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September 19, 2008


When I was in London for my play, it was surprising how many there thought most Americans were rich, at least if they were able to come to England, they must be rich.

In Japan, where people are most polite, it's shocking to watch the press coverage of American politics . . . people don't get how negative the American identity has started to become over the last 8 years.

I know personally a lot of charming Americans, and know that US culture and thought can be very exciting. But your Irish guy had a point. He might know MacDonalds and Hollywood, but at least he kenw that; what was known about Ireland?

It's hard to escape the perception that the US is totally solipsistic (Australian films often get subtitled when they are released in the States, although we watch every colour of American accent without difficulty; Australian actors have to learn American accents if they hope to get regular work; we all have had the encounter with the American tourist who, under the impression that Australia is next door to Germany, remarks that we speak very good English; the way tv companies constantly remake shows from the UK and Australia (The Office, Kath and Kim) instead of actually buying the show, as if insulating people from the realities of other cultures; and I'm not even going near the foreign policy). If US culture were more outward looking, it would make a difference. To us and to you.

You raise a very good point. Since the 70s, there has been an American perception that we are the best and therefore, do not need to know other cultures. It's very true. If I was an Australian, I would be very angry to see quality shows become "Americanized" and then exported around the world.

There are a number of American TV shows from the 70s onward that were based on successful European shows... Including my favorite "All in the Family" which was based on the British "'Til Death Do Us Part."

I've seen subtitles used when Southerners are being interviewed on TV. It's insulting to everyone except the clueless wonder who opted to incorporate them into the broadcast.

One of our main exports here in America is Hollywood. With manufacturing outsourced, it's practically our only export. I suspect that's why Australians need to know American accents. If it helps, Southerners here in the U.S. need to know a midwestern U.S. accent if they hope to get work.

In terms of our Irish friend... What was most offensive was his attitude. Many Americans have Irish ancestors and wear their heritage proudly. To assume that we didn't know anything about Ireland was false in the extreme. It stereotyped Americans as no-nothing and self absorbed. I had already been to Ireland before talking to him. Another in his immediate vicinity had spent months in Ireland. To make that declaration about a country and its people was not in good taste.

But again, that's the "American stereotype." In my experiences overseas I've run into that problem again and again and again. If I typed all people of a certain country as "snobby" or "sleazy" or "fascists" how smart would I be? Would the person I've stereotyped feel like developing a conversation? Or would they become defensive? Sometimes in my travels, I've felt it was damn near hopeless trying to develop a meaningful conversation with such strong stereotypes floating in the air. Why bother?

Don't get me wrong, my country is most definitely responsible for some of these stereotypes. But what I would say is that we are also a country in turmoil right now, the severity of which may not be apparent from the outside looking in. As the economic problems trickle down to the general public, Americans will need to look inward at such primary issues as self-identity and our relationships to each other. Most Americans are well-aware of how the world feels about us. We know that American culture means Hollywood to the rest of the world. What I'm saying is that it's time for American writers and artists to shake loose of that belief.

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