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Against Us
When I read this critique of the United States this evening, I felt the heat rise in my chest:
The U.S.A. has no poets, no painters, no architects or composers of world stature. Whatever culture it has is borrowed from Europe. The land lacks its own language, culture, and civilization. It has borrowed everything, generally debasing it by Americanizing it, never improving it. Americanization is a kind of kitschification that gives every cultural value an American stamp, turning a mature language into slang, the waltz into jazz, a work of literature into a crime story. If the Americans lacked money, they would probably be the most despised people in the world. Superiority is nowhere as annoying as with them.
Maybe it's because I heard similar sentiments voiced throughout the year I spent in Euope, frequently from teenagers. I used to wonder what it would take to convince these critics that, for all of its faults, my nation has made significant contributions to global civilization. I'm no longer so interested in making that point. But somewhere inside me, that cultural patriot lives on, intruding at the most awkward moments. I mean, what do care what this the author of this clichéd rant thinks?

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From: ex_synecdoch550 Date: July 11th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Up until the reference to jazz, I thought that might have been an excerpt from Sidney Smith's Who Reads and American Book?, from 1820.

It is interesting you posted this today. I was in a geography class that I am a notetaker for today, and the professor was very unapologetic about his anti-Americanism, and the class played right along. I grew increasingly irritated. As somebody who studies American literature and culture, it really frustrates me when people make such ridiculous generalizations and then turn around and complain that Americans stereotype Canadians or Europeans or anybody else.

To add to the irony, part of the lecture was about the core / periphery theory of human geography and regionalism, and the professor made the point that while we here in Prince George complain about places like Vancouver being out of touch with us, people in Valemount (a small community not far from here) feel the same way about us. This was not long after the professor made a number of disparaging remarks about the United States that sounded like much of the same, just on an international stage rather than a more regional one.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:36 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right. I take major issue with many aspects of American society and absolutely despise our current government. But that doesn't mean that I think its cultural offerings are insubstantial.
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: July 11th, 2006 05:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Come on babe, why don't we paint the town? And all that jazz. I'm gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down. And all that jazz. Start the car I know a whoopee spot where the gin is cold but the piana's hot, it's just a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl and all. that. jazz.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:37 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

I'm going to Baltimore (and D.C. and P.G. County too) next week. I'll think of you as I pass the signs for Laurel.
masoo From: masoo Date: July 11th, 2006 05:29 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
"turning a mature language into slang, the waltz into jazz, a work of literature into a crime story"

They say this like it's a bad thing.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Precisely. But when you consider the source. . .

From: batdina Date: July 11th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
If the Americans lacked money, they would probably be the most despised people in the world.

you mean we're not already the most despised people in the world? what on earth are we doing wrong now?

{psst: did you notice that Ana Marie Cox got skewered by Barbara Ehrenreich today?}
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:41 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's an old quote! And, considering where it comes from, the designation is pretty ironic anyway.

Where did she skewer her? I'm always in for some skewering.
hollsterhambone From: hollsterhambone Date: July 11th, 2006 05:40 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
One word: bluegrass.

I mean, HELL-O!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:42 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
And hyrdoponic grass too!
commonalgebra From: commonalgebra Date: July 11th, 2006 06:10 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I find this funny. I mean, who cares if we contribute to art or culture or civilization--we can fucking blow everyone else up. So there.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Considering where this quote came from, that's a superb response.
From: e4q Date: July 11th, 2006 08:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
where did you even read this?
anti american ism is a bit like the anti english ism from the dear scots.
i pity fools like this, they must have brains that would fit into dollies heads.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 02:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's the punchline, which I'll share today. I was surprised how riled up I got despite the source. But I really did here more or less the same argument when I was living in Europe. All the time, in fact.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: July 11th, 2006 11:53 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've been privy to some conversations along this line myself here in China (though not with Chinese). It usually doesn't take very long for me to convince Europeans they're being idiots. "Oh, yeah. Maybe you're right."

I'll be in DC till the 28th of July, but I'll also be in Tucson afterwards -- so take your pick if you wanna meet up.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yes! Would you send me an e-mail -- I always forget your address -- so I can reply with my cell phone number?

I'll be checking e-mail in Baltimore.
tpratt From: tpratt Date: July 11th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
So what exactly was hip-hop music kitschified from? Good lord.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The quote predates hip-hop. But I'm sure the person who wrote this would have found something dreadful to say about it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 11th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Li ving in a Ma ter ial World.

I know who wrote it! He can bite it. Can I redeem my prize.

Actually, last night, I was, no kidding, in a KTV parlor called Happy (soon to find that it was really a brothel); my 42 year old British colleague turned to me--after I had just finished a back to back performance of 1.) a wrenching rendition of Lionel Richie's Hello and 2.) head-scratching version of Material Girl whose karaoke music video was quite simply, yet profoundly, stock footage of military jet planes taking off, flying in formations, and landing on American Navy ships (Who gave the world ironic recontextualization? ((I seriously don't know who exactly)))--He turned to me and said "You know I've rather disliked working with Americans, they are typically moaning, contract-waving, whingers. Our school has always had an unofficial Anti-American policy, but I think you've changed their mind. You are rare, so we like you. We've decide to hire more teachers, and as it happens there all American. It's your job to make sure they don't cluster up together, because their bitches that way." Amazingly, this was meant to be both a compliment and a promotion. The most ghastly yet!

After assuring him that I wasn't the only "likable" non-whinger in the whole of U.S. of A, I told him he was full of piss. And went to singing ABBA's Fernando.

So yeah, here in China I've come across a heavy, and cliched Anti-Americanism streaming from a few Europeans. Though they seem to assure me that I am amongst the few exceptions, which is just lazy rationale. Talking to these types is dead-end from the get go. However, from my many conversations with Chinese taxi drivers they find us adorable and cute.

Since leaving the U.S. five months ago, and having to describe in simple words to Chinese people about what growing up in Texas was like without using references to Republican politics and oil cowboys, etc. I found myself conveying my most endearing feelings of being American: my family and its Texan eccentricity, but mostly the sheer range in diversity between and within communities. It can be fabulous! Feeling a little more sentimental about the states than ever before, there's some good people there, if not tragically confused on how to vote. Strange that the "Communist" Chinese would remind me of the best parts of my country.

A little back story: This is Hannah, a former summer session student from a few years back. Probably don't recall much about me, but I stumbled across De file somehow, most likely through Bad Subjects. Have been lurking around here for a couple weeks and just finally saying Hi! I'm enjoying some of your cool links to other blogs and stuff, great photos, all around pensive, enjoyable and funny. Like the way I remember your class!

I moved to the outskirts of Beijing about 5 months ago. Teaching English anywhere from 4 to 45 year olds. It's going rather wildly, thinking about staying for a few years, who knows really. Most likely I'll be heading to the south-west to find work in Kunming. I've got my own little thing at www.shoesonawire.blogspot.com (there are typos and incomplete thoughts, etc.) Probably should have said hi in a message, but 'tis written..

Hannah! :)

p.s. yes, you're right about collecting and its ways.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Li ving in a Ma ter ial World.

Great to hear from you! I'm glad someone knows who wrote it. Another one of my former students and an LJ friend -- frostedfuckhead -- has been teaching English in China too. I think he's also near Beijing. He's coming home for a month, so I'll ask him when I see him. But maybe he could help you find out some cool stuff to do. Send me an e-mail -- my LJ user name @ gmail DOT com -- and I'll pass it on.

tommix From: tommix Date: July 11th, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Are we supposed to pretend that we don't know it's Adorno? Should I care what that cultural mandarin thinks about the U.S., jazz and detective fiction? His aesthetic theory is so narrow that we could only listen to the early atonal music of Schoenberg, not twelve tone mind you, because there's too much structure, and read Samuel Beckett. I give you one name, Teddy: Duke Ellington.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thank you, thank you, thank you for stating the obvious that I so badly wanted someone to state. You'll see why later today. And I had exactly the same response you did.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 11th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: July 11th, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Is this my previous "anonymous" commenter Hannah or someone else? Either way, thanks for the link. I was about to make the revelation when I got this.
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