I was thinking the other day about how Europe is presented in US schools. At least this was the case when I was in primary and secondary school on the West coast of the US. Europe was, as far as the kids in the class were concerned, a mythical place. For instance, have you ever seen the advertising for things in the US? If it is European, it is obviously better and owning one gives the person a sophisticated air (like Italian suits are somehow so much better than other kinds of suits). It did not really exist and it mattered very very little to us on any basis. Now, my parents had been there and thus I had a bit of perspective on it but, for most of the kids in my classes, they were never going there and they never thought about Europe outside of class.
This is important when it comes to US people's reactions to the attitudes of Europeans when expressed on the news. They have very little clue about who these people are and have an inferiority complex toward them because they perceive them as mythical people and places. I think this has much to do with how the US electorate and, ultimately, the US government handles its relations with Europe. While those in the upper parts of the government know full well what is going on in Europe and have been there themselves, they use the mythical stature of Europe in the US mind-set to manipulate the people into doing some very silly things.
As an aside, whenever a US person starts ranting about the French. Ask him or her if he or she have read a French newspaper (even in English) and thus know anything about their daily concerns and the happenings in their culture. I would bet a solid majority would not have done so. Heck, even I have not and I have ready access to those things. Why would reading their newspapers be important? Well, nothing happens in a vacuum and you can have a good gage of what their priorities are by what they consider newsworthy. Another question that you can ask them is if they have ever actually met a French person. This goes to the heart of the mythical nature of the Europeans. Having never met one and never really read about them on a daily basis, a US person has no frame of reference to comment but they will anyway. Why? Because the US person has been fed a stereotypical line from his or her media. Many of whom have definitely been to Europe and interacted with its people. These media people help perpetuate the mythical nature of these people. Those Europeans that do go on US TV are deftly used to give an aura of legitimacy without ever breaking with the mythical stature.
This is beginning to change or, at least, I hope it is. I know that the BBC world service both radio and TV are played in the US. Also, BBC America cable channel is also making available a much wider range of BBC programming. Now, if we could just get US people to watch other European television without joking about it or using it to feel superior. For instance, have you ever heard jokes about French cinema from an US person?
Anyway, as global travel starts breaking down barriers, it will be interesting to see if, in twenty years time, enough US people have traveled or lived in Europe to change the mythical nature of most US people's interaction with Europe.
posted by Chris #9:49 AM | 2 comments |