Tuesday, July 04, 2006



Some light fluff here about an alleged rise of anti-American sentiment amongst Australians.

No solid examples of this claimed anti-Americanism are cited, just vague generalisations and a threat that such a rise in anti-American sentiment could have dire consequences...of some kind.

Apparently far too many Australians are too willing to think of Americans as "stupid" or "dumb".

And this opinion piece attempts to argue that this is dangerous, unacceptable and downright un-Australian :
When communist China enjoys a higher standing than the world's oldest democracy in opinion polls...and phrases such as "dumb Americans" and "stupid Americans" as well as other dismissive remarks can be used in everyday conversation without any sense of opprobrium, it's time to get serious about the long-term health of US-Australian relations.

There is a ferocity with which Americans are being lampooned, and it can apply to anything - accents, food, entertainment, social graces, fashion, weight, as well as their supposed lack of intelligence and insensitivity to other cultures. And it is the banal and crude nature of such jabs that differentiate anti-Americanism from plain and reasonable criticism of US foreign policy and attitudes, making it a prime candidate for the status of a prejudice.

....parodies of Americans as stupid hillbillies, wild cowboys or just plain dumb have little to do with reality but everything to do with earlier myths of slant-eyed and conspiratorial Asians. It's the return of prejudice, but with an added vengeance.

The problem with all this is, of course, the fact that the majority of television and movies screened in Australia that parody Americans as "stupid hillbillies, wild cowboys or just plain dumb" are made by....Americans.

You can turn on any commercial network channel any night of the week and within a couple of hours you will see such cliched American characters being played for laughs, or for the fear factor, if the show happens to be related to crime.

In fact, it is America's entertainment industry that panders to these cliches, constantly.

It's hard to think of a single British or Australian movie which has recently featured lead American characters hitting these cliche red alerts anywhere near as hard as TV shows like 'My Name Is Earl' and movies like 'The Dukes Of Hazzard'.

Our cinemas are full of American-made movies starring American actors protraying American characters obsessed with sex, violence, money, guns, consumerism and with no real interest in the world outside their own shores.

So what are Australians supposed to think when America itself makes bllions from sending these cliched characters out into the entertainment world market?

While Australia has decisively ditched earlier forms of bigotry, the pervasiveness of anti-American sentiment or prejudice is growing. But unlike other forms of discrimination, it is stigma free....insults and cheap shots have increasingly substituted intelligent debate on American policy. Neither practice bodes well for the long-term future of the relationship.

It's academic, waffle-twaddle. The majority of Australians judge people on how they act and interact when they meet them for themselves.

Australia is widely regarded as one of the most tolerant countries on the planet, and Americans are deeply entrenched in our culture and our national psyche.

If some Australians think that Americans are "dumb" or "stupid", well maybe that's because those Australians met Americans that they thought were dumb or stupid, or watched too many US shows where Americans were portrayed as dumb or stupid.

It doesn't have to be anymore sinister than that.

While American tourists are finding themselves being aggressively confronted by strangers in the streets of England and across the EU, mostly for the actions of their president, few Americans are complaining that they are facing racism, or intolerance, or abuse, when they visit Australia.

To portray the honest reactions of Australians to their encounters with Americans as some ultra-threat to the future of Australian-American relations is absurd and it's anti-Australian.

Per capita, we are the largest consumer of American entertainment products (movies, music, TV shows, video games) in the world. If we didn't like what them, and we didn't like their gear, we wouldn't be buying so much of it.

There's a growing attempt at society-shaping by some who want to see Australia far more integrated into American business, politics and culture more than we already are.

But we are not a state of the US, and we are one of the last of their world allies who do not view this allegiance as negative or dangerous.

As usual, the culture that America sends out to the world through its entertainment industries in exchange for billions of dollars, is not taken into account for how Americans are perceived. Television, in particular, is a powerful and vastly influential medium for shaping peoples' minds and perceptions, and ingraining beliefs.

This is why the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, spends more taxpayer funds on television advertising than any other Australian leader since the medium first rolled out across the nation.

If Americans, generally, are worried about Australians thinking that they're stupid and dumb - and there is little evidence in the American media to show this is does concern them - then it's up to their cultural exporters to help change those perceptions.

And it's up to the President, as well, to talk and explain himself and his actions like one of the most powerful leaders in the world when he makes national, and with growing frequency, international addresses, not to laugh it up like he's still snapping towels in college locker rooms.

Bush is the American face most frequently seen on the news in most of the world, and people in most of the world find it genuinely creepy and disturbing that he feels the need to smile so much when talking about mass murder in Iraq and torture in his own military prisons.

But, Australians know that Bush is not all of America, just as John Howard is not all of Australia.

Americans know they are always welcome in Australia, and that the vast majority of Australians are happy to talk to them, show them around and teach them a bit about our country and culture.

It's in England that the US now has some extremely serious public perception problems, according to a new survey :
More than half of those interviewed regard the United States as an imperial power bent on ominating the world.
A majority of Britons think American culture and the actions of the Bush administration are making the world a worse place to live in, and almost no one thinks the United States is now, if it ever was, a beacon to the world...
More than three-quarters of Britons think President Bush is a "poor" or even "terrible" world leader, and almost as many think his rhetoric about promoting the cause of democracy in the world is a cover to promote U.S. national interests.

Americans are still held in high regard in Britain, but America's role in the world is not. The so-called "special relationship" may still thrive in official government circles, but it obviously has atrophied among the British public.
It's not all bad news, however. As with polls taken recently in countries across Europe, and the Middle East, it's Bush Co and the 'War On Terror' that seems to be inflicting the major damage on how the world now regards the US in general.
A large majority of Britons like Americans either "a little" (49 percent) or "a lot" (21 percent), and 54 percent are inclined to feel positively about the United States in general. There are certainly few signs in YouGov's findings of an across-the-board anti-American prejudice.
Fully 69 percent of Britons say their overall opinion of the United States has worsened in recent years.

Fewer than one-quarter, 22 percent, think the Bush administration's policies and actions make the world a better place. And 65 percent regard U.S. influence in the world today as predominantly malign.

...77 percent (of Britons) were startled by the idea that the United States may be setting the rest of the world a good example.

The Gallup Poll in 1975 found that 27 percent of Britons had considerable confidence in U.S. leadership.

That figure has fallen to 12 percent.