In the aftermath of the recent riots in Baltimore, Karen Attiah of the Washington Post wrote a clever account of the events as if actually reported by foreign press outlets. I enjoyed her satirist execution because it mirrors a similar kind of hypocritical arrogance that western media employ when reporting or discussing the treatment of minorities and ethnic groups in other countries. Americans are always splendid at shining a light on conditions facing West Bank Palestinians, Tibetan Buddhists, or Indian women, as we and others should do. At the same time, however, we also become defensive when foreign governments or journalists point fingers at our own treatment of African-Americans, Native-Americans, border crossing violators, etc. These criticisms tend to be dismissed out-of-hand with a robust response of “Oh, please!” or with a recitation on how their apples are uniquely different from our oranges. Hey, we’re Americans; we’re exceptional. But as a world leader, we really shouldn’t treat every judgment about us as a reason to blow back (i.e. “Freedom Fries”). We should be mature enough to reflect on our image, think about how others perceive us, and not get so agitated by outside opinion.
My own personal understanding of issues around the globe is admittedly weak. Except for my comical and barely passable chanting of Hebrew at temple, I speak no foreign language. I do read articles on international affairs in the Washington Post and New York Times on a daily basis, and my Sunday morning habit of many years now is Fareed Zakaria’s excellent program on CNN. But at the same time, I am also sadly still living off the fumes of finishing Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem” way back in 1990, Maziar Bahari’s “And Then They Came For Me” in 2011, and David Crist’s “The Twilight War” in 2012. I am as guilty as most Americans in not paying close enough attention to events beyond our borders.
Last week’s British elections are noteworthy for me not just because Great Britain is an important friend, but also because of what appears to be American involvement in their election by some our own political professionals. I was unaware of this until I read the reporting of the Conservative party’s decisive victory. American political strategists Jim Messina and David Axelrod were hired guns on behalf of the Tories and Labour respectively. Additionally, pollster Frank Luntz traveled around the country before the election speaking with both politicians and voters. This is apparently not a new development. James Carville in 2001 offered his services to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and also to Ehud Barak in the 1999 Israeli parliamentary elections.
Nothing makes me more dispirited than to know this. Isn’t it bad enough that we have already exported cultural rubbish like Survivor and Two and a Half Men? Do we have to poison other nations with our own electoral nonsense too? The scene is by now all too familiar: arrange for polling to determine public opinion, create a message of cookie-cutter talking points that remove any possible shades of grey, and then pummel a citizenry with an endless series of negative and exaggerated advertisements to demonize an opponent. It boggles my mind that two prominent British political parties imported the same type of electoral dysfunction under which Americans also suffer. Honestly, they really can do better.
Even apparently something as universal as chocolate can’t seem to avoid creating feelings of ill will, disappointment, and recrimination. Those in the know, and by that I mean the truest and bluest of chocoholics in the United States, have of late set their animus on the Hershey Corporation. Evidently, Hershey is imposing its will on unlawful importers who dare to bring into this country true and authentic chocolates from the beloved Cadbury Company in England. A story in a recent issue of Vanity Fair details how Hershey has been able to legally prevent authentic Cadbury candies from American consumers by virtue of a licensing agreement that allows them to make and market its own version of Cadbury products. British expats living in the U.S., already mortified by the sub-standard quality of American chocolate, are enraged that they are forced to buy imitation and inferior versions of Dairy Milk bars and other favorites. Until I ever again get to travel outside the U.S., I might not be able to experience how one Brit explains what constitutes having good chocolate really means: “It’s an orgasm without the sex.”
Of course, kisses generally and hopefully have been known to lead to an orgasm too. But apparently not a Hershey’s version of one.
I grew up within a short distance of the U.S. and Canadian border. Detroit’s border crossing to Canada is unique in that it is the only southern-entry into that country. My parents regularly took us to Windsor, Ontario to enjoy that city’s restaurants and shopping. It was an opportunity to fetch, yes, those English chocolates, but also non-American releases of pop recordings too. For a short period, for reasons known only to him, my dad would separately take me there for monthly haircuts just for the two of us. We were an unofficial exporter of 1970’s Canadian hairstyles. It seems quaint now, but I recall all these years later how my parents drilled it into us how we had to behave responsibly while we were there. My mother especially used to lecture that we were acting as ambassadors for our country, and as such we needed to be polite and courteous to everyone. “Ugly American” behavior was not to be tolerated.
We are about to head into another long election cycle in this country, and I’m already wincing at how the candidates and their commercials will portray foreign policy. Campaign strategists will write-up short, compressed policy statements that characterize overseas commitments as concise and overly simplified platitudes for a non-engaging public. Like most of the other positions made, they will be quickly forgotten. I trust that British political advisors will probably not be involved in our electoral activities. That appears to be Rupert Murdoch’s domain anyway.
Care for a bite of my Flake?