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Are Americans Uniquely Insular and Ill-Informed?

Or do Britons and other Europeans just say that because they are uniquely anti-American?

by
Carol Gould

Bio

November 27, 2009 - 12:00 am
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On Thursday, November 5, on BBC television’s Question Time, the former London police commissioner Sir Ian Blair noted that he had been to California for a wedding and except for the British MP expenses scandal “most Americans don’t know anything about what happens outside America.” This angered me. It is a misconception. I watch NBC Nightly News at 11:30 p.m. London time and if I can I stay up for CBS at 12:30 and ABC at 1:35. Then comes Anderson Cooper; sometimes I watch O’Reilly and Hannity. My impression is that Americans are exposed to overseas news every day. Inasmuch as Americans are losing their brethren most days of the year in Iraq and Afghanistan, they know something about the outside world. Whether one likes Obama or not, it was those “insular” Americans who elected a son of Kenya.

How much do Britons know about events in the United States or even in nearby France, Spain, or Eastern Europe? Likewise do Europeans eagerly soak up American news? You can be sure nobody I encountered in the first week of November over here on the other side of the pond knew about the Obama-crushing local elections. I even had to explain the Fort Hood atrocity to several individuals. When I appeared on BBC’s Any Questions? the audience was a gracious and lively one, but the significant American elections and Fort Hood did not enter the fifty-minute discourse at all. When I suggested that the internet is the Wild West in the context of how much sexual content children encounter, the host, Jonathan Dimbleby, said “Yes, and the east coast schools aren’t the Wild West?” (I would like to hear from PJM readers whose kids are going to decent schools on the American east coast. My alma mater, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, was and is a far cry from the Wild West.)

In the Evening Standard of October 30, sportscaster John Inverdale wrote about the shame of Andre Agassi. (To the great sorrow of BBC viewers who adored the late Dan Maskell, “the voice of Wimbledon,” Inverdale now hosts the annual tournament and has yet to learn that a match is not a “game.”) Inverdale writes about Agassi’s recent drug hell and hatred of tennis, asserting that America is laissez-faire about most sporting drug problems. He then says, “No doubt all sorts of sanctimonious Oprah Winfrey garbage will be spouted by various American do-gooders over the next few days.” Actually, John, I try to watch American television at least once a day and when the Agassi news broke it did not take up one-tenth as much space as the coverage of American troops being killed overseas and the string of bombings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

So, if you are visiting Europe these next few weeks and the locals take you to task for being provincial, dumb, and full of Oprah garbage, ask them if they know what Arbor Day is, ask them to locate Vermont, ask them what the University of Nebraska Press is known for, and finally ask them what two landmark bills Obama signed in the last week of October. Tee hee.

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Carol Gould is the Philadelphia-born author of Don’t Tread on Me: Anti-Americanism Abroad, Spitfire Girls, and A Room at Camp Pickett, a play about her mother’s experiences as a WAC in World War II; she has just completed a film about black GI babies. Carol has been a panelist on BBC's Any Questions?, hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby, on Jenni Murray's Woman's Hour, and on Andrew Gilligan's Forum, as well as being a commentator on Sky News, Press TV, and BBC Five Live.
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