It reminds me of that old horror movie where the babysitter calls the cops to ask for help with a stalker who has been making threatening calls. When they manage to trace the call, however, the find out that it is coming from inside her house.
My search for the root problem of America’s image abroad has brought me right back home. That some of the most scurrilous attacks on our values & institutions come from within our country will come as no surprise to anybody who has seen a Michael Moore movie. Yesterday night I was watching “American Dad” with the boys. It is simply horrible. This episode could have been funded by Al Qaida. It portrayed American officials as torturers who liked to do it so much that they would sponsor a telethon to raise funds to continue it. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. Much of the Sunday night lineup is like that. “American Dad” is preceded by “Family Guy.” This one has some very funny vignettes, which are the Trojan horses that get the propaganda through the gates, but the overall theme is that the average American “family man” is a selfish, stupid, pervert who thinks only in terms of his own short term gain, short term because he is too dumb to plan much beyond tomorrow anyway.
People accuse me of being an old crank when I complain about these things. Some even imply that I am against free speech. This is unfair. Free speech is useful because it allows us all to judge the good from the bad. Free speech means that people have the right to voice their opinions, whether they are reasonable or stupid. But not all speech is equal. We all have the duty to assess the contentions of others. I would not censor those things I mention above, but I do think intelligent people have to point out how stupid, misguided and harmful they are. It is not just good fun and it is not just satire. These are consistently hateful and misguided attacks. Just because we have to tolerate it doesn’t mean we have to like it or support it.
People usually claim more sophistication than they manifest. Most don’t pay attention to the news and few people in the world could pass even a simple multiple choice test about American foreign policy. American cultural products, however, sell well overseas. We export a lot of good quality material. But it comes with a heavy leavening of the sort of crap that coats our television sets so many nights and what do you think gets the higher ratings? It is not hard to understand why a lot of people worldwide would dislike us if their media images of ordinary Americans come from “American Dad,” “Desperate Housewives” & reruns of “Jerry Springer.” We Americans presumably have real world comparisons to counteract the media images, yet we still harbor prejudices about Americans from different places. What about people who don’t know Americans in person?
Perception is reality.
Imagine if you watched a television series made by the cultural elite of another country that consistently portrayed their leaders as horribly corrupt, bigoted & vicious, and their ordinary people as stupid, shallow and dishonest. Imagine if all the false and pejorative stereotypes you had heard were confirmed by their own media … repeatedly. What would you think? Defenders of this trash say that you would be really impressed that our hypothetical foreign friends were so open that they welcomed this kind of attack on themselves. Would you really? Does holding the tolerant high ground make you immune from real world ridicule? Or does it just invite offense as the next insult tops the previous? If your spouse ridiculed you and pointed out all your faults in front of your friends every time you went out, would that improve the reputation of your family? The best you could get is someone who calls down a plague on both of you.
It is like the story of the drunk who smashes into his wife’s car parked in the driveway and comforts himself with the idea that the other car is as wrecked as his.
A good test of fairness, BTW, is substitution. Watch one of these “satires” and substitute for the American any other nationality, ethnic group or affiliation. How long would an Arab “Family Guy” stay on the air? Is it still funny or is it just plain mean and bigoted?