America is out of Vogue
If the world was a high school popularity contest, the U.S.A. would be the big, fat kid (though certainly not nerdy) who’s obnoxious and gets in everyone’s way, relegated to a lunch table by himself because no one can stand to sit with him, while everyone else glances warily to make sure he’s not going to, say, start a food fight
In other words, America and Americans have become losers, the people nobody wants around, the laughingstock of the world. Question number one: how on Earth did ‘America the Great’ get like this?
Being that the 4th of July was only a few days ago, and most Americans are probably still camping somewhere or enjoying an extended weekend, my comments about America being ‘uncool’ and ‘at the bottom’ would probably seem unpatriotic and crazy. But unless you live somewhere where your interactions with foreigners and the outside world are very slim, than you probably know what I’m talking about. You just don’t want to admit it.
We Americans love stereotypes. Wasn’t that what high school was all about (at least, according to cliche Hollywood movies?) You’ve got losers, jocks, nerds, popular girls…. The stereotype of Americans is that we’re dumb. Stupid. Obese. We’re ignorant of other cultures. We’re greedy and materialistic. We are violent. We think we’re the best. These qualities–they don’t sound like the most-loved person in the class. They sound like someone that would usually be outcasted, ignored, or ridiculed.
Perhaps among the hoi polloi of the world, America is still “pretty cool.” Yes, our foreign policy sucks; everyone, rich or poor, black or white, no matter where in the world, will probably agree to that. I’m not saying everyone hates America, or Americana: look at the worldwide fans of Lady Gaga, which reach from Germany to Japan. Our movies, no matter how insipid, are still the best and most loved, as is our music. The same goes for our fashion and other facets of pop culture, and many people gobble it up.
But in more elite circles, being American is totally “uncool.” Living in Manhattan has taught me that. At the trendiest restaurants and clubs, the women let in are Russian. Or Ukrainian. Or Belorussian. Okay, so this is a slight exaggeration, but it appears that the more ‘foreign’ you are, the more cool one is: being an average ol’ American just won’t cut it anymore: in New York, it’s “where are you from, where have you been, what languages do you speak–” and if you only speak one, then that’s not very worldly, darling–even if we’re living in America.
(And don’t even get me started on the fashion world. The all-American model is basically extinct. What happened to beauty that was Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford? Why is that demodee? Why must one have to hold a work visa to become a famous model? All I can say is, thank goodness for Karlie Kloss).
Abroad I felt the sting of being American. In Barcelona, people seemed to find it cool–but, since I was able to converse in French with most of the people I met, perhaps they overlooked it because I wasn’t a typical mono-lingual American. In France, I distinctly remember being in a bar and having two native-born French guys mock me for being American. I would say “Je suis americaine” sort of sheepishly, in a “please don’t think I’m like the stereotype!” sort of way.
Our foreign policy is to blame and, by default, our government. Sure, ordinary Americans don’t endear ourselves to others when we go abroad and act like ignorant tourists (that will be an upcoming post) but overall, this is a tale of hatred toward a domineering, crazy-greedy government (see my last post on Noam Chomsky). Because people don’t like our scary, in-your-face government, and feel discontent with their own governments and countries, they have decided to villify America. Never mind the hypocrisy of this. I will still never forget the long lines I stood in at McDonald’s in La Rochelle, France, clearly showing me that jealousy is partly to blame when it comes to the criticism America faces.
The next question, then, is this: who’s going to be on top?
If the USA has been labeled “out” and is socially uncool, then who are the new cool kids? France, Italy and co. will forever be standard-bearers of style and class, but they certainly don’t have the muscle power of a jock to elbow their way to number one again. China seems like the obvious choice: booming, bustling, bursting at the seams with money, labor and people, and a basically secular country to go with it (sounds like the USA). But China still stops short of being the USA.
If one has to fit into America’s shoes (what would be America’s shoe, you ask? UGGs. Or those disgusting Crocs. France, on the other hand, would be either a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps or a bad-ass pair of moto boots) then the next leader can’t just be wealthy and have a sizable population: ideas like freedom (even if it is an illusion) have to at least be entertained (doesn’t China detain it’s own artists?), and the world must 1. not be able to live without you, 2. be spellbound by you and 3. live in fear of you. We might be spellbound by China’s progress, we might not be able to function if China was wiped off the map and all our goods weren’t being made anymore, but I don’t think anyone lives in fear of China–well, apart from maybe Taiwan. And that whole freedom thing? Still coming along. There just isn’t some ‘look-at-me,’ innate cool factor that one wants to copy yet in China
Love us or hate us (aren’t the best people always both admired and villified?), looks like the United States is still number one. For now, anyways.
1. photo sourced from tippiocampo.com