- Air Force cadets ‘revolt’ after officials remove biblical verse from whiteboard
- Rep. Lee: Paul Ryan out of touch with urban Americans
- House votes down resolution to force Issa to apologize
- Kremlin blocks opposition websites; Kasparov fears Putin plans ‘something drastic’
- Saving trees? EPA wastes $1.5 million storing unneeded pamphlets in warehouse
- Scott Brown Senate bid in New Hampshire may launch soon
- Jeffrey Corzine, son of ex-N.J. governor, dead at 31
- Australian surfing magazine sorry for calling indigenous surfer ‘apeish’
- Records: Man in Fla. theater shooting also was texting
- The Putin problem: U.S. needs Russian rockets for spy satellites
WETZSTEIN: U.S. seen as powerful yet vulgar
In the 1830s, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came to America and described its new-fangled democracy as “exceptional.”
America has never been perfect, which is why, as we are counting our blessings and enjoying as much of the good life as we can this July Fourth weekend, we can still be critical of where we stand as a nation and a culture.
Two of my personal beliefs, held since I was a teen, have been “to thine own self be true” and don’t be afraid to take that “fearless moral inventory.” With that guidance in mind, I recently dove into a book about modern America.
“For better or for worse, America is the 800-pound gorilla in every room in the world,” begins “Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation,” issued this spring by American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
When America “has an itch, the world scratches. When it gets a cold, the world sneezes,” wrote editors Peter H. Schuck and James Q. Wilson. Despite this lofty perch, Americans, who are “marinating in their own society,” can’t seem to see themselves or others very clearly, they wrote.
For instance, Americans don’t realize that they are viewed as “exceptional” all right - “exceptionally vulgar, exceptionally materialistic, exceptionally imperialistic, exceptionally clumsy, exceptionally unfeeling, and exceptionally self-centered,” wrote Mr. Schuck and Mr. Wilson.
To be sure, there is a flip side: American music, books and films dominate the global cultural market; American consumer goods end up in houses, huts and homes worldwide; many countries still dial 911-Uncle Sam when violence stalks their lands; and self-absorbed Americans still give more generously than anyone else.
But who are we, really?
Let’s take a look at just the chapter on pop culture in this wonderfully readable book.
“Americans have long assumed that their popular culture was the country’s best ambassador,” wrote Boston College professor Martha Bayles. “But America’s typical export these days is not jazz composer Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take the A Train.’” It is the works of rapper Eminem.
Diplomatic or not, Eminem and other emissaries of U.S. entertainment remain popular in the world. In 2007, a report by Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project surveyed 45,239 people in 47 countries and found that most people in most countries liked American movies, music and television.
The biggest dissents came from people who lived in Muslim countries, India and Russia, said the Pew report, “Global Unease With Major World Powers.”
The same report also showed that while American entertainment products are still largely acceptable, the ideas and customs of we the people are not. A whopping 42 out of 47 countries strongly agreed with the statement that “It’s bad that American ideas and customs are spreading here,” the Pew report said. That’s a startling rise in anti-American sentiment, said Ms. Bayles, who spoke at an AEI briefing on the book in April.
Ms. Bayles offered one more discouraging observation about how others see us. Since so much of U.S. entertainment shows Americans “routinely engaging in violent, sexually promiscuous, criminal and antisocial behavior,” more than a few people in the world think that’s who we really are.
In fact, said Ms. Bayles, “there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence” about how when people finally visit the United States, they are “astonished” by what they see - Americans who are family-centered, civic-minded, socially conservative and religious.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.
Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
- Stricter standards force abortion clinics to close; pro-lifers cheer shrinking numbers
- Public accommodations provision in Md. transgender rights bill draws outcry
- German home-school family can stay in U.S. indefinitely
- U.S. Supreme Court declines German home-school case
- Medical facility 'buffer-zone' law in court
Latest Blog Entries
- Gay therapy ban author seeks Calif. House seat
- Transgender 'bathroom law' gets 5,000 more signatures
- Pro-life, stem-cell bill signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback
- N. Dakota lawmakers approve tough abortion bill
- Pope Benedict XVI's successor should allow priests to get a new title: Husband, poll finds
By Bob Dole
The industrious island has proved itself worthy of U.S. inclusion
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- FBI blocked in corruption probe involving Sens. Reid, Lee
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- Warren Buffett's son to spend $23.7 million in effort to save South African rhinos
- College group's diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- Justice Department refuses info on hundreds of prosecutor misconduct cases
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- CURL: Calm down, conservatives: Obama's 'Two Ferns' bit was brilliant
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again