About Love Us or Hate Us, Ya Canít Ignore Us
|August 27th, 2007||#1|
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Love Us or Hate Us, Ya Canít Ignore Us info
By JOHN STRAUSBAUGH
DO Europeans hate America or love it? Lately the answer might seem a no-brainer. But “The Anti-Americans,” a one-hour documentary that has its premiere on PBS on Monday night, suggests that the correct response is: “Both.” We have, the show declares, “a hate-love relationship.”
We see both sides in the program. First the hate:
At a fashionable dinner party in London a proper Englishwoman sniffs with supreme condescension, “Americans are the first nation to come from barbarians, skip the civilized bit and go into decline.”
In a French country kitchen a woman recalls, with horrified outrage, a trip to Chicago, where she encountered “the fattest people I ever saw in my life.” She gasps that she could have ridden on their “big fat behinds.”
At a raucous public forum in a Dublin pub the one brave soul who speaks up in America’s defense is shouted down with angry obscenities.
Then the love:
In Poland a large crowd in cowboy hats and boots waves American flags and cheers a bluegrass performance. If it weren’t for the accents and the odd spellings like “piknik” and “hod dog,” you might think it’s Branson, Mo.
Shooting in 2005 and ’06, Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker and Peter Odabashian of the Center for New American Media, a New York documentary-production company, discovered one thing these countries have in common: The omnipresent culture of the United States is like a giant funhouse mirror in which Europeans see their own distorted reflections.
“America is a very, very useful construct for us to ventilate our own inadequacies and frustrations with ourselves,” one Irishman confesses.
The British novelist and journalist Will Self accuses his countrymen of being “blatantly hypocritical” and “extremely shallow” about the United States. They speak about American culture with great disdain, he says in the documentary, even as they consume it with a bottomless appetite.
As a case in point “The Anti-Americans,” part of the “America at a Crossroads” series, includes segments from a London stage production of “Jerry Springer: The Opera.”
“Jerry Springer is very American,” Mr. Alvarez said recently, “but only the British would make an opera about him.”
Mr. Kolker compared this program to “The Japanese Version,” which he and Mr. Alvarez produced in 1991. That show explored how the Japanese fascination with American pop culture may say more about the Japanese as cultural magpies than it does about the global influence of the United States.
Similarly, when French people complain on camera about everything from American cuisine to American foreign policy to American terms infiltrating their language, they really seem to be lamenting France’s own loss of power and influence in the world.
Because France declined on the world stage as the United States rose, the cultural anthropologist and marketing guru G. Clotaire Rapaille says in the film, “Americans are the ideal enemy.”
The French writer Pascal Bruckner agrees. “The fact that you’re hated means that you matter,” he says.
Mr. Kolker put it more bluntly: “They have empire envy.”
He said the producers chose Britain and France because “they were low-hanging fruit really. They’re the greatest America haters in the world, yet they also love America.”
They chose Poland, he said, as representative of the New Europe, where they expected to find “a fundamentally different attitude toward America.” He added with a smile, “What we found out was that they’re mostly just glad we’re not Russian.”
After decades of domination by the Nazis and then the Soviets, the Poles seem more willing than the British or French to be dominated by American culture. They speak of Uncle Sam as though he were a rich relative, if a distant and rather aloof one. It’s love with a distinct tinge of neurotic insecurity.
“If Poland were a person, they would be in permanent analysis,” the British-born historian Tony Judt observes.
For the legions of country music fans in Poland, idealized images of the American West represent freedom. Michael Lonstar (pronounced like Lonestar) fondly remembers hearing Ernest Tubb on Voice of America radio as a boy growing up behind the Iron Curtain. He performs country music in Polish and English, complete with achy-breaky dancing girls in denim miniskirts and cowboy boots.
In doing historical research for the program, Mr. Alvarez said, the producers were interested to find that Europeans’ stereotypes of the United States and Americans have remained fundamentally unchanged for generations.
But, Mr. Judt says in the program, in recent years the Bush administration’s foreign policy has amplified traditional European dismay and “switched on something I haven’t see in a very long time.” He says that Europeans now want to tell us: “Damn it, you’re doing stupid things that could screw up my world, in which case I want the right to have some say in who runs your country. If you must have stupid presidents, I want a vote.”
A sense of humor and a light touch are trademarks of the documentaries Mr. Kolker and Mr. Alvarez have made together for 30 years, the last 10 with Mr. Odabashian.
Those have included “Vote for Me,” a four-part series on grass-roots politicking that was shown on PBS in 1996; “People Like Us,” in which Americans openly discussed the often taboo subject of social class, shown in 2001; and “Small Ball,” which had its premiere in 2004, about the 2002 Little League Baseball World Series.
“We look at culture with a bit of whimsy and a serious undertone,” Mr. Alvarez explained. “We want people chattering when it’s over. We’re not propagandists, but we do have a message.”
One message to take away from “The Anti-Americans” is that “Europeans love to criticize us, but they can’t take their eyes off us,” Mr. Alvarez said. “That’s because there’s no escaping us. Every day they have to deal with America politically, economically and culturally. We’re the 800-pound gorilla in their lives.”
|August 27th, 2007||#2|
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I agree with Will Self here. At the moment we have here a chatterati of hypocrites who have lost their way and do not recognise the fact. Such un-American attitudes are pathetic and will prove self-destructive.