Monday, August 29, 2005

From the OxBlog

OxBlog lament the sneering attitude towards America that seems so prevalent in educated European circles:

It's really quite amazing how little has changed in almost forty years. For many of the Americans I knew at Oxford, nothing made them more certain of their country's basic virtue than the vitriolic denunciations of the United States considered socially acceptable at Oxford. Now it seems to me that there are three possible lessons to be taken away from the surprisng similarity of Oxford c.1968 and Oxford c. 2000-2005:
1. Anti-Americanism is a constant because America today is just as bad America once was, and vice versa.

2. America today is morally superior to the America of yesteryear, since it managed to produce a presidential contender (John Kerry, that is) whose victory would have been welcomed by progressive Europe.
3. As Edward Said observed in his landmark work, Orientalism, the imperial powers of Europe have made a long-standing habit of reducing the inhabitants of their (erstwhile) colonial possessions to a set of condescending, reductionist, and simply insulting caricatures.

I wish I could come up with a stunning defence to the contrary. I'm sad to say, however, that it seems to be almost the only political constant in Oxford - that one can expect the US to be slagged off on a pretty regular basis. It's actually worse than the insular mindset we attribute to the Americans, because if they said the things that we do, we'd lampoon them for being small-minded - whilst we are being intelligent and measured in our remarks.

For what it's worth, I think option 3 is right, although with less of the imperialist overtones, and more to do with envy. Europe's favourite music is American. Europe's favourite films are American. Europe's favourite TV shows are American. Europe's favourite authors are, often, American. Yet because European culture is "high", whilst America's is "low", we look down our noses at the US. I think there's a large amount of snobbery that's designed to try and justify the place of Europe in the world, when it is so obviously overshadowed by the power, wealth and culture of the US.

PS: This will probably be the first in a long line of American-related posts. I'm off travelling there for a couple of weeks, and hope to keep the blog active in the meantime. This means there may well be more travel observations than usual, but expect some cricket messages - hopefully gloating - around about the 12th.