans don't quite understand the culture out of their own small enclaves. Ask a New Yorker about some of the finer points of Texas culture and you'll get all kinds of bizarre ideas.

    I suppose one mistake I've noticed Europeans make is failing to grasp is that American culture tends to vary quite a lot depending on what region of the country you're in. But a lot of Americans don't get this either :)

    Di Anonymous Sebastian, Alle 20/3/07 05:37  

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