A different type of empire
Several weeks ago I wrote about the fallacy of an American Empire. I commented, “Ours is not a culture of territorial aggrandizement, Americans would never stand for it; ours is culture of business S”
The operative phrase, “not a culture of aggrandizement,” when followed to its logical conclusion, proffers the rationale that America cannot be an empire because we desire no one else’s territory.
Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine sent me a three-part series from the London Daily Telegraph that offered some interesting perspectives on the subject. While I steadfastly believe we are not building an empire in the traditional sense, many of us may be unaware of a developing ideological or cultural empire.
Let’s look at some facts. It’s difficult to imagine anything on an international scale being successful without American participation – the World Court, Kyoto treaty, Bosnia, to name just a few. If America’s blessing is lacking, the chances for the endeavor’s success are greatly diminished.
There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of foreign lobbies in Washington. Nations lobby for reduced tariffs, larger quotas for their steel, or a vote to approve their loans in the World Bank. How big do you think the lobbies are in Russia, Argentina and India?
U.N. statistics show that worldwide emigration has doubled in the past quarter century and 25% of those people immigrated to the United States. It’s also estimated the number of people immigrating to the U.S. would quadruple overnight if the INS eased its restrictions.
Why do so many people want to live here? Why do hundreds of millions of people throughout the world endeavor to live virtual American lives?
Americans represent less than 5% of the world’s population but produce almost a third of the world’s goods and services. New York City alone accounts for more than half the world’s capital market. And the U.S. military is at least a generation ahead of any other on earth, which by the way is a major cause for concern for many. But here’s the clincher – 70% of all visual media comes from the United States; i.e., Hollywood continues to fascinate and influence the entire world.
How could Marxism have hoped to compete with Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Charlie’s Angels? A Belgian ambassador recently commented that it was not unusual for European children to play cowboys and Indians.
The globalization of the planet is making U.S. culture even more pervasive. The world is both captivated and repulsed by American lifestyles. Nevertheless, excluding some religious fundamentalists, asceticism is a pretty hard sell after tuning in to “Baywatch,” the most watched TV show in the world.
Americans are unaware of these perceptions because geography and our media insulate us. Many Americans cannot fathom how other peoples would not want the American paradigm of free enterprise and prosperity for their own country. Does that make us arrogant? I’m not sure.
We are a compassionate people. But as a nation are we truly empathetic? Most Americans do not understand why anyone would want to do us harm, much less why they hate us because we seldom view the world from a non-American perspective. Who among us does not believe that a constitutional democracy is the most enlightened form of government ever conceived?
From birth we hear the mantra that the U.S. saved the world from totalitarianism and continues provide more humanitarian and economic aid to the world than every other nation combined. Yes, these things are true. But we tend to embrace these concepts with an almost religious zeal – as if we’re saying, “Hey world, look at us!”
Do you recall the first time you heard “fighting for truth, justice and the American way?” I do. It was during the opening credits of the 1950s “Superman” TV series. The “West Wing” TV show opens with, “The West Wing is about the never-ending battle for truth and justice and the American way.” Broadcasting to 10-year-olds watching “Superman” on Saturday mornings is one thing, but an Emmy Award winning television show presenting such a self-righteous viewpoint is quite something else.
This is where and why much of the world and Americans part company. If Brazilian, British, or South African TV broadcast anything resembling that type of chauvinistic cant, their populaces would laugh the show off the air.
When watching the news, how many times do we see people around the world wearing Yankee baseball caps or Michael Jordan T-shirts? American cultural permeates the globe with every Pepsi jingle, Spielberg movie and Dixie Chicks album.
Most of us do not believe that our way of life is an ideology, but we do believe that our way of life is the best. The world does not see us a bad people. If it did, millions wouldn’t embrace our culture and clamor for things American.
Instead, whether correct of not, many simply view us as naive and arrogant.
Personally, I think Americans are proud of what our country has accomplished, and rightfully so. Yet at the same time America might benefit if it presented a less omniscient and omnipresent image to the world – but how?
I cannot answer that but can only ask that in a world that increasingly emulates our lifestyle and freely absorbs American culture, ideas and attitudes, is reducing America’s cultural influence even possible?
No, I don’t think Americans are creating an American empire. The world has done it on its own.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org