Full disclosure: I am a Brit. My two brothers both live in LA. My oldest
friend is another Brit who lived in New York for several years.
The UK, and Europe in general, has plenty of anti-Americanism. People who would
never say something like "black people are stupid", will happily call Americans
dumb. This is an attempt to set the record straight.
Americans are smart
Of course this is just as big a generalisation as "Americans are stupid". Let's
say, well-educated. American public schools may not be much good, but more
Americans go into tertiary education than most other nations. If you check
the quality of public debate, the American version is far superior
to the English one. Going deeper into academia, American
philosophers - Rawls, Dworkin, Rorty - have shaped the thought of the past fifty
years. If you see a scientist on telly, it's usually an American, because all
the best science is being done in the US now.
So maybe the best way to put it is: America is smart. Like every Top
Nation before it, the US has translated economic dominance into cultural
American culture is better
We hate Hollywood, don't we? All those brash, soulless, special-effects based
flicks. We'd much rather go and see the latest arthouse production from the
Continent! Oh, come off it. Everyone knows that the French haven't produced a
decent film for years (try to see L'Humanite
and not die laughing); and the latest saviours of intellectual cinema, the
Iranians, aren't up to much if wildly-praised The Apple is anything to go by
(imagine a public information film made on camcorder by your Mum).
Meanwhile, America continues to turn out, among the inevitable dross, excellent
films. Love or hate Tarantino, he took high-class, character-driven dialogue,
and complex, morally ambiguous plots, and made them popular; and these virtues
have been combined with Hollywood's traditional understanding that a film is a
story, not a picture. The Coen brothers make intelligent, thoughtful cinema that
is at the same time eminently watchable - and all over the world, punters
come in droves. Stick that up your Battleship Potemkin.
Turning to the other great popular art: we Brits have contributed our bit, but
pop music continues to be shaped by America. As for the rest of Europe...
I'll pass over David Hasselhof and Die Toten Hosen in silence. If only they had
done the same.
Americans are polite
You wouldn't think it from seeing American Pie II or whatever, but America is a
fantastically polite place. The notorious "Have a nice day" you get when you
leave a shop is an example (I don't see why people have a problem with this
friendly remark). Americans are polite because they consider others as
equals. My class-ridden country has become famously rude. Visiting America, I
was astounded when my brother warned me against saying "fuck" in public.
They care about freedom
Well, of course they do! They love to shoot their guns, don't they?
Yes, and like most people outside the US, I think the Second Amendment is mad. (Note to contributors: please, please, no gun control
debates.) But there's so much more to it than that. For Americans, freedom
really is like a religion. You may disagree with their particular choice
of church, but you have to admire the underlying faith. This is the country
where citizens can hold binding referendums in many states; where you can expose
the multifarious crimes of your
government with the aid of the world's most powerful Freedom of Information
laws; where free speech really means free speech - not "free till we don't like
what you say".
They're funny (not just unintentionally)
It's another hideous stereotype that Americans have no sense of irony. There is
a grain of truth in this. I've often seen some dry comment on a bulletin board,
followed by a desperately earnest reply with the addendum "I hope you're being
ironic". But this is really a reflection of British culture, where
our sense of irony is on a hair-trigger. Anyone who thinks Americans really
don't get irony should look at The
Onion. It's funny as hell - funnier than Viz - entirely irony-based, and it's not even
from New York.
They have a good word for bum
Last but not least, all Anglophones owe America a heartfelt thank you for coming
up with the only erotically acceptable word for bottom. Where "bum" is too
parental, "bottom" is too formal and "buttocks" are too reductive, "ass" trips
lightly off the tongue. Like what it refers to, it has a smooth, velvety sheen.
(In Britain, we have "arse" - an inferior substitute, which doesn't sound
nice at all.)
Americans, then: they're clever, funny, polite and culturally
gifted, and snobbish Europeans had better get used to it. We can dislike
American foreign policy - and I do - but we shouldn't confuse that with
disliking the American people. Have a nice day.