Modest contribution to the "anti-Americanism" debate

At the reliably interesting online magazine Open democracy, Dominic Hilton has a reflection on anti-Americanism in Europe. Mostly he is trying to dismiss the phenomenon as a shallow fad, claiming that "most America-thumping is pathetically hypocritical, embarrassingly imbecilic, perilously ruinous and, worst of all, as derisorily fashionable as those ludicrous woolly boots everyone’s presently sporting." I don't think I completely buy the argument (it's not improved by the name-calling or the marginal sources), though he is probably right to see a good measure of scapegoating and posturing at work.

I'm ludicrously unqualified to address the question of how Americans are treated from personal experience, since at home my students ask me what country I am from and compliment my English, while in other countries natives stop me to ask for directions. This is probably some vague effect of personal appearance, go figure. So other people have to write those essays about how waiters reacted to them instinctively and how their hastily poured water stands for the disorder in the world. But I can say that I have never experienced the hatred of America and Americans that it has become so popular to claim. That is not to say that there is anything like universal receptivity. From a purely informal perspective, I offer a typology of critiques (not anywhere near exhaustive, of course):

Objection to US politics: No need to list the reasons people object to policies practiced by the US government, especially the current administration. To the degree that the critique is centered on specific current acts, it seems more like an invitation to conversation than an expression of hatred. People who are neither dishonest nor paid representatives of the government should be able to accept the invitation.

Resentment of economic domination: Sometimes the US is taken to stand for the general frustration with the new globalised economy, which is not surprising for either empirical or symbolic reasons. Depending on where the critique is coming from, it can be perfectly valid. Since I am not the head of a large well-connected corporation, I regard this one too as an invitation to conversation.

Assertions of cultural superiority: There are people who will claim to be more civilised, have an older and fancier culture, and so on. That's nice, we have bigots at home too. Ours aren't interesting to listen to either.

Avoidance of the overmarketed product: So much of the zasićenost with America seems to revolve around popular culture, with the oversupply of music, television and film products from this country. Language and production budgets probably have a lot to do with this (it is much cheaper to buy an hour of TV out of syndication than produce it), and a lot of what the US exports is genuine lowest-common-denominator material. But too much America is like too much of anything else. I doubt very much that anything other than good competition will reduce the influence of this very successful export. But there are a lot of reasons it would be good to see reciprocity here, and US media markets open to more than just reruns of British series on PBS.

There is no right to be loved by everyone. Some level of rejection is justified, and some level is bound to exist whether it is justified or not. My inclination is to consider the rapid putrefaction of America's image in the world as a call to make America a better place. But that is probably just idiosyncratic.


T K Vogel said...

Two quick points: I think the dek to Hilton's article -- and given that he's an editor at Open Democracy, he probably wrote it himself -- is misleading. "The United States is burdened with the pains, frustrations, and hatreds of the rest of the world" would certainly make one expect an exploration of anti-Americanism around the world, but frankly, I don't think there's a single example of non-American anti-Americanism (and even for American anti-Americanism he drops names and quick quotes rather than giving specific examples).

The other thing, re: Eric's comment about personal experience, is that anything can be interpreted as anything -- see Hilton's anecdote: you get good service in Paris, it must be because they want to get rid of you. They want to get rid of you, must be because you're American.

Eric Gordy said...

It isn't clear to me how somebody could think that giving someone good service in a restaurant would get rid of them. When I get good service, I am so shocked that I am incapable of motion.