those stupid Americans

woah how has it been so long since I last wrote?

Those last two posts must have really taken it out of me.

Jenn and I went to San Sebastian this weekend and had so much fun!  Just hanging out with fellow hostelers, going to the beach, and walking around.  We’ll be going to La Rioja tomorrow for a scenic tour guided by Josianne, a fellow teacher at the high school.  I’ve decided that I will finally create a new facebook album after La Rioja.

Peine de los vietos by Eduardo Chillada

About a month ago, when our friend Jorge found out I was from Texas, he asked me how many people I knew who own guns and/or go hunting.  And of course I got the usual question that I get here all the time about if Texas actually looks like it does in movies: flat, nothing, dry, hot for miles.  And obviously, the answer is, “Yes, in some parts.  But not where I live.”  And when I met Jorge’s friends I had to endure teasing about me whipping my gun out and shooting them if they made me angry.

In one of the adult classes that I teach at the academia, I brought in an article from the New York Times vows section about a gay couple getting married (but in Canada) and was surprised to find that gay marriage is legal here.  Another day I played the song “Cookie Jar” by Jack Johnson because it has easy, decipherable lyrics and is about a topic that I thought would spurn a lot of conversation: school shootings.   I often try to choose controversial topics hoping that it will get the adults talking.

The next week, my students Ruben and Maria brought in newspaper articles like I asked them to. Ruben’s article was about 400 inmates that are going to be executed in Texas this month (of which 40% are black) and Maria’s article was about that Colorado family that pretended like their son went up in the silver balloon.

And that’s when I said, “No more stupid-American stories!”  I didn’t want our entire class content to be devoted to shaking our heads at America.

So I thought, “Why would these be the articles they chose?  And what kind of an effect am I personally having on the U.S.’s reputation?”

Why is it that America has such a bad rap?

There are plenty of Americans who support gay marriage, are anti-death penalty or are at least critical of the racism inherent in the justice system, and of course we all don’t like school shootings and call that Colorado family a bunch of crazies.  But unfortunately the rest of the world never hears about those Americans.  They only hear about the Evangelicals, the celebrities, the Timothy McVeighs, and the corrupt CEOs.  Our one salvation: Obama.  Now that Obama is our president it’s like all of a sudden Europe thinks we’re an entirely different country.  “Well if they can elect Obama, maybe they’re not so bad after all.”  “Americans are finally wisening up; They’ve got a Democrat for a president again!  And have you heard?  He’s black.”  The thing is, those Americans have always been in the US but your media never reports about it and the entertainment that you consume is produced to be mass-marketed.

As a connoisseur of television, I know what’s quality and what’s not.  Well guess what, HBO, FX, Showtime, and clever NBC comedies don’t make it over here.  It’s all CSI, Law and Order, House (which is good, but doesn’t exactly break out of it’s own episodic conventions and structures), MTV reality, teen soaps, NCIS, ER…you get the picture.

And what movies make it over here?  Blockbuster/action/thriller.

And what music makes it over here? Pop and hip-hop.

And that’s all to be expected.  After all, it is made because it will be bought on a global scale.  But it only feeds into a misperception of  what Americans are like–ignorant of high culture, incapable of art entertainment, consumed by good guys vs. bad guys, greedy, ignorant, uneducated, violent.  And there is a level of truth to that, as all those things do exist in the U.S.  But in Europe there exists an absence of all other things “American” and who would know the difference?

Two nights ago when I announced to my table of 2 Austrians, 1 Australian, and 1 Canadian that everyone hates Americans, they insisted that they do know that there exist some good ones.  One of the Austrians insisted that when she was in the U.S. she experienced the same ignorance–people confusing Austria with Australia, people not sure what language is spoken in Austria, asking if they had electricity over there. Feeling embarrassed by the the ignorance of my fellow Americans, I accepted her assessment that people all over the world are ignorant and that the best you can do is just prove them wrong.

But I realized later that night, that the two situations are not exactly comparable. American ignorance about Austria is because we see and hear almost nothing about Austria.  Yet European ignorance of the U.S. is because they see and hear A LOT and yet there is still information missing in that transaction.

So now who can I blame?  Is it our fault for only exporting our crap, or is it their fault for buying it?

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