Cultural images of the powerless

One article, two thoughts. Good going!

TPM Online Article
One of the things you notice, both as a skeptic and as an American in the UK , is that according to the British media – and a lot of non-media folks, too, I might add – pretty much all foolishness comes from the US.

As long ago as 1980 I lost count of the number of people who said to me something on the order of, “Well, Americans would believe/elect/get excited about , but here in Britain we're too sophisticated.â€? Britain was never going to elect anyone as bad or foolish as Reagan (or now, George W Bush), believe in alien abductions or angels, or get as weird as those nuts in Berkeley and ban public smoking. And people in this country were never going to get fat . Americans are fat and neurotic about diet and exercise. Britons boast about how much they eat, drink, and avoid gyms and jogging.

A very astute description of one of the aspects of the ambivalent folk anti-Americanism in Britain which is usually mixed with admiration, awe and boasts of the 'special relationship'. The kind of relationship one might have with a slightly simple-minded fat but very rich and powerful cousin. You can see this in British films from Dr. Strangelove to Notting Hill - where the rational, charming and honorable Brit shows the irrational (or at the very least cooky) American the true path. Of course, Americans participate in this scenario in their vision of sophisticated gentlefolk with a British accent. Around the world, similar scenarios play out between the powerful and the powerless. The powerless cast themselves as smart and resourceful in the context of the slow and lumbering power-holders. The powerful view the powerless alternately as annoying, backward or deceitful, and on the other hand as charming, rustic, close to the original principles, somebody to learn from. Some of the most common things said about the vassal cultures by (and to) those with more resources: they are friendly, they have good food, and they have beautiful women. At least, those are the common phrases every Westerner takes with them when they travel to the developing world. There is some variation on this (see for instance the Scots and the English) but the overall pattern is probably fairly universal in situations of relative political stability - of course there are also situations where there is nothing but mutual contempt but I would bet that they are surprisingly rare.

This other quote from a Boston Globe column illustrates the complexities of phenomena such as anti-Americanism:

Polling by the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows that anti-Americanism remains strong in Europe.

And yet, as a wag once quipped about the sexual revolution, I've heard much more about it than I've ever experienced first-hand. Judging from the response a tourist gets on an occasional trip to Europe, my own feeling is that people differentiate between an administration they disdain and Americans themselves.

In a fall 2003 trip to Italy, Slovenia, Austria, and France, at a time when the Iraq war had made aversion to the Bush administration soar, I was struck by the people who went out of their way to express their friendship.