Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My obligatory post-travel polemic against American suckage

Now that I have seen the world with my own eyes, I feel intellectually validated in denouncing certain shortcomings of my own nation. Forgive me that some of these will be patently obvious.
I. America is too fat. You know, I really don't know what it is. Maybe its the reduced popularity of fast food, the chain smoking, the walking everywhere, the traditional diet, the marathon clubbing, or just generally higher standards of personal pride, but most Europeans seem to maintain a healthy body shape without too much difficulty. Everytime I saw some Snorlax abroad, I strained my ears to hear them talk and, sure enough, they were American or English (England is becoming the new us, their obesity rate is like 25% now, while ours is about 30%). I really don't think that the American "obesity epidemic" (they always say "epidemic" like it's no more preventable than swine flu) is beyond our control, it's simply beyond our willpower.
II. America is too frumpy. And this is from a man who routinely buys all his clothes at Kohls or the thrift store. I think Michael Pertner put it best: "if I have to go back to College Park where all the girls just wear North Face and sweatpants and uggs, I think I might cry." While some European fashions barely qualify as such and God help us should they ever jump across the pond (case in point, poofey pants), they are at least fashions which i more than can be said of most American clothing, which properly belongs in the category of "eyesore."
III. America does not appreciate the benefits of good public transportation. DC exempted, public transportation in America is archaic, dirty, hard to use, expensive, and unreliable. Most Americans live in some suburb which lies beyond the reach of public transportation anyway, effectively forcing us to be a nation of car owners. Great for the US auto industry (who managed to screw things up in spite of it all), bad for the public and the environment.
IV. America is too provincial. Europeans, no matter what their walk of life, always seem to have been everywhere, whereas most Americans don't even have passports. Even Gerard, a dairy farmer with no college education, had been all over Europe, Asia, and a few places in North America. I suppose living in a continent where two hours has you in a completely different nation and language makes you appreciate the virtues of multiculturalism. Even the most hopeless yahoo from Palookaville, Pennsyltucky would let go of his ignorance and posturing if he had a good long stint overseas. Why? When all you know is your own culture and country, it's easy to start thinking of other nations as abstractions, dots on a map with unpronounceable names or sputtered names on the evening newscast (Eyjafjallajökull?). Abstractions are easy to process. There is little moral dilemma in invading an abstraction. If you cannot adequately process anything beyond your own mental borders, the big other, the outside becomes something to be feared and, if possible, controlled. Once you've been there, walked those streets, tasted that food, it becomes a place and a people as real and dear as your own. You realize that the much vaunted "differences" between "us" and "them" are largely contrivances of unscrupulous people who need your opinion or your vote. Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck would be laughed out of any public forum in Europe. They simply wouldn't have an audience. Stunts like Glenn Beck's planned redux of Martin Luther King's march on Washington wouldn't happen. It used to be that Americans abroad used to have to apologize for George Bush, or pretend to be Canadian. Now, we have to apologize for Teabaggers. I'm sorry world, these guys are pretty embarrassing, but I swear, we're not all that dumb.
V. America is too religious. There I said it, sue me. Not that I think that religious convictions are per se a bad thing (quite the contrary actually) but that the disproportional influence of religion on public life and policy here in America is embarrassing and must end if America is ever to be taken seriously as a civilized nation. Civilized nations are not necessarily non-religious, but they are secular and ecumenical. The current stranglehold of religion on conservative politics in America is both un-American (ahem, Establishment Clause) and un-Christian (a religion that is by necessity, a faith of the disenfranchised and downtrodden).

Next time, my polemic against the suckage of Europe. Stay tuned.

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